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Friday Nugget Blogging

[ 12 ] September 24, 2010 |

“Mom, you know what I’m grateful for? I’m grateful I was born in the year 2002. This means I won’t be around later when our sun goes supernova.”

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Rock of Chickamauga FTW

[ 25 ] September 24, 2010 |

I’m voting for George Thomas.

The face(s) of the Republican Party … according to the Republican Party.

[ 134 ] September 24, 2010 |

I know that Yglesias wants me to analyze the iconography of the Republican’s “Pledge to America,” and I’ll do so a little later.  But for the moment, I think it’s worth reiterating what he wrote with a cudgel.  So without further ado, here is how the Republican Party chooses to represent itself when given the opportunity to do so however it damn well pleases:

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Pathetic

[ 8 ] September 24, 2010 |

I’m so old I remember getting lectures about how the Republicans were the Party Of Ideas.

see also.

If He Was Serious About the Cy Young, He’d Play With A Better Offense

[ 37 ] September 24, 2010 |

Sure, Felix Hernandez has pitched twelve more innings of significantly higher per-inning quality than C.C. Sabathia. But unlike Sabathia. he doesn’t Know How To Win (TM). I mean, give Sabathia a three-run lead and the game is basically over; he just smells the victory. If Sabathia had been pitching for the Mariners yesterday, they would have won 0 to -1!

(Actually, while three years ago you could be certain that Sabathia would win the Cy Young, this year the idea that you should actually vote for the best pitcher even if he’s saddled by a historically bad offense seems to be gaining mainstream currency. It will be interesting to see what happens.)

It’s also a little sad that what theoretically should have been a great Yankees/Rays series just didn’t mean that much — typified by the Yankees not using any of their best relievers going into the 7th down 3-2 yesterday. A staunch opponent for a long time, I’ve been convinced that given the recent rounds of expansion the wild card is probably a net positive. But we shouldn’t lose sight of what we’re giving up: the pennant race between great teams. Granted, it’s not that it can never happen if you can get a third team involved — if the Red Sox had not lost one fewer core players or got good years out of Lackey and Beckett, they would at least have been close enough that the Yankees couldn’t have treated the Rays series as a quasi-exhibition. But they will certainly be less much frequent, and that’s a shame.

Balancing and Bandwagoning

[ 27 ] September 23, 2010 |

Robert Kaplan says all manner of silly things, but because he says them in important places, we’re supposed to listen:

He or she who sits in Delhi with his back to Muslim Central Asia must still worry about unrest up on the plateaus to the northwest. The United States will draw down its troops one day in Afghanistan, but India will still have to live with the results, and therefore remain intimately engaged. The quickest way to undermine U.S.-India relations is for the United States to withdraw precipitously from Afghanistan. In the process of leaving behind an anarchic and radicalized society, which in and of itself is contrary to India’s interests, such a withdrawal would signal to Indian policy elites that the United States is surely a declining power on which they cannot depend. Detente with China might then seem to be in India’s interest. After all, China wants a stable Afghanistan for trade routes; India, for security. Because of India’s history and geography, an American failure in Afghanistan bodes ill for our bilateral relationship with New Delhi. Put simply, if the United States deserts Afghanistan, it deserts India.

Indeed, India is quietly testing the United States in Afghanistan perhaps to the same intense degree as Israel is very publicly testing the United States in regards to a nuclear Iran. I do not suggest that we should commit so much money and national treasure to Afghanistan merely for the sake of impressing India. But I am suggesting that the deleterious effect on U.S.-India bilateral relations of giving up on Afghanistan should be part of our national debate on the war effort there, for at the moment it is not. The fact is that our ability to influence China will depend greatly on our ability to work with India, and that, in turn, will depend greatly on how we perform in Afghanistan.

In short, we need to win in Afghanistan in order to prevent the Indians from becoming friends with the Chinese, which would be a strategic disaster of the highest order, or something.

There are so many layers of silly and stupid stacked together that it’s difficult to sort them all out. Kaplan is not merely a silly thinker, but also a lazy and unimaginative one. People like Kaplan have made arguments like this for (literally) centuries; if we don’t commit our blood and treasure to worthless location X, then our “friends” in location Y will dash into the arms of our “enemies” in location Z. The script is well worn, and proved particularly popular during the Cold War. Of course, Kaplan fails to give any clear reason for why the US would fear detente between India and China, and appears oblivious to twenty years of US policy focused on reducing tension along the Sino-Indian border. He trots out a few bits of nonsense about Chinese military bases in the Indian Ocean without bothering to make an argument about why we would want to care about them.

