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It’s All About the Outcomes…

[ 0 ] July 6, 2007 |

Read Gene Healy’s fantastic post on conservatives and Presidential power.

No principles, not even bad, historically and constitutionally indefensible ones.

[ 0 ] July 6, 2007 |


Friday Cat Blogging… Starbuck and Nelson

Random Reds Notes

[ 0 ] July 5, 2007 |

The Reds are quite terrible, but fortunately the Giants are also terrible. 6-3 for the Redlegs. Random observations:

  • I go to a game with Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr., and Adam Dunn, and it’s Bronson Arroyo that hits a home run?
  • Josh Hamilton is really a great reclamation for the Reds, just as Brandon Phillips was last year.
  • At .249/.308/.357, Ryan Freel is running the risk of no longer being the best Scrappy White Guy(TM) in baseball. Then again, since the primary characteristic of a Scrappy White Guy is the combination of suckitude with inexplicable popularity, maybe he’s doing just fine. Also, I don’t know that having “Tom’s Diner” as your intro song really strikes fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers.
  • People always said that Seattle had bad weather for baseball, but in my limited experience with the Reds I’ve had a couple thunderstorm related rain delays, a painful 30 degree gametime temp in April, and a nasty, sweltering 95 with high humidity. Acknowledging that the roof is necessary in Seattle, I’d still say that it has the best baseball weather possible in July and August.
  • Is the Alex Gonzalez playing for the Reds the “good” Alex Gonzalez, or the “bad” Alex Gonzalez? Does that question even make sense to non-fantasy baseball enthusiasts?
  • Jeff Conine is still in the Majors?
  • It must have been tough growing up as Jon Coutlangus.

That is all.

The "Serious" People

[ 0 ] July 5, 2007 |

It really does become harder to believe that Islamic fundamentalism is the dire existential threat of the day when it becomes clear that, just a few years ago, the people who cry the loudest about Islam were demanding action against China. It seems to me that either China or radical Islam can be the greatest threat to the United States; they can’t both be, and deciding to essentially ignore one (China) in favor of the other doesn’t lend much credit to the whole “existential threat” industry. If military conflict between China and the United States really is inevitable, US actions in the past six years have done nothing but substantially improve China’s position.

If I believed war with China were inevitable, I’d be pissed about the War on Terror.

I would also say that this, in combination with the earlier revelation that Dick Cheney spent Bush’s first term trying to convince Taiwan to declare independence, opens just the tiniest space for someone who wants to argue that Colin Powell isn’t a complete hack and sell-out. We’ll probably never have a full grasp on what went on in the first term, but I can at least understand a narrative under which Powell, apparently not having understood just how crazy Cheney et al were, and how weak Bush was, decided that obstruction from within, rather than from outside, was the best hope for avoiding a disaster even worse than the one we’ve stumbled into. I certainly don’t know if this narrative is true, and it doesn’t, after all, “save” Powell’s reputation; he attached himself before 2000 to these “serious” thinkers, and continued to serve with them in early 2003 when it should have been obvious that there was no way, internally, to stop the Iraq War. Still, he may deserve some credit for trying to prevent war with China and possibly delaying the Iraq War by a year and a half.

Book Review: In Spite of the Gods

[ 0 ] July 5, 2007 |

This is the fourth of a nine part series on the Patterson School Summer Reading List.

1. China’s Trapped Transition, Minxin Pei
2. The End of Poverty, Jeffrey Sachs
3. Illicit, Moises Naim
4. In Spite of the Gods, Edward Luce

Edward Luce, formerly the South Asian bureau chief for the Financial Times and currently the Washington bureau chief, has written a book on his experiences in India and his expectations about India’s future economic and social development. It is, unsurprisingly, a journalistic account, full of interesting observations but somewhat lacking in coherent structure. We included it on this year’s list because we wanted a book on India (we have one on China), and this seemed a solid introduction to the subject matter. The book pretty much fulfills that expectation, as Luce is a good writer with a lot to say about the subject.

