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Those Wealthy Bloggers, with their Flashy Clothes and Fast Cars….

[ 0 ] April 21, 2009 |

Mark Penn is messing with my business:

It takes about 100,000 unique visitors a month to generate an income of $75,000 a year. Bloggers can get $75 to $200 for a good post, and some even serve as “spokesbloggers” — paid by advertisers to blog about products. As a job with zero commuting, blogging could be one of the most environmentally friendly jobs around — but it can also be quite profitable.

Back of the envelope calculations indicate that LGM should have generated some $150000 last year alone, and probably close to half a million over the life of the blog. I’m not saying that we haven’t collected that much; who keeps track? My plan was to conceal the profits from my co-bloggers indefinitely, but now that the cat is out of the bag I’m going to have to come up with some story about how I invested it in Florida real estate, rather than just my coke habit.

That, or Mark Penn is still an idiot.

A Rare Roberts Court Victory for the Fourth Amendment

[ 0 ] April 21, 2009 |

Apparently, the ability of the War On (some classes of people who use some) Drugs to act as a solvent in which the Fourth Amendment vanishes has some limits. Today, the Supreme Court ruled that a search of an automobile after the defendant was secured (in this case, for his arrest for driving with a suspended license) for evidence of an unrelated crime (in this case, the police found cocaine, but obviously didn’t need to search his car for evidence that he had been driving without a valid license) was unjustified. The Court did not overrule New York v. Belton — the case which has generally been read to permit the police very wide discretion to conduct searches of automobiles without probable cause — but did argue that it should be read much more narrowly than it has been. Since in Belton the suspects were actually arrested on a drug charge, the case is quite easily distinguished. Today’s case will at least prevent the police from using unrelated minor offenses to justify drug searches without probable cause. Under today’s ruling, car searches without probable cause are valid only “if it is reasonable to believe that evidence of the offense of arrest might be found in the vehicle” or if the suspect might be able to access the car for weapons.

The other interesting thing about the case is the lineup of the Court’s 5-4 decision. This won’t come as a surprise to you if you have a better grasp of the issues than Ann Althouse or Stuart Taylor, but this case presents yet another example of the fact that Alito and Roberts aren’t as bad as Scalia and Thomas — they’re worse. Both Scalia and Thomas showed their sporadic libertarian streak today, joining Stevens’s opinion (with Scalia even writing a concurrence suggesting that, if anything, the Court’s opinion didn’t go far enough.) Alito, on the other hand, wrote a dissent arguing for a bright-line rule that would permit any search of an automobile incident to arrest (irrespective of whether or not there is any threat to an arresting officer’s safety or of whether the search was relevant to the arresting offense.) He was joined by Roberts and (a little more surprisingly, although he’s pretty conservative on most civil liberties issues) Kennedy. Breyer, always a wet on civil liberties issues, also argued that the search should be justified on stare decisis grounds.

The only thing I can say for Alito’s dissent is that his claim that the majority’s analysis of Belton is artificially narrow has some merit; I wouldn’t have objected to overruling it explicitly. But given Alito’s history of, ah, “minimalist” treatment of precedents, he’s the last person in the world who can complain about it. And as Scalia says, even if one agrees that the Court’s holding “does not provide the degree of certainty I think desirable in this field,” Alito’s alternative “opens the field to what…are plainly unconstitutional searches—which is the greater evil.”

[X-Posted to TAPPED.]

Does Heller’s Incorporation Matter?

[ 1 ] April 21, 2009 |

It’s not surprising that the Ninth Circuit has held that the Second Amendment should be “incorporated” and apply to state governments as well as the federal government, and when the case gets to the Supreme Court the only question is how many justices will join the majority to uphold the decision. (I wouldn’t be surprised to see some or all of the more liberal writing a concurrence saying that they disagree with Heller but as long as gun ownership is a fundamental individual right it should also apply against state governments.) It’s true that if you take the standard of incorporation the Court has allegedly applied — whether a right “found to be implicit in the concept of ordered liberty” — this would be a tough case, as plenty of liberal democracies have flourished with draconian gun control regulations. But, then, you could say the same thing about many of the civil liberties in the Bill of Rights that have been incorporated as well. It’s an easy case in context.

