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[ 0 ] January 7, 2009 |

Via AG, this brings some funny…

The Face of the New Pacific War

[ 0 ] January 7, 2009 |

Matt points out that Eliot Spitzer has become a shill for our robot would-be overlords. Even more alarming, Josh Keating posts the graph to the left, indicating international robot density.

The data support only one conclusion. On December 7, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy struck Pearl Harbor with six aircraft carriers, wreaking untold devastation. What if, next time, it’s worse? What if those aircraft carriers had been able to transform into giant robots?

This is the face of the future, my friends:

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

[ 0 ] January 7, 2009 |

So, it appears that the comments are now “working” in some important sense, although I’m not sure we’ll ever get the comment count back, or that the recent comments widget will ever work right again. Unfortunately, JS-KIT has resumed the practice of sending all comments to my e-mail inbox, annotated with a helpful “click here to change your e-mail notification preferences.” Having so clicked, I noted that my preferences specified no e-mail notifications. Nevertheless, the e-mails persist. I am now forwarding a selection to the JS-KIT support staff, with my own annotations.

…oh, better.

…. [bumped] After some wrangling with JS-KIT, notification problems are solved. I have made some changes to comment format; your comments will now look like we would imagine comments to look in the World of Tomorrow. Also enabled the formatting buttons. Let me know if thumbs up/down. Still working on the comment count problem, and the twitchy recent comments widget.

Minimizing Bushism

[ 0 ] January 6, 2009 |

Defenses of George W. Bush’s incompetence and lawbreaking have frequently relied on specious arguments about the “continuity” between his administration and those of his predecessors. According to this formula, Bush’s misconceptions about Iraqi WMD, for instance, are supposed to have been acceptable given similar assumptions by Clinton-era officials; its invasion of Iraq is supposed to have been acceptable given Clinton’s signature of the Iraq Liberation Act in 1998; the doctrine of preventive war is supposed to have been acceptable because — well, primarily because neoconservatives obfuscate the distinction between “preventive” and “preemptive” war, the latter of which the US has always been claimed as a prerogative.

The policy of extraordinary rendition is another such example of the Clinton-did-it-too argument that will forever be a staple for Bush apologists. Here, Bill Kristol’s pool boy, Michael Goldfarb, accuses “the left” of “imagin[ing] that the Bush administration represents a clean break with the previously lawful and humane history of the executive branch of government,” when in fact — or so he suggests — there’s no meaningful difference between the rendition program under Clinton and the proliferation of renditions under Cheney-Bush. I don’t know who on “the left” would actually make such an argument — I thought, for example, that we were the ones who supposedly crapped ourselves over the human costs of the sanctions regime during the 1990s — but I can’t pretend to understand the extraordinarily sharp intellect of Michael Goldfarb.

Nevertheless, I’ve been reading Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side, and it’s hard to get through it without realizing several things about rendition. First, it was a terrible, illegal policy under Clinton that resulted in people being tortured at the hands of (mostly) thugs in the employ of the Egyptian government. Legal and human rights safeguards were ignored. It was pretty fucked up stuff that became, as Mayer describes it, bureaucratized and routine over time. That said, it was an extremely limited technique by comparison with the transformation it took after 9/11. It was employed against individuals who had already been convicted in abstentia, and as part of a broader anti-terrorism policy, it was accompanied by — and this is significant — investigative work by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies that actually bore results that were usable in American courts. Rendition was not, in other words, used to apprehend suspects who would be transferred to sites under US control, to develop information that might lead to convictions. It was not used as a dragnet to bring Pakistani Koran-readers to Guantanamo Bay for half a decade without charge or trial.

It was a bad policy that did nothing to improve US national security, and there’s a genealogical relationship between Clinton-era rendition and Bush-era rendition that’s worth bearing in mind. But as with so much in the Bush years, where rendition is concerned, differences of degree became differences of kind.

Institutions and Health Care

[ 0 ] January 6, 2009 |

Long-time readers will know I agree entirely with this:

So that’s the context in which to ask whether or not it makes sense to have a supermajority requirement for many Senate votes. I would say “no.” Even absent the filibuster, our system would still feature an unusually large number of veto points, especially when you take our unusually robust system of judicial review into account. The supermajority requirement is at odds with our basic democratic norms, you’d be hard-pressed to come up with an example of it ever actually being used to protect the interests of some kind of put-upon minority, and I see no empirical reason to think that our systematically larger number of veto points is producing systematically better results than you see elsewhere. On the other hand, there’s good reason to believe that the large number of veto points makes it easier for narrow interest groups to block public interest reforms.

In terms of Matt’s question about the originality of Tsebelis’s argumemts, I don’t mean it as a criticism of his excellent book to note that this point has been made convincingly by people working in the historical institutionalist tradition as well as rational choicers. Most relevant to the Obama administration is the analysis of scholars like Ellen Immergut and Sven Steinmo, which demonstrates how the chances of achieving major health care reform diminish greatly with additional veto points. Talk about how American doctors and insurance companies oppose health care reform doesn’t explain much in itself, because these groups pretty much always oppose comprehensive reforms everywhere. The difference is that the American system allows representatives of these interests to block even popular reforms much more easily.