Luce doesn’t hold to the notion of a “Hindu rate of growth” but he’s not exactly pleased about what he believes to be the impact of cultural factors on Indian economic productivity. He argues, for example, that caste consciousness has served to poison the political system such that the formation of sensible policy, including economic policy, is seriously impeded. He also argues that what he sees as the Indian focus on spirituality and the village over material and the urban has had detrimental policy effects. There’s an interesting cultural-structural argument to be made here, although Luce doesn’t really pursue it very far or with very much sophistication. On its face, the argument that caste consciousness leads to policy deficiencies seems reasonable, but I’m not sure that the effects are any more notable than the variety of cleavages that other democracies suffer from. In part because of his attitude regarding Indian culture, he utterly loathes the BJP. This doesn’t seem like such a bad thing, as he paints a picture of the BJP that is, indeed, quite loathsome.

Luce’s account of widespread corruption in the Indian government reminds me of the argument that Minxin Pei made about autocracy and Chinese economic growth. Pei argued, more or less, that autocracy would breed a predatory state that, being corrupt and unaccountable, would eventually sap Chinese economic growth. China’s transition was thus, without democratic reform, trapped. Having read what Luce has to say about the apparently amazingly corrupt Indian bureaucracy, I have to wonder whether how democratic government provides an answer to that particular problem. The Indian bureaucratic state, in no small part because of the decisions about how the educational system should be organized, seems to be a prime example of how a predatory states can limit economic productivity and general economic growth. Fifty years of democracy may or may not have exacerbated the corruption problem, but they certainly haven’t solved it.

In his conclusion, Luce focuses on the problems of HIV and environmental degradation, and the threat that these pose to future economic development. This is kind of odd, since he doesn’t discuss them anywhere else in the book. He also talks more generally of the problems associated with a country that has both a thriving middle class and a tremendous and extremely poor underclass. Luce draws a interesting contrast between educational policy in India and China to explain, in part, this development. In China, educational funding focused very heavily on elementary and secondary schooling, with the result that most Chinese are now literate and have at least some education. In India, the government allotted equal attention to elementary and post-secondary schooling, resulting in a large educated class and a very large class with no education at all. As noted above, this may have fed the existence of the large, bureaucratic predatory state that seems to sit on top of India today.

In a chapter about Bollywood, Luce relates the plot of what must be considered the best idea for a movie ever:

A lesbian, who spends her spare time beating up men in amateur kick-boxing sessions, seduces her drunken and unsuspecting best friend. The latter’s wholesome fiance cottons on to the former’s preferences and, in confronting her, is almost killed in a furious, muscular assault before he finally prevails. The final scene shows the conventional Hindu couple paying their respects at the lesbian’s Christian gravestone.

Convincing scripts are not Bollywood’s strongpoint.

Okay, I see Hillary Swank as the lesbian pugilist, Clint Eastwood as her ornery trainer, Ed Norton, or maybe Leo, as the boyfriend… this casts itself!

Luce has produced an interesting, but ultimately unsatisfying, book on India. Unlike a lot of academics, I tend to quite like good journalistic accounts, and to think that they have a lot of value. Luce’s book, though, is a bit disordered even for me, jumping from one spot to another and providing a lot of small stories, but not enough large insights. The book was valuable enough for our purposes, but I put it down wanting more.

The Unconnected

[ 0 ] July 5, 2007 |

With respect to the disgraceful Libby commutation, Laura of 11D provides some interesting data about how likely a petitioner not connected with the Bush administration is to get a pardon or commutation by historical standards. On an individual level, a recent Supreme Court case provides another example. In Rita v. U.S., the Supreme Court recently held that sentences that fall within the (now merely advisory) federal sentencing guidelines can be presumed to be reasonable on appeal without violating the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial. The man whose appeal failed, Victor Rita, is a man (unlike, say, Scooter Libby) with a genuinely distinguished record of public service: “lengthy military service, including over 25 years of service, both on active duty and in the Reserve, and Rita’s receipt of 35 medals, awards, and nominations.” The sentence that was upheld? 33 months for perjury, making false statements, and obstructing justice. Anyone think he’s getting a commutation or pardon from Bush? I think it’s safe to say you have to be part of a conspiracy to burn a CIA agent in order to further a grossly dishonest case for a disastrous war to merit that kind of attention…

Whew, and I Thought It Was Piece of Crap Based on A Toy Commercial!

