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Presidential Statement of the Day

[ 39 ] May 13, 2008 |

Theodore Roosevelt, in a message to Congress following the eruption of Mont Pele on the island of Martinique, 12 May 1902:

One of the greatest calamities in history has fallen upon our neighboring island of Martinique. The consul of the United States at Guadeloupe has telegraphed from Fort de France, under date of yesterday, that the disaster is complete; that the city of St. Pierre has ceased to exist; and that the American consul and his family have perished. He is informed that 30,000 people have lost their lives and that 50,000 are homeless and hungry; that there is urgent need of all kinds of provisions, and that the visit of vessels for the work of supply and rescue is imperatively required . . . .

I have directed the departments of the Treasury, of War, and of the Navy to take such measures for the relief of these stricken people as lies within the Executive discretion, and I earnestly commend this case of unexampled disaster to the generous consideration of the Congress. For this purpose I recommend that an appropriation of $500,000 be made, to be immediately available.

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Open Mic Night

[ 15 ] May 12, 2008 |

I haven’t read enough Edward Luttwak to say for certain that he’s an unprincipled hack, but I know enough to be certain that his knowledge of Islamic law and religion is insufficient for the forum he’s been offered. His central premise is almost too laughable for commentary; he insists not only that Barack Obama not only would be unlikely to improve the standing of the US in the Middle East, but that a disputed fact about Obama’s religious biography — an irrelevance that matters only to non-Muslim American wingnuts — would motivate swarms of assassins into actions.

I won’t bother to psychoanalyze Luttwak’s fantasy here, since it would obviously be improper to suggest that he or anyone else dreams of Barack Obama’s violent death at the hands of religious zealots. But the fact that New York Times would publish what essentially amounts to a recycled Daniel Pipes column — originally published in Front Page Magazine, no less — is really goddamned pathetic.

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There are DBT Fans at the Corner?

[ 20 ] May 12, 2008 |

Via Roy, it looks as if K-Lo got stood up in favor of the Drive By Truckers. In response to her invitation to young conservatives to head to a fundraiser being put on by Elayne (Mrs. Bill) Bennett (no word on whether the fundraiser involved $50 a pull slot machines), John Miller responded:

Sorry K Lo, but the rest of us will be at the Drive-By Truckers show in
DC tonight.

Like Roy, this immediately made me wonder if a) John Miller isn’t the aesthetic Stalinist that I had pretty much figured everyone at the Corner to be, or b) if Miller had somehow managed to convince himself that the Truckers were a right-wing populist band. Given that Miller is the author of the “50 Greatest Conservative Rock Songs” list, I’m betting pretty heavily on the latter. I suppose if you employ the following logic…

George Wallace was a Democrat, and Patterson Hood hates George Wallace, therefore Patterson Hood must be a Republican

…then it would all make sense, but then again you really have to work to get around the lyrics of That Man I Shot, or particularly Puttin’ People on the Moon. The latter is certainly populist, but it’s about as clear an evocation of left-wing populism as I can imagine, especially since Hood has taken to replacing “Another joker in the White House” with “Another Bush is in the White House” while singing the song live.

Roy’s further thoughts:

Self-awareness may slap one upside the head at any time. It may be that Miller and whatever other young rightwingers he convinced to see DBT with him are full of regrets. Maybe they were surprised that the crowd did not see the Confederate angle on Southern Rock the same way Miller did. Maybe the crowd took it amiss when Miller and his friends booed and yelled “Democracy Whiskey Sexy” during “That Man I Shot.”

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The Veep Alternatives

[ 48 ] May 12, 2008 |

Open Left had a VP poll, which forced me to actually follow through and evaluate candidates based on limited information. My ballot (with any candidates I gave any consideration to included depending on who gets eliminated in future ballots):

1st Janet Napolitano (Gov-AZ)
2nd Kathleen Sebelius (Gov-KS)
3rd Brian Schweitzer (Gov-MT)
4th Ted Strickland (Gov-OH)
5th Bill Richardson (Gov-NM)
6th Tim Kaine (Gov-VA)
7th Wes Clark (Gen-AR)
8th Hillary Clinton (Sen-NY)

I basically eliminated the entire class of swing state Senators because any progressive legislation can’t afford to sacrifice any Senate votes, and I don’t see any of them having advantages compelling enough to compensate. I would also say that my preference rankings–especially within the top 5–are pretty weak. I could live with anybody on this list and none of them seems like a no-brainer. (I might have Sebelius too high because I think it makes sense to go with someone who might carry a swing state all things being equal, but given her connections there I’m assuming she might help carry Ohio. I’m not especially worried about her State of the Union response.)

