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Nuclear War Hilarity

[ 0 ] March 19, 2008 |

Yesterday in class I showed the following:

Which is the first of a three part propaganda film asserting that the United States was vulnerable to Soviet nuclear attack. Contained therein are a series of assertion by prominent military officers and civilian policymakers that are hilariously inaccurate; the most important of these assertions was that the Soviet Union had the capacity to destroy the US ICBM force on the ground. No evidence was offered for this assertion, but it helped conservatives argue for a number of things, including:

1. The MX missile, which was supposed to be invulnerable to Soviet first strike, but of which zero evidence to this fact was offered
2. The B-1 bomber, which under the scenario indicated would… well, be destroyed just like the B-52s in the video.
3. A host of other programs to increase the “survivability” of the land force, and of the SLBM force.
4. The discarding of any and all arms limitation agreements with the Soviet Union.

The important thing to note is this: IT. WAS. ALL. BUILT. ON. LIES. No one, whether in uniform or no, who was part of the project to make the documentary or who appeared on the video is stupid enough to believe any of the things that it argues. There’s a reason no evidence was offered for the “90% vulnerability”; there was no such evidence. There’s a reason no serious effort to think about the devastating counter-attack the US could launch even in the event of the worst imaginable attack; that response was clearly enough to deter the notional Soviet attack. There’s a reason that none of the assumptions discussed in the scenario are given any scrutiny; such scrutiny would have rendered abjectly transparent the absurdity of the entire project. To give just one example, the documentary assumes that a) Soviet submarines would be able to approach the east and west coasts of the United States either without detection or without alarming the United States, b) that Soviet SLBMs would have sufficient accuracy to destroy ICBM silos, and c) that US submarines would be unable to reply in kind. All three of these are flat out lies; Soviet boomers rarely left the Arctic and carried missiles less accurate than their American counterparts.

Rather, this documentary represented the collusion of Pentagon civilians, conservative defense intellectuals, and uniformed military officers to shamelessly lie to the American public. In itself this isn’t terribly surprising; this was the era of Team B, after all, and the Team B people were involved in this project. It worked because of the utter ignorance on defense issues of the bulk of the American public. As if there was still any doubt, this experience should have erased the impression that the folks associated with this scam (folks who later found themselves in Republican administrations) felt constrained in any way by the need to tell the truth. In short, there was nothing new or unusual about the body of deception associated with the Iraq War.

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They Shoot Dogs, Don’t They?

[ 42 ] March 19, 2008 |

So regular readers might find this hard to believe, but I’ve had pretty miserable luck in recent years with the animals who live under my roof. About four years ago, Greta — the older of our two Newfoundlands — lost her mind and required several months of heavy medication, hypnotherapy and Jungian psychoanalysis before she ceased being afraid of nearly every spot in the house. She’s no longer medical supervision, but most days she still seems confident that the house is crawling with invisible dog murderers.

The next 18 months were more or less uneventful in the pet department, but in October 2006 our beloved cat Herbert contracted diabetes and suffered through nearly a year of fruitless insulin treatment before leaving us last May.

Two months later, Hazel — the younger and less melancholy of our Newfs — blew out the meniscus in her left knee, an injury that required costly surgery and an extended period of rehab, not to mention a shaved leg and a humiliating plastic hood to thwart her efforts to gobble her own wound. By October, though, she had fully recovered and was again ambling through the neighborhood, barking at harmless strangers and befouling yards and driveways like the town drunk she’d no doubt be if she were human.

Today, unfortunately, we submitted Hazel to the surgeon’s knife for the second time in seven months, this time to repair a partially torn cruciate ligament in her right leg. The alternative to surgery would have been a lifetime of progressive arthritis, as her body crudely dumped calcium into her knee to substitute for a failing ACL. Treatment for that would have required daily anti-inflammatory medication, an expense of roughly $1000 a year that could just as well have been spent on a reconstructed knee. Euthanasia — of either the medical or Old Yeller variety — was not something we could contemplate for a five-year-old dog whom we continue to love in spite of her tremendous character flaws.

I’m pleased to report that the surgery went well, and Hazel’s prognosis for a full recovery is outstanding.

Meantime, we’ve added three new goldfish to the household zoo. And though my daughter loves them and loses her grapefruit-sized toddler mind every time she sees them, the fish should not expect any heroic measures to be taken on their behalf.

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The Individualized Second Amendment

[ 46 ] March 19, 2008 |

The first question about the D.C. gun case is, how will they rule? Reporters who observed the oral argument today seem nearly certain that 1)a majority of the Court will find some individual right to gun ownership in the Second Amendment, and 2)the D.C. gun ban will be struck down. All observers also point out that most of the interesting questions will come in the scope of the Second Amendment rights identified by the Court: what kind of regulations short on an outright ban of a large class of gun might pass constitutional muster? Given the minimalism that tends to characterize the late Rehnquist and Roberts Courts, my guess is that they will say very little about how the newly identified right will apply in future cases. (Scalia’s dismissal of Dellinger’s claim that finding an individual right would make it harder to ban machine guns or armor-piercing bullets makes it unlikely that even he will press for a particularly broad rule.)

