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Fractured China

[ 0 ] November 17, 2010 |

At WPR, I bloviate on theoretical and empirical issues regarding China’s fractured foreign policy:

What does China want? Unfortunately, this is a terrible way to approach the problem.

China is full of many people who want many different things. Like the U.S. national security apparatus, the Chinese government harbors a plethora of different foreign-policy perspectives, some focused on trade, others on power, and still others guided by domestic political concerns. Moreover, the Chinese government is no longer the only actor of consequence in China. Chinese public opinion increasingly constrains policymakers, and can even force them into action they don’t want to take. Like all states, China is fractured. Recognizing its fractured nature is the key to developing an effective U.S. policy toward China’s rise.

In the column I mention this SIPRI report on the emerging structure of PRC foreign policy decision-making, which is worth giving and extra-super recommendation. Check it out.


Part of the Same Hypocrisy…

[ 29 ] November 16, 2010 |

Doctor Science has some thoughts on George W. Bush’s National Portrait Gallery portrait (unveiled last year):

As I’ve worked on this post I’ve been going back and forth in my mind. Sometimes I think this portrait is a big F.U. to the verdict of history and the office of the Presidency: “You think I failed? I didn’t even try! I didn’t want to do the work, I didn’t even think of myself as the President. And you know what, Dad? I love Mom best.”

But then sometimes I look at it another way, and think he’s refusing to have a serious Presidential portrait because he knows he failed at being President, and his only hope for swaying the verdict of history is to say: “But I was a really nice guy, honest! Just the sort of person you’d want to have a conversation with. Let’s not think about unpleasantness, OK?

Quite. The portrait reaffirms the basic falsehood of George W. Bush’s public persona: The idea that the product of a wealthy New England political dynasty was in some fashion an anti-elitist, “normal guy.” That falsehood lay the foundation for his success in the Republican Party, and indeed allowed him to dismiss the noblesse oblige that seemingly animated the politics of his father and his grandfather.

I like to think that the scene in the portrait depicts a moment just after he signed off on the torture of some suspect in Afghanistan, or authorized some new military operation in a distant land that he neither knew much about nor cared to learn.

Best idea since Irwin Mainway’s Bag ‘o Glass

[ 40 ] November 16, 2010 |


Illinois and Northwestern are playing a college football game at Wrigley Field on Saturday. That’s an actual photograph of one end zone.

My favorite detail is the advertising signage at the spot where the brick wall intersects the goal post.

Hope we don’t see any incidents of paralysis followed by frivolous lawsuits.

The Clinton Counterfactual

[ 42 ] November 16, 2010 |

The post below reminds me that I had been meaning to blog about these Dana Milbank speculations about how Clinton might have been better. He bases this around some discussions with Clinton campaign operatives — let’s call them “Park Menn.” Exactly how would she have been better? Rather than going the route of dead-enders who assert that this life-long DLC centrist would have been the new Eugene Debs had she prevailed in the primaries, Mr. Menn argues that Clinton would have been better…by being much worse:

Clinton campaign advisers I spoke with say she almost certainly would have pulled the plug on comprehensive health-care reform rather than allow it to monopolize the agenda for 15 months. She would have settled for a few popular items such as children’s coverage and a ban on exclusions for pre-existing conditions. That would have left millions uninsured, but it also would have left Democrats in a stronger political position and given them more strength to focus on job creation and other matters, such as immigration and energy.

So we’re supposed to believe that Clinton would be better because she would have abandoned the only chance to significantly reform health care for decades, and in the kindest construction would have urged passing a slightly more protective band-aid in the form of a 90-day foreclosure moratorium. (Not necessarily a bad idea, but…then what? How many of the people who were foreclosed after day 91 would have been enthusiastic Clinton supporters?) And all of this based around the highly implausible idea that trying and failing to pass health care reform would be political gold for the Dems? Sure.