…Having looked a little more into Strickland’s record on reproductive freedom in response to a commenter, I retract my endorsement.

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Funny Because It’s True…

[ 0 ] May 12, 2008 |

Indeed.

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And I’m Off

Remember that trip to Puerto Rico that I mentioned I was taking a while back once I had finished law school? Well, I finished law school today and I’m taking that trip first thing tomorrow morning (6AM, baby!). So unless the spirit moves me, I won’t be seen around these parts until Friday night at the earliest — or more likely, next weekend.

Hope you all have a good week. The new, lawyer bean will return next week.

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Was Griffey Lied To?

[ 15 ] May 11, 2008 |

There is a bit of a brouhaha in Cincinnati over some recent comments by Ken Griffey Jr., to the effect that he thinks he was lied to by Cincinnati management. Griffey’s claim is that the Reds promised to build a strong team around him, but never had any intention to do so. Now, Griffey’s claim is problematic for a lot of different reasons; Seattle had gone to the playoffs twice in the four years previous to his trade, had a brand new stadium, and had made clear the intention to spend quite a lot on improving the team, so the idea that Griffey had to leave Seattle in order to “play for a winner” is absurd on its face. But let’s set that aside for a moment and see if Griffey had a case. Of course, part of the reason that the Reds haven’t contended is because Griffey’s Cincy performance has never matched his Seattle performance. But could the Reds have won even with a very strong Griffey? Here’s the Reds records since Griffey arrived, games behind the wild card, Griffey’s WARP (Wins Above Replacement), a plausible projected healthy Griffey WARP, and the difference if Griffey had been healthy:

Wins Losses GB WC Grif WARP Exp. WARP Diff. Ad. GB
2000 85 77 9 8.6 10 1.4 7.6
2001 66 96 27 2.5 10 7.5 19.5
2002 78 84 17 0.8 10 9.2 7.8
2003 69 93 19 1.6 9 7.4 11.6
2004 76 86 16 3.2 9 5.8 10.2
2005 73 89 16 5.4 8 2.6 13.4
2006 80 82 3.5 1.7 8 6.3 -2.8
2007 72 90 13 6.3 7 0.7 12.3

Now, there are some Reds friendly assumptions in this table, most notably that anytime Griffey didn’t play (most of several seasons) his replacement was, well, replacement level; I don’t have the time to go back and check on the validity of that assumption (I suppose it’s possible that his replacements were below replacement level), but I doubt it would change very much. The basic story here is that Griffey is more or less correct about the management of the Reds. Even performing at a level that’s probably optimistic for an aging ballplayer, Griffey could not have led the Reds to the playoffs in any year other than 2006. Interestingly enough, Griffey played 109 games that year, the problem being that he was pretty terrible. If he had played at his 2005 or 2007 level, the Reds might very well have beaten the Cardinals and gone to the playoffs. And the Cardinals, of course, managed somehow to win the World Series that year, despite being the weakest entrant into the playoff field. It’s worth noting, however, that the 2006 Reds team was pretty lucky, with a real record 4 games above its pythagorean record.

Still, I have to think that Griffey was right about Reds management being unserious about putting a winning team in the field. Griffey’s problem is that he completely misestimated the relative strength of the Reds and Mariners franchises; both had gone to the playoffs in 1995, but the Mariners had gone in 1997, would go again in 2000 and 2001, and would be competitive all the way up until 2003. Of course, one reason they would be so competitive is that Mike Cameron (who the Ms got in the Griffey trade) was better than Griffey every year except for 2000, and usually much, much better. Nevertheless, it’s hardly Griffey’s fault that the Reds failed to contend; even if he had done what was expected (and performed at a level which would have justified his contract), the Reds still would have lost almost every year.

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Sunday Book Review: The Great Experiment

[ 0 ] May 11, 2008 |

The Great Experiment, by Strobe Talbott, is one in a broad family of books written by former executive branch officials about their experiences with power. These books often contain some theoretical noodling, bits and pieces of biographical detail, a few mildly interesting anecdotes within a jury-rigged “idea” that purports to hold the whole thing together. Probably 90% of the members of this family are almost suicidally boring, but occasional you’ll find one by someone who really has something to say, and manages to do so in an interesting and forthright manner.