The more interesting question is whether incorporating the Second Amendment will actually make much difference. The Court in Heller explicitly said that it was not addressing more narrowly targeted restrictions, and lower courts have taken the hint:

About nine months ago, the Supreme Court breathed new life into the Second Amendment, ruling for the first time that it protects an individual right to own guns. Since then, lower federal courts have decided more than 80 cases interpreting the decision, District of Columbia v. Heller, and it is now possible to make a preliminary assessment of its impact.

So far, Heller is firing blanks.

The courts have upheld federal laws banning gun ownership by people convicted of felonies and some misdemeanors, by illegal immigrants and by drug addicts. They have upheld laws banning machine guns and sawed-off shotguns. They have upheld laws making it illegal to carry guns near schools or in post offices. And they have upheld laws concerning concealed and unregistered weapons.

“The Heller case is a landmark decision that has not changed very much at all,” said Adam Winkler, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who keeps a running tally of decisions based on the case. “To date, the federal courts have not invalidated a single gun control law on the basis of the Second Amendment since Heller.”

My guess is that, at least in the medium-term, Heller is going to be a lot like the federalism “revolution” of the Rehnquist Court — a few regulations of very marginal policy significance struck down, but that’s it. Despite all the excited commentary the decision has generated from both supporters and critics, I suspect that its policy impact will be pretty negligible. Local gun bans don’t have much impact in a federal system, a federal ban is a complete non-starter with or without a Supreme Court, and what precise mix of marginal regulations the state and federal governments adopt probably isn’t very consequential.

Gingrich the historian

[ 0 ] April 20, 2009 |

I realize that it’s factually true that Newt Gingrich has a doctorate in history and that this peculiar fact illuminates, in a weird way, many of the deeply silly ideas dispensed from the gumball machine that people generally mistake for an actual human head. But we should always remember that Gingrich is an “historian” in the same sense that someone who last played golf in 1978 is a “golfer.” Or, to rephrase slightly, Gingrich is an historian in the same sense that someone who lost his PGA tour card in 1978 is still a golfer. I usually read that Gingrich was denied tenure; the alternate version (which I think is technically correct) is that he never actually applied for it because he’d have been turned down anyway. Regardless, Gingrich’s history credentials — to the degree that anyone, anywhere takes them seriously — provide a great case study in the inflation of cultural capital.

And when we take the time to actually read Newt Gingrich’s dissertation, we’re reminded of what a terrible historian he actually was — unless, of course, one believes that it’s perfectly acceptable to write a history of education in the Congo based entirely on Belgian sources. In which case:

Gingrich argues that the Belgians prepared Congolese women for the challenges of modernity, by which he presumably means that learning to wash the dishes of wealthy white women with water from a faucet was a useful 20th century skill to have in place of, say, being able to critically reason or understand what the natural rights imply about subservience and racism.

The silver lining here for the historical profession is that Gingrich did not degrade it further by publishing anything during the eight years he spent as a faculty member at West Georgia.

From Colony to Superpower XVIII: Scooped!

[ 0 ] April 20, 2009 |

Part 18 in our twenty part series on George Herring’s From Colony to Superpower brings us to 1974, and Gerald Ford’s unlikely ascension to the office of the Presidency. The chapter ends with the election of Ronald Reagan. In between, Herring expresses unlikely sympathy for the two occupants of the White House; the main villain of the piece is one Henry “Scoop” Jackson, along with the army of neoconservatives that he helped foster.

The over-arching theme of the chapter is the retreat (if only temporary) of the imperial presidency. Congress, emboldened by Watergate and by the Vietnam disaster, wasn’t in the mood to give either Ford or Carter an easy time. Herring challenges the notion that Ford was a bit of a dullard, noting that he had a strong record of compromise legislation in the House. The deck was stacked against, however; with the Democrats in control of Congress and in no mood to compromise, Ford had very limited success. Carter, although enjoying significant Democratic majorities, just didn’t have a solid strategy for dealing with Congress. It’s important to remember that the Democratic party of the 1970s is not the one that exists today, and that party discipline was much lower then than now.