But while the sheer awfulness of Clinton’s top non-brain trust underscores that it is extremely unlikely that she would have been a more progressive president than Obama, I also don’t believe Mr. Menn when he claims that she would have been much worse. Giving away the show, although Milbank doesn’t notice it, is the assertion that Clinton would have settled for “a ban on exclusions for pre-existing conditions.” The obvious problem, as Clinton correctly said throughout the campaign, is that you can’t pass such a policy without a more comprehensive plan including an individual mandate, because it would completely blow up the insurance industry. Which is why Obama inevitably adopted Clinton’s position, and one reason why the ACA isn’t going to be repealed. So while I can’t prove that Clinton wouldn’t have foolishly abandoned health care reform, the word of her advisers on the subject couldn’t be less credible.

Today In Highly Original Analysis

[ 3 ] November 16, 2010 |

Tired of other greasy conservative hacks who once worked for Democrats getting all the attention, Mark Penn, Union Buster (TM) has decided to share his remarkable insight with us. What does the man who may be more responsible than anyone else for Obama becoming president think he should do after the midterms? The answer will will shock and amaze you:

The public wants him to move back to the center and focus on the economy.

Fascinating. I’m glad someone finally said it!

The Republican Party, 2010, Conveniently Defined

[ 5 ] November 16, 2010 |

“I Got Mine, Fuck You. If I Don’t Got Mine, Gimme Gimme Gimme!”

Harris spent months condemning the idea of Americans being entitled to taxpayer-subsidized health care coverage. Now that the election’s over, Harris suddenly feels entitled to taxpayer-subsidized health care coverage — and wants it immediately. (For the record, Harris and his family will probably rely on COBRA to stay insured until his coverage kicks in. COBRA, of course, is another government program that the right opposed.)

see also, with bonus relevant data.

Latest Data on Drone Deaths

[ 12 ] November 16, 2010 |

A study published in the Jamestown Foundations’ Terrorism Monitor a few days ago claims it sheds “New Light on the Accuracy of the CIA’s Predator Drone Campaign in Pakistan.” (Never mind the fact that as civilians, CIA agents are not entitled to wage war and would have to be considered ‘unlawful combatants’ if brought to justice.)

The question addressed here is a simple but very important one from a jus in bello perspective: what is the proportion of civilian deaths to combatant deaths in such strikes? No one is actually keeping track, but the authors aim to develop a good estimate by extrapolating from both Western and Pakistani news sources. On this basis they conclude:

Widely-cited reports of the inaccuracy and disproportionality of civilian to militant deaths in the CIA’s ongoing Predator drone campaign against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Pakistan are grossly misleading. The most detailed database compiled to date, assembled by the authors of this article, indicates (among other important findings) that the strikes have not only been impressively accurate, but have achieved and maintained a greater proportionality than either ground operations in the area or targeting campaigns elsewhere

Now, I haven’t studied their coding closely enough to understand how it enabled them to arrive at such wildly different conclusion than this study last year, which used a similar methodology; however simply by reading over the article itself I can already see three problems: Read more…

James O’Keefe is a credit to his ideology.

[ 61 ] November 15, 2010 |

A man in a bar purchased a drink for a special education teacher, Alissa Ploshnick, attending a conference on special education law. Over the course of the conversation, which the man was secretly recording, Ploshnick never mentioned how, back in 1997, she’d thrown herself between her special education students and an out-of-control van and suffered severe injuries that still pain her today, nor did she mention the letter she received from President Clinton praising her for her actions that afternoon. She did inform the man that the state of tenure in New Jersey is such that she once witnessed another teacher—one who is not an award-winning, student-lives-saving special education teacher—yell “You nigger!” at a student, and that this other teacher was merely demoted.

