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Dunlap Makes the Case…

[ 10 ] January 10, 2008 |

…for abolishing the Air Force better than I ever could. In a rather incoherent op-ed in yesterday’s NYT, Major General Charles Dunlap makes the following series of claims:

  1. The military success of the Surge is due to an increase in “boots on the ground”; so much for those “boots on the ground zealots“.
  2. The counter-insurgency manual still sucks, but its proponents misunderstand its key tenets, which are much more forceful than commonly believed, even though it still sucks.
  3. The Air Force really won the Surge, through a substantial expansion in airstrikes.
  4. Actually, the Surge didn’t work, because the only success we’ve seen is due to segregation of neighborhoods and cozying up to Sunni tribal leaders, so consequently the counter-insurgency manual still sucks.
  5. And then there’s Russia, which proves we need more F-22s. Why won’t anyone think of the Russians?

If you don’t believe me, read it yourself. Building and burning strawmen is a time-honored strategy of the op-ed, but the author ought, at the very least, make sure that the flaming strawmen are consistent with one another. In any case, Dunlap seems to have a substantial misunderstanding of the connection between points 1, 2, and 3. The success of a counter-insurgency strategy depends on the production of good intelligence for the use of force. Every such strategy will have both protection and projection components; the key is that the protection component, if well done, is supposed to make the projection component more effective. The reason we saw a substantial increase in airstrikes during the spring and summer was not that the gloves were coming off, as Dunlap or Ralph Peters would have you believe, but rather because the intelligence provided through better protection (which was a function of both changes in tactics and an increase in troops) produced better targeting opportunities.

Point number four is true enough, but irrelevant to Dunlap’s argument. The decrepitude of the F-15 is actually lending some weight to the F-22 argument; thirty years old airframes are both prone to failure and expensive to maintain. But then, the big debates about the F-22 have always been more about the price and the pace (do we really need a lot of them now?) than whether or not the purchase should be made.

Cross-posted to TAPPED.

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The Voter Fraud Fraud

[ 16 ] January 10, 2008 |

In the wake of yesterday’s oral argument in the Indiana voting rights case, Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, in which the Bush v. Gore majority played ping pong with Paul Smith, the lawyer for the Indiana state Democrats challenging the law, facial challenges to laws that are allegedly unconstitutional seem shakier than ever.

Dahlia tells us why
:

The real problem with Crawford v. Marion County Election Board is that the whole case is a dance of the seven veils. By which I mean that voter-identification laws are phony ways to solve pretend problems, while today’s challenge to those laws is thin on evidence of real voters who’ve suffered real harms. A chimera doing battle with a fantasy. Oh, goody.

The problem is this: the Indiana law, which was passed by a Republican legislature, signed by a Republic governor, and upheld by judges appointed by Republicans talks a big game about preventing voter fraud in Indiana, despite the fact that voter fraud has yet to be proven. Why? Because the people stopped from voting by laws like this “skew Democrat” in the words of a 7th Circuit Court of Appeals judge. But because the law was challenged before an election took place, there are no people with actual injuries as plaintiffs. That is, no one who is a plaintiff has actually been prevented from voting. Which is the nub of the problem for this case, and which left a huge gaping hole through which Scalia and his cronies could argue that the Democrats didn’t have standing to bring this case (a facial challenge) at all, and would have to wait til someone was prevented from voting to bring an “as applied” challenge. Trouble is, once that happens, as Justice Ginsberg put it, the horse is out of the barn. The person can’t get their vote back. And a unjust election has taken place.

What’s particularly interesting here is the way in which the conservatives on the Roberts court are chipping away at people’s ability to bring facial challenges when they believe a law violates their constitutional rights, even if the law has yet to go into effect. Dahlia’s take on how the oral argument yesterday plays into this:

With increasing frequency, the court’s conservative wing has been chipping away at facial challenges (the better to bar litigation), and today Scalia takes out a sledgehammer: “I mean, every facial challenge is an immense dictum on the part of this court, isn’t it?” He goes on to characterize all facial challenges as the court “sitting back and looking at the ceiling and saying, oh, we can envision not the case before us, but other cases …”

Trouble is, facial challenges are the bread and butter of progressive civil rights advocates. They burden potential plaintiffs less than as applied challenges do and they help ensure that people can challenge laws without being forced to wait and sacrifice their constitutional rights. And the Roberts court – Scalia particularly – thinks these are odious. We’ve already seen it in Gonzales v. Carhart, where the Court upheld the federal abortion ban, but left open the possibility that the law could be challenged on an as-applied basis, where it could be proven that the banned procedure was the only way to protect a woman’s health. This, of course, is a total farce. Imagine the woman who needs the procedure. She is sick and pregnant and needs to terminate her pregnancy in order to preserve her own health or life. But in order to do so, she has to go through the courts (an onerous, expensive, and often lengthy process). Even on an emergency basis, it’s hard to imagine than an answer could come quickly enough from big Daddy Supreme Court.