[ 0 ] July 5, 2007 |

You will be happy to know that Libertas, home of Conservative Thought (sic) About Film (sic) has screened the latest Michael Bay joint and declared in free from wrongthink.

Another amusing thing about this outpost of wingnuttia is that they don’t really understand capitalism. They are, of course, committed to the idea that the public is completely turned off by all the left-wing propaganda (except for all the extremely popular right-wing films like Transformers, America’s Heart and Soul, and The Great Raid, but…well, nobody’s ever accused them of being rigorous thinkers. Or thinkers at all…) The difficulty of that narrative is that the studios are actually raking in more money (and, indeed, they’re so committed to this narrative that they’ve predicted 15 of the last one declines in revenue.) The solution? Ignore revenues and focus on attendance. Now, someone with any understanding of economics might note that studios are trying to maximize revenues, not attendance, so if higher ticket prices mean more net money a drop in attendance is worthwhile (and, of course, if ticket prices were cut in half and attendance therefore went up this wouldn’t prove that movies are more popular in any substantive sense, and in particular wouldn’t prove that the public is now excited by Hollywood’s allegedly left-wing offerings.) This is one of the problems with letting hack supply-siders write about movies, I guess…

…the screenwriter (and terrific liberal blogger Kung Fu Monkey) speaks

Big Brother May Be Watching, but His Eyesight Isn’t Very Good

[ 0 ] July 5, 2007 |

There was a lot of nervous chatter when gmail was introduced about the google ads that would run in the sidebars of people’s emails. Though the anxiety was allayed — a little — when Google insisted that the ads were generated by a computer and promised that no one would be reading your email, many of us couldn’t help but feel like Google, they of the tagline “don’t be evil,” was becoming a little too much like Big Brother.

Well, if Google is Big Brother, Big Brother’s eyesight (or insight) isn’t so good these days. Have any of you noticed the Google ads on the left side of this site? (Rather: do any of you actually read the google ads?) On the whole I like ‘em (since they make me a nominally paid blogger). That is, I like that they exist. But today, I couldn’t help but grumble a little at what they’re advertising…because for a whlie this morning it was all anti-abortion, pro-adoption, crisis-pregnancy type services. Gr.

Now I know what you’re all going to say…Google’s not to blame. We should be mad at Planned Parenthood for not shelling out for a Google ad themselves. Fine. Maybe. But aren’t these google ads supposed to flag sites, services, etc. that are in line with the content of your writing, not opposed to it? Their (otherwise brilliant) algorithm must be off kilter today. Either that, or Big Brother might be trending Right.

Perspective on the Pseudo Pardon

[ 0 ] July 4, 2007 |

I wrote last night about what I thought was the most glaring irony of the Libby commutation. I should have thought, when Scott brought Karla Faye Tucker into the discussion, to look back at Bush’s Texas record for greater irony and disgust. A letter to the editor in today’s NY Times did it for me. And the results do not disappoint (in that it predictably hardened my belief that this commutation is the lowest of the low for Bush — a mighty feat). Take a gander:

To the Editor:

When George W. Bush was governor of Texas, he presided over more than 150 executions. In more than one-third of the cases — 57 in all — lawyers representing condemned inmates asked then-Governor Bush for a commutation of sentence, so that the inmates would serve life in prison rather than face execution.

Some of these inmates had been represented by lawyers who slept during trials. Some were mentally retarded. Some were juveniles at the time they committed the crime for which they were sentenced to death.

In all these cases, Governor Bush refused to commute their sentences, saying that the inmates had had full access to the judicial system.

I. Lewis Libby Jr. had the best lawyers money can buy. His crime cannot be attributed to youth or retardation. He has expressed no remorse whatsoever for lying to a grand jury or participating in the administration’s effort to mislead the American people about the war in Iraq. President Bush’s commutation of Mr. Libby’s sentence is certainly legal, but it just as surely offends the fundamental constitutional value of equality.