Tragically, The Great Experiment is not one of these outliers. Rather, it is firmly within the ersatz Ambien family. The great experiment, according to Talbott, is the group; the idea that ever larger communities of people can hold together in more or less stable groupings over an extended period of time. From the dawn of agriculture until now, such groupings have included empires, city states, and nations. The future of such communities is, according to Talbott, international organizations such as the United Nations. This story fills the first half of the book, and contains a few tangential citations of the extraordinarily vast literature on statebuilding and community formation; Talbott indicates, for example, that he’s read at least some of the works of Benedict Anderson, although the book betrays no great understanding of the arguments contained therein. As such, the first half of the book is pretty much entirely worthless to anyone with an academic knowledge of the subject, and pretty misleading to anyone without such a background.

The second half of the book concerns Talbott’s direct experience in and around the Clinton administration, and is mildly more interesting. We learn a bit, for example, about the influence that Al Gore had in the administration, and about the White House’s relationship with the media. On the latter Talbott is careful to demonstrate his credentials as a Washington insider, noting that he regularly plays chess and conducts civil political conversations with Chucky Krauthammer. Talbott also includes a series of critiques of the Bush administration from the point of view of a Clinton administration official, critiques which are somewhat interesting but not terribly novel or illuminating. They are the sort of wonky, margin-emphasizing critiques that you would expect from someone who is, broadly, within the community of Democratic foreign policy thinkers that found itself flummoxed by the charge for the Iraq War, and utterly incapable of understanding what the Bush administration was trying to do.

I am largely sympathetic with his basic policy argument, which is that the continuing institutionalization of the international system is a positive thing, and ought to be pursued. To make this case in the contemporary American context, however, you have to do better than painting a broad historical stroke, then explaining that international institutions are the natural end state of human kind. It simply isn’t true that we’ve steadily been moving towards larger human groupings; the Roman Empire, the China-centric state system that held in the Far East, the Habsburg Empire, and perhaps most notably medieval Christendom all represented quasi-institutional efforts that waxed and waned over time. The historical story doesn’t tell us what Talbott wants it to tell us, and consequently can’t carry the weight that he places on it. International institutions can be argued for on their own merits, apart from any teleological narrative that’s supposed to make them quasi-inevitable.

To sum up, if you have trouble sleeping but can’t get another prescription, check out The Great Experiment. If not, avoid it like the plague.

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On the "Unity Ticket"

[ 45 ] May 11, 2008 |

Armando requests a more detailed argument about why it would not be irrational for Obama to choose someone other than Clinton for his running mate. (And let me be clear: I am not saying that there aren’t reasonable arguments in favor of Clinton, just that the merits of the idea are hardly self-evident. In addition, of course, I was not criticizing “Clinton supporters” but rather blogs featuring apparently serious arguments that Obama is in danger of losing New York and California in the general election.) Since I aim to please, here it is.

First of all, I completely reject his central premise, that the party cannot be unified in the fall if Clinton is not on the ticket. It is of course true that Clinton has many strong and deeply committed supporters, for good reason. But this is also true of any substantially contested primary. And, historically, not matter what they’ve said in the immediate aftermath of defeat, partisans of the losing candidate have generally supported the winning one, even in cases as bitter is GOP 2000. I simply don’t believe that most supporters of Hillary Clinton are narcissistic enough to want John McCain to be elected out of spite should she be a powerful and influential senator rather than a vice presidential candidate, and certainly it’s going to take a lot more than bare assertion for me to take this condescending attitude towards her supporters. (I do agree with Armando on one narrow point: I think Obama’s prominent supporters should follow his lead, be gracious, and not say anything about the VP slot. Kennedy’s comments are indeed not terribly productive. But whether he’s wrong on the merits is a separate question that we bloggers surely can discuss.)

So, I simply don’t believe that this is the only criterion that should be considered. And there are others on which Clinton is a less-than-ideal VP candidate, some of which I’ve already mentioned. First, by far the biggest impact of vice presidents on the ticket is the potential to bring a swing home state into the fold, which Clinton doesn’t offer. Second, if the idea is to shore up Obama’s “foreign policy cred” you want someone with military experience but who opposed the war (such as Webb or Clark); Clinton of course is the opposite. Third, the media. It’s hard to know what to do about the media’s grossly unfair treatment of Clinton; if I was convinced that she would make the best president I wouldn’t let it dissuade me. But when picking a running mate, surely this has to be considered a great deal more important. Fourth, partly because of the unfair treatment she receives from the media, she has much higher negatives than you would prefer in a VP candidate. Finally, even if you assume this is a lot more important than I do I should note that the fact that Clinton appeals more to lower-class whites and older voters 1)compared to Obama and (this is the important step for those of you who don’t understand why it’s illogical to make inferences about the general from primary results) 2)among people who vote in Democratic primaries hardly means that she is the optimal choice to appeal to these voters compared to other possibilities.

