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When Efficiency is Not Available as a Go-To Argument

[ 0 ] July 22, 2007 |

The live free or die state isn’t so good to those who aren’t free, it turns out. Via Feministing, I found an article about overcrowding in women’s prisons in New Hampshire. It’s no longer surprising to read about the ridiculous rates of overcrowding — about 50% at the prison on which the article is focused — given the situations in California, New York, and many other states. The solution is not, it seems to me, to build more prisons to accommodate everyone, but rather to ask how the prisons got so damn crowded in the first place. It’s clear to me that a major problem is the war on (some classes of people and some) drugs, which is sending thousands of low-level offenders and people with addictions to jail while letting the drug trade continue unabated. In addition to simply leading to more people being incarcerated, the drug war also makes sure people stay that way. As part of drug war policies, judges often mandate sentences of treatment programs or jail. But the treatment programs they require either don’t exist or don’t have space. So it’s really no choice at all.

Case in point, from today’s article about New Hampshire:

[One inmate, Heather] Strong, who served three years in prison for embezzlement and credit card fraud, was paroled in March 2006. She got a job as a restaurant manager, but began abusing prescription pain pills again in October and landed back in prison in May.
Since then, she has been waiting to get into a substance abuse program. The first program she applied to turned her down because she had also been diagnosed with a mood disorder, she said.
Strong said it doesn’t make sense for the state to spend money to incarcerate her – about $30,000 per inmate each year – rather than help her get into a substance abuse program on the outside, where she could work while she got help.
“I’m being housed waiting for bed space in a program – I could do that from home,” she said.
People on the outside probably think, “Oh well, let them rot,” she said. But she said nobody benefits from a system that is costly and ineffective.
“We need legislation for more funding for programs,” she said. “There just is not enough. … That’s why there’s so many women sitting here just waiting to get out.”

So not only do drug war programs lead to prison overcrowding, which is bad for several reasons, including (but not limited to) public health, prison safety, and potential constitutional violations, but also, at the level of the users who most often fall victim to the drug war, it’s not even efficient. A treatment bed costs less than a prison bed. So efficiency isn’t a leg to stand on here. Why, then do we keep on with this wrongheaded program? Anyone who can offer something other than racism and vindictiveness is a step ahead of me….

Individual Bad Soliders: They Exist

[ 0 ] July 22, 2007 |

Although I remain, as far as I can tell, the only progressive blogger to whom the TNR diary now creating a firestorm instinctively seemed a bit fishy in its details, I certainly agree with this. Any argument premised on the idea that no solider ever does anything really bad is self-evidently ridiculous, and the idea that reporting on such bad things is some slander on “the troops” in general despicable demagoguery. You may remember this from the attacks on Kerry; discussing (indisputably true) incidences of criminality is turned into a claim that Kerry was accusing “the troops” are war criminals. As I’ve already said, nothing of any political consequence turns on the veracity of this particular account. We already know that some individual members of the military do horrible things, and that they are obviously not representative.

More on the Heathers

[ 0 ] July 22, 2007 |

Jamison Foser has a lot more on Marc Ambinder’s remarkable, matter-of-fact admission that “healthy chunk of the national political press corps” is out to get John Edwards and will give Mitt Romney a pass, because…he’s a Republican the frontrunner, and the fact that you have a better chance of being the most powerful person in the country means…you should be subject to less scrutiny. Perfectly logical!