The other question is whether this is a good thing. As with most constitutional issues of any interest, the text is unclear and can plausibly support both positions, so we’re left with a largely pragmatic judgment. I don’t really have a problem with where the Court seems headed. At least in a context of a federal system where weapons can be easily acquired right outside District limits, it’s hard to argue that the D.C. ban is an especially effective public safety measure, and it’s a very broad restriction. And although I’m often skeptical of minimalism, I think in this case leaving future cases open to particularized judgments that balance Second Amendment rights against the reasonableness and effectiveness of regulations makes a lot of sense.

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Harvard Law to 3Ls: We’ll Forgive You(r Loans)

[ 21 ] March 18, 2008 |

Looks like Harvard Law School is trying to sweep the changes that have improved the finances of its (and other Ivy) undergrads into the law school. The school announced today that it will forgive third-year tuition for students who commit to (and do) spend five consecutive years working in the public sector (and fulfill a bunch of other requirements).

The program defines public service as:

*Any full time job for a governmental unit, which includes federal, military, state, or local government, or the overseas equivalent.
*Any full time job for a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization or the overseas equivalent, with the exception of jobs at institutions of higher education.
*Any full time job for a political campaign


This is no small deal when one year of tuition = about $40k = about 1 year public interest salary for many young lawyers. Of course, the government jobs pay a bit more, but given that people emerge from law school with hundreds of thousands in debt and even the government doesn’t pay half of what firms do, Harvard’s initiative goes a long way.

I have to wonder how long it will be til Yale, NYU, and perhaps others, follow suit, and whether they even will find the money to do so.

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The Civil Union Question

[ 5 ] March 18, 2008 |

Yesterday’s Times article about the inequities of civil unions is indeed important reading. In many contexts, obtaining civil unions is an improvement on the status quo, but it’s also important that civil unions haven’t produced marriage-in-all-but-name but in practice seem to fall short of equality. For state courts considering the question, such inequities seem relevant to whether civil unions (as opposed to equal marriage rights) can be consistent with the equal protection of the laws, especially since the legislative entrenchment of gay marriage in Massachusetts makes assumptions that civil unions will provoke much less backlash than actual equality quite questionable.

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The Obama Speech

[ 21 ] March 18, 2008 |

What a colossal failure. I just don’t think there’s any way for Obama to recover from the fact that Victor Davis Hanson, Paul Mirengoff, Michelle Malkin, Kathryn Lopez, John Derbyshire, some dude living in his mother’s basement, and Atlas Shrugs remain unpersuaded of Obama’s worthiness to lead America.

. . . and the sanctimonious line of the day, as often happens when matters of race and history present themselves, comes to us by way of Treason-in-Defense-of-Slavery Yankee:

And yet, if I ever attended a church where the pastor said that we should “God Damn America” and resided in the “US of KKK-A” or the “United States of White America” that giant thundering sound you would hear is the congregation leaving en masse. . . .

. . . to set fire, one suspects, to a uppity sharecropper’s barn.

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More On Decriminalization

[ 14 ] March 18, 2008 |

Kerry Howley responds to my post on feminist-libertarian arguments for legalizing prostitution. Given Amanda‘s (also quoted by Ann) take, she has a fair point in noting that my isolated quote created a misleading impression about her post. I definitely didn’t read Howley as ignoring the realities of prostitution or focusing on (what she concedes to be unusual) women who become sex workers because they “love sex enough to make a career out of it.” Rather, I took her to be arguing that an additional problem with criminalization is the reinforcement of stereotypes about female sexuality and the problems inherent in legally constituting sex workers as victims. I don’t think either of these are trivial concerns by any means. I still don’t think, however, that they would be in and of itself sufficient reasons to legalize prostitution. I’m not sure that the constitutive effects are that strong in this case (although it’s a very difficult question to answer) and on the more tangible question I’m very much unconvinced that criminalization in itself is a major variable in pushing the most desperate women into sex work. (If data were to show that prostitutes in Nevada had a significantly different class profile than prostitutes in other states, I would re-examine the question.) And while the law is a crude instrument that in some measure has to treat differently situated workers similarly, this is something I’m willing to live with if the benefits outweigh the costs. The maximum hours laws struck down in Lochner may well have genuinely restricted the freedom of a few bakers who weren’t financially desperate and fully understood the risks and would have chosen to work the overtime even if they had more bargaining power, but when the health of workers is involved it’s fair for the state to base regulations on the rule, not the exception.