Or, as Lithwick says at the end of her recap of yesterday’s oral argument: “To recap: I fear I am counting five justices who believe that a nonexistent problem can be constitutionally cured by burdening the fundamental right to vote. Happy byproduct? Doing away with those pesky facial challenges that liberals like to use to address massive injustices. So in the guise of doing away with hypothetical future challenges to a law, the court is poised to uphold a law that solves hypothetical future problems in voting.”

Yep, seems about right to me…and so utterly wrong.

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Worst American Birthdays, vol. 36

[ 31 ] January 10, 2008 |

Richard Milhous Nixon was born 95 years ago today.

After California’s gubernatorial election in 1962, one observer wrote that Richard Nixon had been sent to “that small place in history that belongs to natural disasters that did not happen.” The disaster, as it happened, was merely postponed by six years. When it came, ordinary language nearly failed to describe it.

As nearly everyone who studies Nixon’s life and works has observed, the man was a stew of psychopathology. As both candidate and as president, Nixon made a virtue of secrecy, which he viewed as the key to strength. Rather than soliciting enthusiasm from Congress and the public for his policies, Nixon’s White House preferred to act without public scrutiny and debate. Among other things, this disposition enabled him to continue a war in Vietnam that he knew could not be won but which, in public, he insisted could be concluded with “honor” as well as victory. By the end, more than 20,000 Americans died so that Richard Nixon would not have to suffer the indignity of appearing weak. In every other venture, he concealed whatever he could — including the invasion of Cambodia — for as long as he could, bypassing government bureaucracies and actively deceiving nearly everyone outside his inner circle. Nixon ran foreign policy from the White House with very little input from the Defense or State Departments, both of whose secretaries, Melvin Laird and William Rogers, Nixon’s goons had wired for sound. Like most of the late 20th century’s behemoths of the right, Nixon was particularly suspicious of the State Department, which he believed to be staffed with Ivy League liberals who would “sabotage us from within [or] sit back on their well-paid asses and wait for the next election to bring back their old bosses.”

When the “next election” actually cycled around in 1972, Nixon’s squad of burglars and saboteurs — backed by the full faith and credit of Tricky Dick himself — set in motion the events that would eventually leave him wandering the White House, soaked with drink and pondering suicide, by the summer of 1974.

When Nixon’s brain exploded nearly twenty years later, Hunter Thompson offered him a fitting eulogy.

If the right people had been in charge of Nixon’s funeral, his casket would have been launched into one of those open-sewage canals that empty into the ocean just south of Los Angeles. He was a swine of a man and a jabbering dupe of a president. Nixon was so crooked that he needed servants to help him screw his pants on every morning.

If hell exists, Richard Nixon is surely there now, bubbling on a spit like an unwanted convenience store hot dog.

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OK, but you had me at "drinking"

[ 0 ] January 9, 2008 |

I was a little ambivalent about my vow to drink and exercise more in 2008, but as always, science has shown us the way:

LONDON (Reuters) – Drinking is healthy, exercise is healthy, and doing a little of both is even healthier, Danish researchers reported on Wednesday.

People who neither drink nor exercise have a 30 to 49 percent higher risk of heart disease than people who do one or both of the activities, the researchers said in the European Heart Journal.

“The main finding is there seems to be an additional beneficial effect of drinking one to two drinks per day and doing at least moderate physical activity,” said Morten Gronbaek of the University of Southern Denmark, who led the study.

Several major studies have found that light to moderate drinking — up to two drinks a day on a regular basis — is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, and some have also found this leads to a lower risk of some cancers.

But the Danish study, one of the largest of its kind to examine the combined effect of drinking and exercise, found there were additional protective effects gained from doing both.

Like a lot of folks, advancing age, parenthood, and a general sense of malaise have taken me to the brink of lardiness. Of greater concern that my visible state of disrepair, though, I simply feel less healthy than I did two or three years ago. My wife and I have been locked in a mild dispute over how best to resolve the problem; I’ve argued that by exercising more regularly and eating significantly fewer than 25 sandwiches a day, I can reach my health goals without sacrificing the nightly drink or two to which I’ve grown accustomed. I can’t imagine this research will add anything new to the debate, which is mostly non-empirical anyhow, but I suppose it can’t hurt.

My daughter, who will be two in April, has no clear advice on the matter, though she seems to enjoy watching her father drink his “apple juice.” And Henry, as always, doesn’t give a damn so long as he gets his time with the near-empty bottle.

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You’re Going To Make Me Support Clinton

[ 15 ] January 9, 2008 |

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Maureen Dowd’s presence in the Times‘s op-ed pages is an absolute disgrace. Molly, Lance, Echidne, Kevin, and Jill pile on to spare me the trouble of doing so again. If she was smarter, I would swear that MoDo was acting as a double agent for the Clinton campaign, but I think she really is a vapid misogynist. And while this is bad enough in itself, the fact that she seems to fill “liberal” and (gulp) “feminist” slots for the editors makes it even worse (and more damaging.)

Relatedly, Atrios has the video of the Maddow/Tweety exchange that a couple commenters mentioned.