In any case, both Ford and Carter faced challenges from the left and the right. The left tried to reduce the President’s ability to launch and wage illegal wars. The interference from the right was a good deal more destructive, and was led by “Scoop” Jackson of Washington. Jackson intervened in nearly every foreign policy question during this period, almost always to bad effect. In particular, he helped undermine several initiatives to further detente and reduce tensions with the Soviets. His interference didn’t end there, however; he also managed to misjudge US relations with China, and with Iran. Overall, Herring’s portrayal of Scoop Jackson is that of a buffoon; a man who’s inadequate knowledge of foreign affairs didn’t prevent him from taking on the role of demagogue, with destructive consequences. It’s not a portrayal that I particularly disagree with, and I think it’s fair to say that naming a ballistic missile submarine Henry M. Jackson is altogether as embarrassing for the Navy as the Carl Vinson and the John C. Stennis.

Herring argues that Jimmy Carter faced a series of nearly intractable foreign policy problems, and proceeded to handle them in a generally inept way. Carter had very little foreign policy experience, and built a foreign policy team that almost immediately went to war against itself. He didn’t have a strong understanding of how to build domestic support for policy, even when the policies themselves were quite solid. Herring lauds Carter’s commitment to the Panama Canal Treaty, for example, but questions his inability to explain why the treaty was a good idea in the face of conservative criticism. The comparisons with Obama are useful; although we don’t know how the Obama administration will be judged 20 years from now, it’s hard not to read Herring’s account of Carter and think that Obama has proceeded in a much more careful and effective manner, at least so far. Carter was also uncertain as to how to deal with the collapse of detente. Herring points out that detente was inherently limited by the fact that the US and the USSR had very different interests; Carter perhaps expected too much, and interpreted what the Soviets viewed as healthy competiton within detente as a break from detente. By the end of his administration, Carter had become a committed Cold Warrior. Of necessity Herring deals at length with the Iran hostage crisis, noting again that Carter inherited a problem with no solution, but that he didn’t distinguish himself even within that constraint.

One country in particular seems to be missing from Herring’s account; Indonesia. Obviously, it’s not Herring’s responsibility to discuss US relations with every country in the world, but there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on between the US and Indonesia during the Cold War, and thus far Herring hasn’t paid it much attention. In this chapter, Herring doesn’t have any discussion of the Indonesian invasion of East Timor (under Ford’s watch), of post-invasion relations between the US and Indonesia (under Carter’s watch), or of the role that Indonesia played in US Cold War strategy. Much the same could be said of the Philippines; I’m curious to see how Herring with deal with the end of the Marcos regime during the Reagan administration.

Harman: Reactionary And Corrupt!

[ 0 ] April 20, 2009 |

Apparently, the old Harman v. Hastings confrontation was tilted even more decisively in the latter’s favor, as Harman would seem to have combined being wrong about pretty much every important issue for years with the kind of corruption Hastings was accused of. I will have to agree with John that it’s a real shame that Harman’s retention as Intelligence chair was derailed by anti-Semitic hippies….

...see also.

The Bush Administration’s Torture Regime

[ 0 ] April 19, 2009 |

Many people have already noted a key takeaway from Scott Shane’s article on the CIA’s arbitrary torture regime: it didn’t work. A couple things about it are also worth noting. First of all, remember this old scam?

In March 2002, when Abu Zubaydah was captured in Pakistan after a gunfight with Pakistani security officers backed by F.B.I. and C.I.A. officers, Bush administration officials portrayed him as a Qaeda leader. That judgment was reflected in the Aug. 1, 2002, legal opinion signed by Jay S. Bybee, then head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.

The memo summarizes the C.I.A.’s judgment that Abu Zubaydah, then 31, had risen rapidly to “third or fourth man in Al Qaeda” and had served as “senior lieutenant” to Osama bin Laden. It said he had “managed a network of training camps” and had been “involved in every major terrorist operation carried out by Al Qaeda.”

[…]

Since 2002, the C.I.A. has downgraded its assessment of Abu Zubaydah’s significance, while continuing to call his revelations important.

Makes you wonder how many confident assertions that the allegedly second, third, or fourth most important members of the highly decentralized terrorist organization had been captured have been downgraded.