It’s been quoted elsewhere, but I can’t resist returning to Pierce:

However, where in hell do we go with that last passage there, about how the haircuts matter because “a healthy chunk of the political press corps” doesn’t like Edwards, and how they’re staying away from a sauce-for-the-goose position on Mitt Romney’s makeovers because of their own private calculations of the relative electability of the two candidates. OK, here’s the deal. Every member of that “healthy chunk” of the press corps should be fired. Today. This minute. Without pay or recompense. Let them all walk back inside the Beltway from Cedar Rapids if they have to. I value what I do. I value the work of the people in my business who do it correctly. But, holy mother of god, these people do not do what I do. It’s OK to sneer at a candidate if you don’t like him? It’s OK to create a destructive narrative out of unmitigated piffle because he doesn’t kiss your ass with the regularity you think you deserve, or because his press buses don’t run on time, or because one of his staffers was late with the Danish in Keene? I watched a roomful of them boo Al Gore seven years ago, behavior that would have gotten them run out of any press box in the major leagues. Do you think one of these jamokes — or jamokettes — is thinking, “Maybe we should lay off the haircut thing because of what we all did to Gore in 2000, and look how well that worked out.” Please.

I’ll also add that any editor who assigns a reporter who is “looking to bury” John Edwards to cover him should also be fired. Which will happen the same day the Senate is abolished.

And, of course, this won’t be limited to Edwards–cf. Clinton’s highly troubling breasts. (Warning: PHOTO NSFW!!!!1111!!!11!1! Ann Althouse fainted twice!) Foser is good on this, but the nice thing about junior-high school narratives is that they leave an entirely blank slate for the reporter. A reporter writing about something substantive might (however accidentally) allow her readers to learn something, and tendentious critiques might lead to claims that are plainly false. When stories involve people’s haircuts, suits, decolletage, etc. you can infer anything about anything. The fact that Ambinder — first with ABC News’ atrocious “The American Pravda“, now with the Atlantic Monthly — takes for granted the use of trivia by reporters in order to pursue personal vednettas is instructive in an extremely depressing way.

To Kill the Fish, Drain the Sea

[ 0 ] July 22, 2007 |

In addition to buying weapons (in defiance of UN sanction) from North Korea, Ethiopia has also decided that starving rebel regions is appropriate behavior:

The Ethiopian government is blockading emergency food aid and choking off trade to large swaths of a remote region in the eastern part of the country that is home to a rebel force, putting hundreds of thousands of people at risk of starvation, Western diplomats and humanitarian officials say.

The Ethiopian military and its proxy militias have also been siphoning off millions of dollars in international food aid and using a United Nations polio eradication program to funnel money to their fighters, according to relief officials, former Ethiopian government administrators and a member of the Ethiopian Parliament who defected to Germany last month to protest the government’s actions.

While I’m sure that “More Rubble, Less Trouble” Reynolds and Ralph Peters believe that this is a great (the only!) way to deal with rebel groups, I’d like to think that the US should be reluctant to support countries that intentionally starve significant elements of their population. Maybe I’m overly hung up on moral clarity, but sending weapons and investing in a quasi-alliance with a state that would engage in such tactics seems, well, bad.

I mean, really, it doesn’t occur to anyone that it might be a bad thing to support a country that invades its neighbors, brutally oppresses ethnic minorities, and defies the international community? Or should we simply think of this as laying the groundwork for a US led “war of liberation” in 2020, or so?

Further Evidence of The Weekly Standard’s Impeccable Credibility

[ 0 ] July 22, 2007 |

So Dean Barnett is speaking in tongues again:

In the 1960s, history called the Baby Boomers. They didn’t answer the phone.

Confronted with a generation-defining conflict, the cold war, the Boomers–those, at any rate, who came to be emblematic of their generation–took the opposite path from their parents during World War II. Sadly, the excesses of Woodstock became the face of the Boomers’ response to their moment of challenge. War protests where agitated youths derided American soldiers as baby-killers added no luster to their image.

Few of the leading lights of that generation joined the military. Most calculated how they could avoid military service, and their attitude rippled through the rest of the century. In the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s, military service didn’t occur to most young people as an option, let alone a duty.

I’ve highlighted the key phrase here, the one that essentially announces that ungrounded, ahistorical fantasy is about to spring forth, like the Kool-Aid guy, from the skull of Dean Barnett.