So I would be willing to support the criminalization of prostitution if I thought it worked (i.e. that it generally protected sex workers from exploitation.) Where I still pretty much agree with Howley’s bottom line is that I don’t think it does, and that singling out sex workers for unique “protection” (with futile attempts to ban some jobs outright rather than intelligent regulation) is difficult to justify without smuggling patriarchal Sex Is Sacred, Especially Where Virtuous Women Are Concerned assumptions into the argument. I still think the best alternative would be for states to experiment with different decriminalize-and-regulate approaches, backed up by strong federal enforcement of anti-trafficking measures. And I think we can all agree that he status quo in most states — the arbitrary enforcement of outright bans with more focus on sex workers than their clients — is indefensible.

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Florida Primary Vote

[ 43 ] March 18, 2008 |

…regrettably, won’t happen this cycle.

I wouldn’t say that this changes anything much about the outcome of the Democratic race; Clinton had essentially no chance before this, and she still has essentially no chance. Obama will win the pledged delegates easily, delegates from the Florida straw poll will not be a decisive factor, and the vast majority of superdelegates voting to overturn this lead is Not. Going. To. Happen. (Obama is now almost certain to win the popular vote as well, although why this is supposed to be an important factor in a race in which obtaining the most popular votes per se isn’t the goal, states use radically incommensurate systems, and some states don’t even report popular vote totals I can’t tell you.) This latest example of Florida electoral ineptitude, however, may make the obvious apparent to a greater number of people.

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Bring the Gold

[ 0 ] March 18, 2008 |

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

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Of Course He Lied….

[ 48 ] March 17, 2008 |

Did Ahmed Chalabi lie in order to press the United States to go into Iraq? This is a silly question; of course he lied, and of course he stole, and of course he talked to the Iranians, etc. etc. These, believe it or not, are not his true sins; there are many opponents of brutal, authoritarian regimes who will lie and steal and manipulate in order to overturn or harm the governments that they oppose. Yes, he helped con the United States into a war, but that’s hardly his problem; 4000 dead and a $12 billion/month in expenses is America’s responsibility, not his.

Chalabi’s real sin was ignorance. First, he hadn’t the faintest idea of the actual situation in Iraq. He depended on exiles for all of his information, and displayed no apparent interest in determining the likely effects of a US sponsored overthrow of the regime. He failed utterly to build a base of support sufficient to control Iraq, a problem that the United States noted very quickly. In short, this would-be revolutionary figured out a way to make the destruction work, but gave no attention to the creation; in this he’s not too terribly different from his American allies. Second, Chalabi gravely underestimated the ineptitude of the people that he was lying to. If you’re going to con someone, you have to make sure they have what you want, and it turns out that Chalabi’s marksallies didn’t have the goods. It was not in Chalabi’s interest to have Iraq turned into either a) an US imperial outpost, or b) a democracy; he wanted to be the Iraqi Attaturk, an enlightened despot who would rule with US assistance, but not at the beck and call of the Americans. But this was not a possible outcome; too many Americans actually believed the democracy rhetoric, and those who didn’t had no use for a puppet that had its own mind. Rather than using, Chalabi got used, and it didn’t take a genius to see what was going to happen.

The moral of the story is that while it’s easy to play morons like Richard Perle, it doesn’t get you very far in the end.

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Listen to Me! I Worked for Scoop Jackson!!! LISTEN!!!!11!

[ 6 ] March 17, 2008 |

This paragraph is bad enough to be worth spending some time on:

I did not believe the American-led coalition could prudently leave Iraq the day Baghdad fell. Coalition troops were essential to support a new Iraqi government.

Translation: The people we turned Iraq over to would invite us to stay, whether anyone else wanted us or not. But they wouldn’t invite too many of us to stay, hopefully, because the entire point of this thing was to demonstrate that we could pound a small country to dust without working up a sweat. Incidentally, what is this “nationalism” you speak of? And what is this thing called “state coercive capacity”?

But I was astonished (and dismayed) that we did not turn to well-established and broadly representative opponents of Saddam Hussein’s regime to assume the responsibilities of an interim government while preparing for elections.

Translation: The group of folks that I and my buddies had cobbled together may not actually have been in Iraq in twenty years, but that’s no reason to believe that they can’t run the place. I know Ahmed Chalabi; Ahmed Chalabi is a friend of mine, and he’s been telling me for thirty years now that he can run Iraq. Who am I to contradict him?

Our troops could have remained, under the terms of a transparently negotiated agreement, to help the people of Iraq build their own society, something we didn’t know how to do and should never have tried. After five years of terrible losses, they may now be getting that chance.

Translation: If only we had installed our puppets sooner, the Iraqis never would have noticed that they were puppets. We could have invaded Iran, like, four years ago! But now, fortunately, we’ve adopted a policy that runs 180 degrees counter to what I just suggested… hmm…. well, at least the hippies don’t like it.

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[ 26 ] March 17, 2008 |

Kristol smears Obama. It’s almost as if hiring a unscrupulous propagandist famous for thoughtful analysis of why the editors of your paper belong in prison for revealing illegal government behavior has its downside!

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