Because President Bush signed a commutation, a rich and powerful man will spend not a day in prison, while 57 poor and poorly connected human beings died because Governor Bush refused to lift a pen for them.

David R. Dow

Houston, July 3, 2007

The writer is a professor at the University of Houston Law Center who represents death row inmates, including several who sought commutation from then-Governor Bush.

(hat tip: Sarah B.)

Some More CI Thoughts

[ 0 ] July 4, 2007 |

A bunch of people ask some really interesting questions in these two threads, questions that I think are deserving on their own post.

lemuel pitkin writes:

I think if you reframe the question away from preparing for the wars we are likely to fight to wars we have any business fighting, the brass may be right on this one.

Most counterinsurgencies are like Iraq — brutal unwinnable wars that kill huge numbers of civilians and don’t advance our national interest in any way.

In principle you can separate the decision about what kind of military the US should have from the decision about when it gets used. But in the real world, the wars we prepare for tend to be the wars we end up fighting.

What’s wrong with a citizen army? Seriously, Rob, why shouldn’t we cut the standing professional military down to a tenth its current size?

and:

The more the US prepares for counterinsurgency, the more likely it is to attempt to engage in immoral, illegal, and/or counterproductive efforts to impose its preferred regimes on other people by force.

The funny thing is Rob has described this exact same dynamic with respect to the air force — the pressure to use your weapons and training regardless of whether it’s justified in a particular case — and yet he doesn’t seem worried about the same thing happening with counterinsurgency.

I’m not sure what lemuel means by “citizen army”, but the point about reducing the size of the force is well taken; I certainly think that the size of the US military establishment can be significantly reduced, given that US defense spending currently reaches about half the world total and that most of the other major military powers are close US allies.

On the more specific questions about counter-insurgency, I would have to disagree. Others, including Brad Plumer, have also argued that the United States should resist counter-insurgency training because such training might incline us to engage in more counter-insurgency conflicts. I think this is wrong on two counts. First, proper counter-insurgency doctrine does not (as Air Force EBO or “shock and awe” doctrine does) promise cheap, easy, and quick victories; indeed, it promises precisely the opposite. To the extent that we have a military establishment and civilian political leadership educated in the requirements of counter-insurgency, I’d say we’re less, not more, likely to engage in unwise military interventions. While it’s true at the extremes that lacking the tools for war reduces the likelihood of war, I tend to resist such arguments for the same reasons that I’m a progressive and not a libertarian; I believe that, given the right tools, the state can solve important problems that we face. I also don’t think that LP’s charge that “we get involved in the wars we prepare for” is empirically defensible; of the four most destructive conflicts the US has engaged in since World War II, two have been primarily counter-insurgency (Vietnam and Iraq), and one has been against a conventional opponent that tried very hard to fight as an insurgency (Korea), in spite of the fact that we have made every effort to avoid planning for counter-insurgency operations. Finally, I think there’s a big difference between Air Force parochialism (promising cheap, easy victories) and a CI capability (promising long, expensive productions) such that the latter doesn’t carry the same negative implications as the former.

I also disagree with the notion that counter-insurgency efforts are necessary brutal, imperialistic, and unwise. Certainly, counter-insurgency efforts conducted by military organizations that don’t have the faintest idea about how to go about such operations can be brutal. To my mind, however, that’s rather a reason to develop more competent capabilities, instead of less. I would also argue that not all US CI interventions have been imperialistic and unjust. I believed at the time that it was correct to invade Afghanistan, still believe it, and think that victory there is possible. There are also conditions that might have justified an invasion of Iraq, in spite of all the practical problems with that project. If, for example, Laurie Mylorie had been right about Saddam Hussein, and all of the folks on the jets on 9/11 had been Iraqis, or if Iraq had decided to try to grab Kuwait again, then the use of military force and even the deposition of the regime would probably have been sensible. These eventualities may sound absurd, but they are absurd in part because of overwhelming US military superiority. CI would have been necessary to the operation, even if the justification had been one that was largely agreeable to everyone.

ajay writes:

[What about a] purely defensive war, of the kind justified by the UN convention as a response to aggression. The Falklands War involved no counter-insurgency, for exactly that reason. Nor did the 1991 Gulf War. Nor, presumably, would a future war against a North Korean invasion of South Korea.
If you don’t go around imposing your rule on people, then you won’t have to fight against insurgencies.