Worse, he takes at face value the notion that the Indian leadership would somehow lose faith in our “resolve” and become in short order the lickspittle of China. Pakistani strength, as demonstrated by its ability to control Afghanistan, will drive India into tight alignment with Pakistan’s primary patron. He presents not the faintest evidence that such a move would take place, but rather intones darkly about the threat that this move would present to US strategic interests. He considers not for a moment the idea that Pakistani and Chinese strength and bellicosity might drive the Indians closer to the US; I doubt that the notion that states balance against power and threat even occurred to him. No; in his world, India is only worried about US “resolve” and is preparing to surrender the keys of the Taj Mahal to Hu Jintao if the US withdraws from Afghanistan.

In the real world, things are rather different. Unsurprisingly, China is paying a diplomatic price for its bellicosity:

For the last several years, one big theme has dominated talk of the future of Asia: As China rises, its neighbors are being inevitably drawn into its orbit, currying favor with the region’s new hegemonic power. The presumed loser, of course, is the United States, whose wealth and influence are being spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and whose economic troubles have eroded its standing in a more dynamic Asia.

But rising frictions between China and its neighbors in recent weeks over security issues have handed the United States an opportunity to reassert itself — one the Obama administration has been keen to take advantage of…

Meanwhile, China’s increasingly tense standoff with Japan over a Chinese fishing trawler captured by Japanese ships in disputed waters is pushing Japan back under the American security umbrella.

The arena for these struggles is shifting this week to a summit meeting of world leaders at the United Nations. Wen Jiabao, the Chinese prime minister, has refused to meet with his Japanese counterpart, Naoto Kan, and on Tuesday he threatened Japan with “further action” if it did not unconditionally release the fishing captain.

See also Galrahn and Drezner. Tension between China and Russia over weapons licensing have increased in the last few years, leading to reluctance on the part of the Russians to export advanced technology to China. China’s unwillingness to acknowledge North Korea’s destruction of the Cheonan has created tension between Seoul and Beijing. The Japanese are now engaging in offensive military exercises designed to retake islands presumably seized by China. On the Sino-Indian front, tensions over disputed border areas have increased. Vietnam has pursued tighter security and economic cooperation with the United States.

None of this is surprising, and it doesn’t even mean that China has been particularly clumsy. The United States, to be sure, has hardly exhibited a deft hand. What it does indicate, however, is that states very often balance against power and threat. As Chinese power (and almost necessarily Chinese assertiveness) increases, the states surrounding China don’t knock themselves over in an effort to kowtow to Beijing. Rather, they pursue security relationships that ensure against potential (and it remains almost entirely potential) Chinese belligerence.

And yet, Robert Kaplan insists that if we don’t stay in Afghanistan, India will bandwagon and become a Chinese satellite. He presents this claim with no evidence, and makes no effort to logically support it. Indeed, Kaplan makes only the barest effort to claim that his deep knowledge of the Indian character gives him insight into Indian strategic behavior, perhaps because he’s not an India specialist. Kaplan’s talent is to tell the powerful what they want to hear with the veneer of both theoretical insight and empirical knowledge, while possessing neither.

On RT on Woodward on Obama

[ 2 ] September 23, 2010 |

I went on the Alyona Show yesterday to discuss a book I haven’t read:
To elaborate a bit, I think that it’s correct to say that the President could have de-escalated in Afghanistan if he’d been willing to expend the political capital necessary to do so. The Woodward seems to indicate that the President did, in fact, want options for de-escalation. Opposition within the military, the professional national security bureaucracy, and the foreign policy elite of the Democratic Party could have been overcome; a different set of advisers would have presented different options (although the pro-escalation bias in all three of the above communities would have persisted). Observing this, however, doesn’t excuse us from taking note of how difficult de-escalation would have been for the President. I don’t think it’s surprising that Obama chose to pursue priorities other than de-escalation; to the extent that we want assign credit and blame, taking note of the obstacles doesn’t preclude us from determining that he deserves either or both.