This man, who had plied her with drinks, as a professional journalist should, and recorded her words without her knowledge, as a professional journalist should, then brought the tape of Ploshnick recounting what happened to another teacher to James O’Keefe, who then posted it, with captions, on the Project Veritas Youtube channel. The relevant moment looks like this:

In response to criticism that followed Ploshick being suspended and docked a pay raise for recounting what another teacher had said, Project Veritas posted a video in which it prefaced her comments with this:

That’s right: O’Keefe and company claim that the word “nigger” is so volatile that there is no context capable of mitigating its appearance in response to a video in which they captioned someone thus:

No context can mitigate its appearance, it seems, unless that context is “targeting an award-winning, student-lives-saving special education teacher for matters of political convenience.” Put differently:

If you believe anything even resembling the title of this post, you are a terrible person and never to be taken seriously again.

At Least Yoosta-Bees Stop Claiming to be Democrats

[ 7 ] November 15, 2010 |

I’ve mentioned this before, but shouldn’t there be some statute of limitations that prevents Pat Caddell from being referred to as a “Democratic pollster?” At some point, having conducted some polls for Jimmy Carter in 1976 has to be trumped by having spent decades not merely spouting inane Republican talking points but inventing some so dumb that even Sean Hannity wouldn’t use them.   You also wonder if Caddell could win a battle of political knowledge with Mark Penn, although in fairness the rankings of great presidents are certainly dominated by one-termers…

…more here. One odd thing about Clinton is that despite his very considerable political skills, he chose to work with some of the most gruesome know-nothing reactionary hacks in political consultancy racket — Schoen, Morris, Penn, gawd.

Yep, Simpson/Bowles Is Indefensible

[ 1 ] November 15, 2010 |

As promised (threatened?),I have more on Chait’s defense of Simpson/Bowles here.

Compromising with median legislators who hold the cards because they’re essentially indifferent to social problems is justifiable when if leads to a program that, by creating a constituency of supporters, becomes difficult to repeal.  As long as the legislation improves the status quo, it’s worth passing, and holding out for better alternatives that show no sign of getting the necessary votes for the foreseeable future doesn’t make any sense.  But this has nothing to do with a deficit plan, because deficit-creating legislation is the opposite.   It’s hard to repeal Social Security or Medicare because it provides benefits that large numbers of people treasure.   It’s easy to lower capital gains taxes or increase agricultural subsidies, because some politically powerful interests will be happy, while nobody can see the costs directly.    So there’s really no reason to compromise — making a deal on the deficit in itself doesn’t actually get you anything enforceable going forward.    And this isn’t just hypothetical; we have extensive evidence that Republicans don’t care about the deficit and would undo most of whatever decent provisions remained as soon as they get unified control of the government.    So why the hell would you give them a deal tilted in their favor?    It’s a lose-lose proposition.

The Party of Disagreeing With Ideas They’ve Always Disagreed With

[ 126 ] November 15, 2010 |

Shorter Ross Douthat:   It’s truly inexplicable that many Democrats oppose a deficit “compromise” made between a conservative nominal Democrat and a conservative Republican that includes such longstanding liberal preferences as ending the EITC and slashing the top marginal tax rate to levels not seen since the Hoover administration, and requires ongoing future cooperation from Republicans who have consistently demonstrated that any deficit reductions will be used to (partially) finance more upper-class tax cuts whenever they’re in power.   Obviously, it’s because they have no interest in governing.

…additional shorter Ross Douthat:  the fact that liberals oppose an entirely arbitrary revenue (and hence, if this is actually supposed to be a deficit proposal, spending) cap that would drastically shrink government going forward proves that liberals support all government spending.

MarkZism Redux: Tyranny or Transcendence?

[ 8 ] November 15, 2010 |

Some colleagues suggested my earlier blialogue with my husband about the socio-political implications of Facebook’s ever-changing architecture would be more entertaining in video format. Also, I was further galvanized to speak out about the perils of MarkZism when I learned on Saturday that someone I love has apparently committed a Facebook suicide. So, I played around with Xtranormal this weekend. Enjoy.