Where to begin? For starters, the fact that there is a type of boomer who became generationally “emblematic” owes a lot to the efforts of right wingers — ancestors of Barnett’s — who developed a pernicious, cynical, and enduring narrative to discredit domestic opposition to the American war in Vietnam. (The most obvious political manifestation of this narrative can be seen in Nixon’s “Silent Majority” speech; culturally, Merle Haggard’s “Okie from Muskogee” works as an analogue to Nixon’s speech.) Regardless of the relevant historical and sociological facts — all of which are easily retrieved from one’s local library — conservatives pretended that opposition to the war was a simple function of youth, drugs, and cowardice, the last of which was supposed to be an unintended and unfortunate side-effect of post-WWII affluence, which boomers allegedly took for granted. It’s horseshit mythology that takes about five minutes of actual inquiry to discredit, but when you’d rather spend those five minutes re-telling the same fables about hippie draft-dodgers and cracking wise about the moral depravities of Woodstock, I suppose we’re not talking about people who genuinely care to get their facts in order.

The rest of this passage lands even farther beyond the frozen side of stupid. As Roy Edroso points out, during the 1960s the “call of history” for hundreds of thousands of Americans came in the form of a draft notice, made necessary by the horrendous decisions of their elders, whose “leading lights” made the epic mistake of believing that every skirmish of the cold war was a replay of World War II. If military service failed to impress “most young people as an option, let alone a duty,” perhaps the relevant lesson is that ill-conceived, wasteful conflicts are not the best recruiting advertisement for military service.

. . . link to Roy is fixed . . . (new tag: “d’s butchery of HTML”)

Idiot Windbag

[ 0 ] July 21, 2007 |

Fred Hiatt really is a marvel. His latest seems to contain every idiotic possible argument for defending Bush’s perpetual war while pretending not to: willful blindness about Bush’s actual position, wails about “partisanship” (that, of course, are entirely directed at Democrats), the Petraeus dodge, etc. In other words, pretty much what you’d expect from an editorial board shocked to discover that Sam Alito is a conservative.

How Heartwarming!

[ 0 ] July 21, 2007 |

Winger icon Michael Yon sees an upside to the Isalmist quasi-state we’re killing hundreds of thousands of people and spending immense amounts of money to install in Iraq for no obvious reason: the insistence that “Allah u Akbar” be inscribed on the Iraqi flag reminds him…of the flags celebrating our own apartheid police states! Sniff.

I guess the point here — Yon’s thinking and writing are so muddy it’s hard to tell — is that if we can overcome our own Civil War and produce democracy in the South in only 100 years, why, it could happen after the Iraqi civil war too! And so it could. But Yon fails to explain why the secular authoritarianism the Iraqis already had isn’t an equally good candidate to become an actual liberal democracy long after we’re all dead.

Who Can Have a Parade Without Rain?

[ 0 ] July 21, 2007 |

Apparently there’s a book coming out today about a teenage wizard saving the world from Derek Jeter or something. People can discuss it here if they so choose.

Meanwhile, like LB I think it’s odd that Megan McArdle thinks that problems of internal logic are problems of bad economics, but otherwise I think she has a point; one reason that magic can be annoying is that it can be used to get the author out of traps in ways that are usually unsatisfying, like the L.A. Confidential problem where a carefully plotted noir just ends with a big shootout like in a Chuck Norris movie. There are exceptions to everything, but fantastical premises are generally interesting devices only when they follow their own internal rules. I can’t, of course, say whether LB and McArdle are correct in applying the accurate general premise to the Harry Potter books specifically.

Meanwhile, for those who want to be positive, um, why are you reading LGM? But, anyway, ogged has a counterpoint. I retain zero interest in reading them but, hey, de gustibus etc.

Why do the glaciers hate America?

[ 0 ] July 21, 2007 |

Erik Loomis delivers some modest thoughts on the question.