For this reason, it’s good that Pelosi is taking away tools allowing for minority vetoes in the House of Representatives, and it’s black comedy for Congressional Republicans to claim that making it more difficult to quietly thwart majority-favored legislation without an up-or-down vote is a blow to “transparency” and “fairness.”

The Answer is "Yes"

[ 0 ] January 6, 2009 |

Yes, I know that comments are down. Yes, I have complained. Yes, I share the impression that the rollout of JS-Kit has been… bumpy.

Romans Where There Should Be No Romans

[ 0 ] January 6, 2009 |

This is a very interesting find:

Archaeologists have found more than 600 relics from a huge battle between a Roman army and Barbarians in the third century, long after historians believed Rome had given up control of northern Germany. Some of the artifacts are so well preserved that the scientists can already retrace some of the battle lines.

“We have to write our history books new, because what we thought was that the activities of the Romans ended at nine or 10 (years) after Christ,” said Lutz Stratmann, science minister for the German state of Lower Saxony. “Now we know that it must be 200 or 250 after that.”

For weeks, archeologist Petra Loenne and her team have been searching this area with metal detectors, pulling hundreds of ancient Roman weapons out of the ground. They paint a picture of a highly organized, technologically superior Roman army beset by Germanic tribes in a forest about 80 km (50 miles) south of the modern city of Hanover.

The site is about 90 miles east southeast of the location of the Battle of Teutoberg Forest, where Arminius supposedly kicked the Romans out of Germany in 9 AD. Finds thus far include coins with the visage of the Emperor Commodus, who reigned between 177 and 192. Yes, that Commodus. It’s unclear what a Roman army was doing that far from the Rhine at such a late date; permanent Roman fortifications were about 150 miles to the west.

A New Power Rises in the East Blogosphere

[ 0 ] January 6, 2009 |

So when I wasn’t paying attention, Foreign Policy went and seized the greater portion of the international affairs related blogosphere. Congrats to Dan, Marc, and the rest on successfully selling out. I’ll be following the blogging of Israel hating monster and mild mannered realist Stephen Walt with particular attention…

Jeremiah Wright=Falstaff?

[ 0 ] January 5, 2009 |

Eve Fairbanks and I diavlogged yesterday on, among other things, the critical issue of whether Barack Obama or George W. Bush more resembles Prince Hal of Henry IV parts 1 and 2:

The Ledbetter Effect

[ 0 ] January 5, 2009 |

There was a good piece in the Times yesterday about the ripple effects of the Ledbetter decision throughout the lower courts. With Sam Alito as their guide, judges have apparently concluded that the statute of limitations in any particular discrimination case expired anywhere from five to ten years before the discrimination actually began. In at least one case, this was literally true:

The Idaho plaintiff, Noll Garcia, uses a wheelchair. He said his apartment violated federal standards because it was not readily accessible. Under the law, he had two years to challenge a “discriminatory housing practice” in court.

Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, writing for the majority, said this two-year period began when construction of the building was complete. Mr. Garcia lost out because he filed suit in 2003 — within two years of renting the apartment, but 10 years after it was built.

Legislating this nonsense away ought to be one of the top ten priorities for the incoming administration.


On a similar note, I was hoping that the press might resolve in the new year to stop mentioning Joe the Plumber every few minutes. Apparently not. From the same article, there’s this:

Ms. Ledbetter, who worked at a Goodyear tire plant in Gadsden, Ala., for 19 years, spoke at the Democratic National Convention in August, campaigned for Mr. Obama and made a television commercial for him. She became a hero to many Democrats, their answer to “Joe the Plumber.”

Except that Lilly Ledbetter was a legitimate example of someone who suffered demonstrable, material harm from Republican ideas, whereas Joe Wurtzelbacher was a campaign gimmick whose failure as such was overshadowed only by the campaign gimmick selected as the Republican vice presidential nominee. And unless I’m mistaken, August still precedes October in the Gregorian calendar. I’m not sure, then, how Ledbetter becomes an “answer” to Joe the Plumber. But this is clearly good news for John McCain, and I suspect the race is beginning to tighten.

More Hacks Will Solve This Problem!

[ 0 ] January 5, 2009 |

Shorter Michelle Malkin: “The work of a Little Green Footballs commenter who wrote lengthy posts asserting that polls showing a comfortable Obama win were clearly a product of systematic liberal bias shows that there’s no dearth of quality reporting and analysis among conservative bloggers.”

Herring Mishap

[ 0 ] January 5, 2009 |

This week’s Herring installment will be delayed due to the fact that I apparently left my copy of From Colony to Superpower on the trunk of my car shortly before driving from Lexington to Cincinnati. And it was a signed copy. Damn.