Even more important, for the gullible few who might be inclined to buy the few-bad-apples defense:

The legal basis for this treatment is uncertain, but lawyers at C.I.A. headquarters were in constant touch with interrogators, as well as with Mr. Bybee’s subordinate in the Office of Legal Counsel, John C. Yoo, who was drafting memos on the legal limits of interrogation.

So the Bush administration almost certainly knew about and approved of the useless illegal torture. Moreover, it should be noted that none of the elements of the bullshit “ticking bomb” scenario used to hypothetically defend illegal torture are in place here: there’s no direct knowledge of an imminent attack, no serious evidence that the tortured individual knew anything about an imminent attack, and no reason to believe that legal interrogation methods wouldn’t work if the suspect did know anything about an imminent attack.

Arrest Yoo. Do it now. Arrest and impeach Bybee. Do it now.

Arguments that are Guaranteed to Irritate People…

[ 0 ] April 19, 2009 |

Tom Ricks is not going to be a popular man this morning:

Want to trim the federal budget and improve the military at the same time? Shut down West Point, Annapolis and the Air Force Academy, and use some of the savings to expand ROTC scholarships.

After covering the U.S. military for nearly two decades, I’ve concluded that graduates of the service academies don’t stand out compared to other officers. Yet producing them is more than twice as expensive as taking in graduates of civilian schools ($300,000 per West Point product vs. $130,000 for ROTC student). On top of the economic advantage, I’ve been told by some commanders that they prefer officers who come out of ROTC programs, because they tend to be better educated and less cynical about the military.

The idea of a two-tiered (three tiered, at least, when you count OCS) officer training system has always struck me as a bit odd. If, as Ricks suggests, there’s minimal payoff in terms of performance, then I could consider getting on board. I suspect that the services have some data on that, although assessment would run into a few methodological problems. Ricks also suggests closing down the service war colleges. I’m less willing to climb onto that bus; the service colleges have issues, but the curriculum is much different than what you find in civilian graduate programs, and the faculty is allowed to work on policy-oriented topics that aren’t well supported in the rest of academia.

Is Robert Gates the War Nerd?

[ 0 ] April 19, 2009 |

Via Danger Room, Robert Gates invokes the destruction of Force Z in defense of creative military thinking:

The Royal Navy’s greatest defeat in World War II – the sinking of the capital ships H.M.S. Repulse and the brand new Prince of Wales by Japanese aircraft just days after Pearl Harbor – was due in part to a command with little appreciation for air power, and in particular the threat posed by a single, air-delivered torpedo.

As noted previously in this space, the destruction of Force Z is one of the favorite tropes of the War Nerd, who uses it to demonstrate that admirals are idiots:

The British didn’t pay any attention to Mitchell’s demonstration. Their battleships were better made, better armed, and better manned. With an impregnable British stronghold in Singapore and the RN patrolling offshore, what could those little Jap monkeys do? A powerful battle group led by the battleship Prince of Wales and the Cruiser Repulse steamed out to oppose Japanese landings in Malaysia, and ran into several squadrons of Japanese planes. In a few minutes both ships were sinking, The Prince of Wales sank so fast virtually the entire crew went down with her.

Actually, 1194 of Prince of Wales’ complement of 1521 were rescued, but detail has never been the War Nerd’s strong suit. Nevertheless, the War Nerd must be jumping up and down excitedly at the news that Robert Gates has adopted one of his favorite stories. As I feel that this blog has an obligation to correct popular misconceptions about battleships, I’d like to add some notes of caution to this story. The idea that Prince of Wales and Repulse were lost because of stupidity isn’t entirely wrong, but the story is a bit different than how either Gates or the War Nerd present it. The Royal Navy was not, by and large, shocked by the airborne torpedo, and the loss of Force Z is more complicated than the “them idiot admirals who couldn’t appreciate the aeroplane” indicates.