Of course, there are points in her favor. I think she fares very well on the important question of whether she would make a good president if necessary, for example. Her mastery of policy detail would be especially useful (although when it comes to health care I’d much rather have her putting plans together in the Senate, where any plan is going to rise or fall.) The fact that she inspires strong commitments from a lot of voters is also important. And, of course, it all depends on who the other possible choices are. But, on balance, there are other choices I would prefer, and I certainly can’t see how it’s irrational to believe that the #2 spot on the ticket isn’t the best role for Clinton’s future in the party.

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The Transition

[ 0 ] May 11, 2008 |

MoDo seems regretful that she will have less reason (at least outside the context of blind dates) to snigger about Bill Clinton’s sex life. But she holds out faint hope for a Vice Presidential nod:

Aside from the delight Bill would get from living at the Naval Observatory and having a huge telescope to window-peep with, there wouldn’t be much joy in Hillaryland.

Hahahahahahahaha! That’s the kind of legendary wit that can get you a Pulitzer prize, or the Tuesday night slot at Yakov Smirnoff’s comedy club in Branson if Carrot Top cancels at the last minute. But won’t Obama think of poor Dowd? After all, if Clinton isn’t on the ticket, how will she continue to discuss completely fabricated pseudo-scandals?

But in a return engagement with Obama at the top, could she really wake up every day in the back seat and wish him well, or would she just be plotting? (Fourteen vice presidents have ascended, after all.) Wouldn’t she be, in Monty Python parlance, the Trojan Rabbit behind the gates?

On a positive note, maybe she could bring back all that stuff she pilfered on her way out.

Sure, this doesn’t make any sense unless you conflate “theft” with “taking some personal gifts with you, with a lesser total value than the previous administration,” but when have facts ever stopped MoDo from smearing the Clintons before?

Anyway, as Cole points out this is the key part in terms of how the smears on Obama are going to proceed:

Now Barack Obama faces a true dilemma: how best to punish Hillary Clinton.

After 15 months of fighting her off, as she veered wildly from bully to victim, as she brandished any ice pick at hand, whether racial, sexual, mathematical or marital (in the form of her Vesuvian husband), Obama must decide the most efficacious means of doing to Hillary what she has been trying to do to him: putting her in her place.

In addition to the obvious projection, I trust you can see what’s going on here. If Obama doesn’t choose Clinton as a running mate, it’s because he wants to “put her in her place.” If he does choose Clinton, it’s because he wants to “put her in her place.” See, when you’re setting up the inevitable endless stream of columns about how Obama is really an womanly effete elitist woman who’s probably lactating even more than Al Gore, you win either way! The country, not so much.

I know that some people in the Clinton Hackosphere are trying to set up the argument that a decision by Obama to choose anybody but Clinton must be motivated by personal animus, because there simply can’t be any rational argument (such as, say, her high negatives, the fact that she would muddy Obama’s message on the most important issue of the Bush era, and the fact that she doesn’t represent a swing state, etc.) against it. But at least I believe that they would be satisfied if Obama picks her.

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Mothers

Yes, I know it’s a manufactured holiday, but happy mother’s day to all you moms.

And, in true LGM fashion, in “celebration” of mother’s day, I am posting the most depressing article on motherhood I have read in a long time (via Bitch Ph.D). I’m not sure what is more frustrating and sad about this article: that so many incarcerated California mothers would only have the opportunity to see their kids once a year, when the state provides free transportation to the prisons (which are often very far from home), or that even when given the opportunity, only one woman’s child came. The photos of the “party” going unattended are just devastating. Just another problem of our “correctional” system — that women’s prisons are not located in or even near the communities from which they come, making staying connected to family and community nearly impossible, and reentry all the more difficult.

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Presidential Statement of the Day

[ 2 ] May 10, 2008 |

George W. Bush, announcing National Hurricane Preparedness Week, 10 May 2005:

Each year from June through November, Americans living on the Eastern seaboard and along the Gulf of Mexico face an increased threat of hurricanes. These powerful storms can create severe flooding, cause power outages, and damage homes and businesses with their high winds, tornadoes, storm surges, and heavy rainfall. The effects of these storms can be devastating to families and cause lasting economic distress. During National Hurricane Preparedness Week, we call attention to the importance of planning ahead and securing our homes and property in advance of storms.

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