I’d also want to briefly re-iterate what appears to have been a central aspect of the President’s thinking: Ten years and another trillion dollars IS defeat, regardless of the situation that we leave behind in Afghanistan. There is no construction of US national interest (as apart from parochial interest) that could treat such an intervention as victory. The position of the uniformed military is interesting. Although the military as an institution is less pro-intervention than commonly assumed, in this case the senior command appeared to be resolutely pro-escalation. This is entirely understandable; this leadership continues to remember the demoralized military of the 1970s, and does not wish to be perceived as responsible for failure in another war. On the other hand, there are substantial portions of the uniformed military which are deeply skeptical of the COIN strategy being used in Afghanistan, and which wouldn’t be too sad to see that doctrine fail. This includes elements of both the USAF and USN, but also a faction of the Army.

Anti-Semitism at UCI?

[ 19 ] September 23, 2010 |

A commenter emailed and requested I write something about Kenneth Marcus’s article on anti-Semitism at UCI. It opens:

During the first years of the 21st century, the virus of anti-Semitism was unleashed with a vengeance in Irvine, California. There, on the campus of the University of California at Irvine, Jewish students were physically and verbally harassed, threatened, shoved, stalked, and targeted by rock-throwing groups and individuals. Jewish property was defaced with swastikas, and a Holocaust memorial was vandalized. Signs were posted on campus showing a Star of David dripping with blood. Jews were chastised for arrogance by public speakers whose appearance at the institution was subsidized by the university. They were called “dirty Jew” and “fucking Jew,” told to “go back to Russia” and “burn in hell,” and heard other students and visitors to the campus urge one another to “slaughter the Jews.” One Jewish student who wore a pin bearing the flags of the United States and Israel was told to “take off that pin or we’ll beat your ass.” Another was told, “Jewish students are the plague of mankind” and “Jews should be finished off in the ovens.”

As someone who lived and worked on campus during “the first years of the 21st century,” I find it strange that I don’t remember being “physically and verbally harassed, threatened, shoved, stalked, [or] targeted by rock-throwing groups.” I must have taken a blow to the head—that, or the “virus of anti-Semitism [that] was unleashed with a vengeance” wasn’t quite as virulent or vengeful as Marcus claims. Admittedly, I’m generally of the opinion that Orange County Jews aren’t good for the Jews, but I’m particularly irked by Hillel and Anteaters for Israel for the simple reason that they’re the Rex Kramer of student organizations:

That’s not to say the Muslim Student Union owns the moral high ground, as all involved have been hurling chum at each other for as long as I’ve been at Irvine. The key words here are “all involved,” because contrary to Marcus’s article, “all involved” refers not to “Jewish students,” but vocal members of Hillel and Anteaters for Israel who either deliberately provoke or are deliberately provoked by members of the Muslim Student Union. Of course, Marcus declines to state that the obverse is also true: “all involved” refers not to “Muslim students,” but vocal members of the Muslim Student Union who either deliberately provoke or are deliberately provoked by members of Hillel and Anteaters for Israel. The university does not “foster a hostile environment for Jewish students,” but it does allow Jewish students to stand in front of the library and create a hostile environment all on their lonesome.

For example, when I sported a beard last winter, a member of Hillel in the middle of an argument with a Muslim student pointed at me and asked if I supported the “racist statement” my “Muslim brother” had made. As I had no idea what my “Muslim brother” had said—my deafness when walking on campus is the stuff of legend—I politely informed her that I was Jewish, which prompted her to swing a finger at the Muslim student and demand I partake of her outrage. The Muslim student looked unfazed, which is when it dawned on me that these two had probably been doing this dance all day, all quarter, all academic year. The same “student mentors” bring the same Holocaust and counter-Holocaust walls to campus every year, meaning these professional provocateurs have to coordinate their plans to foment discord among an otherwise apathetic student body. I imagine it starts something like this:

ABBAS: I want to hate the last week of November.  Are you free then?

FYVUSH: Let me check calendar. (leans back in his chair) ESTHER! ESTHER! CAN WE MAKE TO HATE IN NOVEMBER?

ESTHER: (offstage left) NOVEMBER WHEN!