  1. The Royal Navy was substantially behind the USN and the IJN in developing carrier warfare, but it had nonetheless analyzed the possibility of using airborne torpedoes against battleships prior to the war.
  2. The Royal Navy put this work to the test in the November 1940 raid on Taranto, which sank three stationary Italian battleships with airborne torpedoes.
  3. The Royal Navy used airborne torpedoes to cripple the underway Italian battleship Vittorio Veneto at the Battle of Cape Matapan in March 1941. Vittorio Veneto, slowed by the torpedo damage, only barely escaped destruction by British surface units.
  4. The Royal Navy again used airborne torpedoes in May 1941 to cripple underway the German battleship Bismarck, which was later finished off by British surface units.
  5. The Royal Air Force used airborne torpedoes in June 1941 to cripple the underway German armored cruiser Lutzow.
  6. On December 7, 1941, three days before the destruction of Repulse and Prince of Wales, four stationary USN battleships were sunk by airborne torpedoes (a fifth, USS Arizona, was destroyed by a bomb).

Thus, the Royal Navy had ample operational evidence that airborne torpedoes posed a lethal threat to battleships, whether the stationary or underway. Although neither the Bismarck nor the Vittorio Veneto were destroyed by torpedoes, it was understood that the air attacks had contributed to the loss of the former and nearly brought about the loss of the latter. There is some evidence that Admiral Tom Phillips, who commanded Force Z, was unconvinced by these examples, but his views were by no means representative of the Royal Navy as a whole. Now, it’s certainly a problem that a man with Tom Phillips views on the invulnerability of surface ships could rise so far in the organization, but all organization, civilian and military, suffer from such issues.

It’s also worth noting that the air attacks themselves may not have been necessary to the destruction of Force Z. The task force included the fast battleship Prince of Wales, the battlecruiser Repulse, and four destroyers. Arrayed against this was a much larger force of Japanese surface assets, including the battlecruisers Kongo and Haruna, several heavy cruisers, and many destroyers. Prince of Wales was, admittedly, the most powerful surface unit in the Pacific theater prior to the commissioning of Yamato, and likely would have handled a Kongo class battlecruiser with same efficiency that USS Washington displayed at Gualdalcanal. However, Repulse was not the equal of the modernized Japanese battlecruisers, and I suspect that the Japanese advantage in torpedo-bearing cruisers and destroyers would have been decisive. The loss of Repulse and Prince of Wales to a hail of 24-inch torpedoes, rather than to air attack, would not have affected the course of the Pacific War in the slightest. Thus, it was the decision to sortie Force Z against superior Japanese opposition (which Phillips notably opposed) that was the critical decision leading to their loss. It’s possible that Force Z could have escaped Japanese interception (although IJN surface units were on their way), and it’s possible that PoW and Repulse could have taken some Japanese ships with them, but it was nevertheless understood that the deployment of Force Z was a risk; the destruction of the fleet was more surprising to Churchill than it was to local naval authorities.

The Mythical "Ticking Time Bomb"

[ 1 ] April 19, 2009 |

Always irrelevant to actual defenses of torture.

[For the classic explanations, see Henley and Waring.]

Oh, the things you’ll learn at Power Line…

[ 0 ] April 18, 2009 |

The latest entry to the site’s Hall of Fame:

There is something funny going on here, if not exactly where Cooper, Maddow and Sullivan find it. Cooper is widely reputed to be homosexual. Maddow and Sullivan are of course public homosexuals. It is funny in an ironic sort of way that these folks choose to disparage the tea party protestors [sic] from somewhere inside the homosexual subculture. Why not just call the protestors [sic] girly boys and let everyone in on the joke? Or would that spoil the fun?

Um. I really don’t even know how to answer that question. Given that Scott Johnson seems to assume that the gays invented all things kinky — like french-style kissing or the female orgasm — it’s probably not worth pointing out that his ineptitude with the spell checker is rivaled only by his apparent inability to use the intertubes to find stuff out. Johnson admits that he’d “never heard of” teabagging until last week, and I suppose that’s not surprising — though I suppose it’s funny in an ironic sort of way that he and his colleagues spent several years nuzzling the presidential beanbag.

I’d recommend the poor fellow take a gander at Urban Dictionary, but it seems the relevant entry has been taken over by people arguing over the Dumbest Protest Ever.

Credit Where Due

[ 0 ] April 18, 2009 |

Erik makes an important point; Texas has thus far seceded from two different countries in order to defend the right of white people to own black people. In that context, seceding in order to maintain a low capital gains tax rate would be a substantial improvement.

…speaking of treason, insurrection, arcane legal reasoning, and piracy, this is a good read on the last time that pirates were tried in a US court of law.