Glaciers are disappearing around the world at incredibly rapid rates. This can only be seen as an unadulterated good for humanity. That ice kept getting in the way of me climbing mountains. Plus, I’ve always had a dream for hitting golf balls off Mt. Kilimanjaro. Soon, my wish can be a reality.

I can only agree. Glaciers, like burdensome government regulations, only interfere with the free flow of water and sediment. If we can somehow find a way to release all that watery potential, we might bring irrigation to the most arid and uninhabitable regions of the planet, thus ending famine and malnourishment, about which liberals are constantly bleating. We could also replace the water we’ve already ruined, saving ordinary Americans valuable tax dollars that would have gone towards scrubbing our lakes, rivers and streams. Those savings, as I understand it from listening to conservatives, will immediately be recycled back into the private sector, which will rationally prioritize more research and development to discover new ways to unleash the power of glaciers.

Indeed, I believe the Founders would be spinning in their graves if they knew that we were still living in an unthawed world.

Meantime, here’s my dog Greta, watching sometime in early 2003 as the Mendenhall Glacier prepared for its annual retreat of 50-200 meters.

For the Defense

[ 0 ] July 20, 2007 |

Franklin Foer stands behind his anonymous diarist:

Whenever anybody levels serious accusations against a piece published in our magazine, we take those charges seriously. Indeed, we’re in the process of investigating them. I’ve spoken extensively with the author of the piece and have communicated with other soldiers who witnessed the events described in the diarist. Thus far, these conversations have done nothing to undermine–and much to corroborate–the author’s descriptions. I will let you know more after we complete our investigation.

And, really, although I’m sure this story will continue to be flogged by people with an anti-EMM ESS EMM axe to grind, obviously it’s not as if I or anybody else who wasn’t there but is suspicious can identify any factual errors in the piece. So we’ll see if the stories can be corroborated.

The other thing to note is that nothing of any larger political consequence turns on the veracity of this soldier’s account. The war would remain an indefensible disaster if every American soldier was a saint, and conversely a just war is not undermined because some individual soldiers do bad things. There are potential questions about journalism raised if the story doesn’t check out, but as d. says evidently such questions are to not to be taken seriously when raised by people who would, say, proudly invite Judy Miller to be the keynote speaker at the launch of their new blog aggregator.

Partisans and Politics

[ 0 ] July 20, 2007 |

This is low hanging fruit, but it’s important nevertheless:

Bush Says Democrats Are Playing Politics on Iraq
President Bush assailed Democrats anew about Iraq today, accusing them of choosing to indulge in a political debate over troop withdrawals rather than giving the troops what they need to carry out their mission. President Bush spoke in the Rose Garden today.

“It is time to rise above partisanship, stand behind our troops in the field and give them everything they need to succeed,” Mr. Bush said in the White House Rose Garden. The president said he was conveying a message from the veterans and military support organizations he met this morning.

Right, because war isn’t political, and the conduct of war shouldn’t be the subject of political debate. That’s a farcically absurd argument, but one that seems to hold some currency in contemporary political debate. If the President had said something like “Democrats are endangering our troops for partisan gain,” I’d disagree and accuse him of the most wretched hypocrisy, but would allow at least that it was a reasonable position to put forth. This is much worse, though; it’s an effort (not just by Bush, but by a long line of others) to try to place the most consequential activity that a state can engage in beyond the realm of ordinary democratic politics. While accusations of partisanship are ordinary democratic politics, arguing that war is beyond the political is almost fascist, in addition to being downright stupid.

This is why The Utility of Force is a useful book. A student read my review of it, and responded “It was interesting, but do you really need to read anything but the introduction? The rest is just Clausewitz.” I don’t think that’s quite right, but even if it were, the problem is that not so many people read Clausewitz; there is no meaningful way in which war and politics can be separated. War is inherently political, and as such every aspect of it ought to be subject to political debate in a democracy.

[ 0 ] July 20, 2007 |


Friday Cat Blogging… Starbuck and Nelson

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