FYVUSH: ABBAS PREFERS THE LAST WEEK!

ESTHER: TELL ABBAS I SAY HELLO!

FYVUSH: ESTHER SAYS HELLO!

ESTHER: DID YOU TELL HIM I SAID HELLO!

FYVUSH: I DID!

Something like that.

Cyber-Bombs And The Law

[ 5 ] September 23, 2010 |

“Cyber-warfare” used to refer to damaging or stealing data and the networks on which they rely. Now, cyber-weapons can destroy physical infrastructure as well. As reported in CSMonitor:

Cyber security experts say they have identified the world’s first known cyber super weapon designed specifically to destroy a real-world target – a factory, a refinery, or just maybe a nuclear power plant. The cyber worm, called Stuxnet, has been the object of intense study since its detection in June. As more has become known about it, alarm about its capabilities and purpose have grown. Some top cyber security experts now say Stuxnet’s arrival heralds something blindingly new: a cyber weapon created to cross from the digital realm to the physical world – to destroy something. At least one expert who has extensively studied the malicious software, or malware, suggests Stuxnet may have already attacked its target – and that it may have been Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant, which much of the world condemns as a nuclear weapons threat.

At Duck of Minerva, Ben O’Loughin is asking some useful questions about these trends, in the context of wider developments:

Where does this leave international law? We’ve caught up with World War II and the regulation of mass armies and nukes. Who has the technical expertise, political will and diplomatic savvy to draw up laws for a world of crowdsourced armies and weaponized software?

I’m not sure, but folks at NPR are thinking hard about it.

Idiotic

[ 9 ] September 23, 2010 |

To state the obvious, this non-action is awful both on the merits (making the permanent extension of Bush’s upper-class tax cuts more likely) and as politics (name me the district where voting for middle-class tax cuts and against upper-class ones is “politically risky.”) The only consolation is that the Blue Dog clowns most responsible for this fiasco are also the most likely to end up out on their ass this November, and good riddance.

The vastly disproportionate influence of the rich on American politics isn’t exactly news, but the willingness of many House Dems to commit political suicide in order to defend an awful and very unpopular policy for the upper class is about as stark and depressing an example as you can get.

Members of Congress Should Interpret the Constitution

[ 7 ] September 23, 2010 |

The odds that I will agree with David Bernstein over Dahlia Lithwick are…not good, but in this case Bernstein is right. I’ve been trying to condense the paper I presented at WPSA earlier this year into blog format (very short version: the United States doesn’t have a regime of “judicial supremacy” in any meaningful sense, and this is probably a good thing), but I can’t see what’s objectionable about Christine O’Donnell saying she’ll scrutinize legislation for its constitutionality while considering it; indeed, if anything legislators are obliged to do so. O’Donnell’s particular constitutional arguments might be objectionable, but that’s a different issue. As long as they don’t actually defy court orders, there’s nothing wrong with reaching judgments about the Constitution that differ from those of a majority of the Supreme Court at any particular time.

Put it this way — despite the Supreme Court’s recent pronouncement on the subject, I do not believe that the equal protection clause of 14th Amendment prohibits local school boards from voluntarily integrating their schools. If i were a school board official in Louisville or Seattle I would reluctantly agree to abide by the court’s decision, but I certainly would have gone ahead with the programs before the fact despite knowing that 5 members of the Supreme Court might disagree with me. And just as Bernstein would be sympathetic to O’Donnell’s constitutional arguments, I also wouldn’t start agreeing with a pre-New Deal conception of federal power if the Supreme Court suddenly started throwing out important economic legislation on commerce clause grounds — and nor, I’m sure, would Dahlia.

There are many, many things to criticize Christine O’Donnell for — but she’s right that the Supreme Court doesn’t and shouldn’t have a monopoly on constitutional deliberation.

No To CEO

[ 3 ] September 23, 2010 |

Krugman makes a good case. And, yes, the idea that the “messaging” from someone no non-professional pays any attention to is more important than their ability to do the job is absurd, even in narrow political terms. Even if this wasn’t the consistent finding of political scientists, it should be intuitively obvious. Someone who’s out of work or working two crappy jobs or is terrified about losing their job isn’t going to become happy with the incumbent party because of some stirring rhetoric from an executive branch official, up to and including the president.