Fair enough to a point, but the UN convention also justifies military action that is agreed upon by the Security Council as necessary to solve some particular problem in the international system. Such interventions can directly involve counter-insurgency warfare (Afghanistan) or more often can involve stability operations, which are not exactly the same as CI but that operate by similar principles, and certainly share more with CI than with conventional uses of military force. As Matt Sledge noted here, the uniformed services have been as reluctant to engage in planning for stability operations as they have for CI. This isn’t surprising, given the characteristics that CI and peacekeeping share. ajay is right that this betrays an particular attitude on my part; I do think that the United States have an active role to play in the international system, and that this role will involve the deployment of uniformed military forces around the world in various capacities. I don’t think of this as a particularly imperialist project, because I don’t see it as differing in anything but scope from the actions of many European countries. The Scandinavian countries, for example, deploy military personnel all over the world, as do France, the Netherlands, and others. If a defensive war is all we’re interested in, then ajay is right that we can focus on conventional operations, but I think that there is an opportunity (and, indeed, a responsibility) to do more than that.

R. Stanton Scott (who does some, but not nearly enough, outstanding blogging at Foggy Bottom Line; encourage him, people) writes:

It probably makes sense to develop some counterinsurgency capability within our military forces, though I am not convinced that conventional war–perhaps against a rogue state that really *does* have WMDs–is so unlikely that it is safe to allow our traditional combat power to atrophy any more than it has. History has shown that real war sometimes breaks out just when it seems least likely.

Having conventional military capability and not needing it is better than needing it and not having it–within the constraints on what capabilities we can sustain simultaneously. I think we need both traditional combat forces and counterinsurgent specialists, but today we have neither. Instead of hiring a plumber and an electrician, we told the electrician to fix the pipes after he wired the outlets. Now the crapper overflows, and if we get a short in the wiring he may not remember how to fix it.

I would substantially agree with this, except that I don’t think we’ve lost, or are really in any danger of losing, our conventional expertise and predominance. I should have been more clear about this in my initial post; US conventional capability is important, but we’re so far ahead of the curve that we really, really don’t need to start worrying about losing that capability while we’re engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan. I certainly don’t advocate dismantling that capability in favor of CI; I’m just worried that over-concentration on conventional capabilities is now and has in the past severely limited our CI capability.

Last but not least, Mojo points out that I’m being unfair to the Air Force. True enough on some level, but I’m sure they can handle it.

And Now, The Punchline

[ 1 ] July 4, 2007 |

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Fred Hiatt is the editorial page editor of The Washington Post.

The Washington Post sums up the sharp rightward turn made inevitable by the judicial nominees whose confirmation they endorsed: “the outcome was simultaneously unsurprising and disappointing.” I must admit I’m not sure why you would be “disappointed” by something that’s “unsurprising”, but hopefully they’ve learned a lesson about basing one’s evaluation of judicial nominees on meaningless confirmation-hearings banalities (and pure wishful thinking) rather than a focus on the relevant aspects of their actual record. I suspect, however, that this lesson will last exactly until the next Republican Supreme Court appointment.

But what about the "O" in "Obama?"

[ 0 ] July 4, 2007 |

Somebody’s been reading Maureen Dowd today:

Yes, did you see those photos of Bill and Hillary in Iowa, with him in that bright yellow shirt? We all know yellow is the color of hope, and Bill is the man from Hope, and Hillary’s name begins with H but her image is not so much one of hope but of grim resignation. Obama is the candidate who embodies hope. (It’s the main thing he does!) So, naturally they put a bright yellow shirt on Bill.

With that out of the way, AA moves on to ponder the most important question surrounding Hillary Clinton’s campaign: whether her husband will get his bone smooched in the White House. And all of this a mere hour after posting an irony-free photo of the Washington Monument, towering over us all like a gigantic carrot.

I think some of those cat scratches have gone septic.

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