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The Important Thing Is That People Who Do Bad Things Not Be Blamed For Them

[ 4 ] January 9, 2008 |

Shorter Wanker Unity 08!: The Republican Party has destroyed America’s political reputation, screwed up the budget, and accelerating global warming. The only way to solve these problems is for more Republicans to retain power when Democrats take over.

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High School Maternity Leave

[ 34 ] January 9, 2008 |

If you can ignore the truly inane comments (with your usual dose of lady-shaming and -blaming), it’s worth checking out this article on the Denver Post’s website, reporting on a request at a Denver high school that maternity leave be granted to students who have just given birth. Current city policy allows schools to deal with students who give birth in any way the school chooses. At root, there is no city policy. Most schools require women to return to classes the day after they are discharged from the hospital or risk accumulating unexcused absences. While some local young women can attend a special high school for pregnant and parenting students, there is a waiting list to get in; many other new mothers are assigned to individualized education programs or drop out altogether.

Luckily, some area school officials are ready and willing to implement changes that will stop a practice that amounts to punishment of pregnant and parenting teenage girls, especially in a city where, according to the Denver Post, “of every 1,000 girls ages 15 to 17, 54.5 will become pregnant in the city, compared with 24.3 throughout Colorado, according to state health statistics.”

So what are some possible alternatives? To me, there seem to be a few obvious answers as well as numerous more that are not so clear. First, it should be against city policy to penalize young women for missing school in the first weeks after they give birth by meting out unexcused absences. Second, schools should help facilitate girls’ returns to school when they are ready by providing on-site subsidized (or free!) child care and clean and safe places to nurse or pump. In order to make sure that parenting teens can return to school without falling behind, schools should facilitate at-home learning for new mothers and tutoring upon their return to school. The bottom line is that school districts, cities, states, and even the federal government need to do everything feasible to ensure that parenting teens do not drop out of school and, indeed, graduate on time and with college prospects.

Of course, there’s also the usual line about preventing teen pregnancy in the first place; contraception should, of course, be made available to every student and — I would argue — free of charge. We should get rid of abstinence-only programs that have been proven time and again to be failures. We need to enable teens to prevent pregnancy, but also facilitate their continued education if they do get pregnant and carry to term.

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Rudy!Mentum

[ 9 ] January 9, 2008 |

Since I fell for the spin myself, I should note that Rudy! did not in fact skip New Hampshire; he spent more time and money there than anyone except Romney. Which makes his barely finishing ahead of Ron Paul especially embarrassing. And then there’s the Florida firewall! In fairness, at least he didn’t finish behind Lyndon LaRouche and Al Koholic, like Fred “Campaign at Bernie’s” Thompson.

Obviously, the GOP race now is a 3-man one. And having been burned once I’m going to stick with my prediction that Romney is the most likely winner; McCain’s win wasn’t terribly impressive how favorable New Hampshire is for him, and a lot of the conservative base doesn’t like him. Romney will have by far the most resources and was the only one who was competitive in both Iowa and New Hampshire. I wouldn’t be surprised by McCain, either, and it would be unwise to write Huckabee off entirely, but Romney is the single most likely.

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It’s a Tie

[ 0 ] January 9, 2008 |

Some random thoughts on today’s results and related matters.

1) In terms of delegates, this appears to be a tie (9 each for Clinton and Obama, 4 for Edwards). This will be sold as a Clinton win, of course, but if we paid more attention to what actually matters for the nomination, rather than all kinds of ad hoc theorizing about momentum and bounces, we’d be talking about 1 win and 1 tie for Obama so far. I can’t accept the notion that if he had 10,000 more votes today, he’d have a virtual lock on the nomination, and I can’t accept the notion that because he didn’t get them he’s going to lose.

1b) As I understand it, Dartmouth is the only college currently in session in NH. Given Obama’s success with young voters, I wonder what the outcome would be in a few weeks when all the students would have been back on campus.

2) On the GOP side, the big loser in the current media frames is Romney. Imagine if the story went something like this: “In the first three GOP states, we have one win for Romney, one for Huckabee, and one for McCain. While Romney’s win was the least conseqential, he’s the only candidate to perform well in all three states and he has a solid lead in delegates so far. Given these facts, Romney should be considered the frontrunner at this point.” Nothing here is wrong, and in fact it makes a whole lot of sense, but given focus on coming in first in states, and the refusal to pay any attention whatsoever to the Wyoming caucuses, we certainly won’t here it.

3) My response to tonights results lies somewhere between Rob and Scott’s; I’m mildly dissapointed. Rob’s right that this means we’ve got a fight (I certainly don’t see HRC as inevitable now, although she should probably be mildly favored. I didn’t see Obama as inevitable yesterday or HRC as inevitable in the fall, either. These things have to play out), and it’s a good thing that Iowa and NH didn’t decide this race. However, a McCain/HRC matchup in the general looks a fair bit more likely than it did 24 hours ago, and from this distant vantage point that looks like the greatest chance of a republican presidency to me. On the other hand: this vantage point is very distant, and we ought to keep that in mind. Also, per Steinem, the fact that sexism surrounding narratives about Clinton has been far worse than racism surrounding narratives about Obama tempers my dissapointment with her victory.

4) McCain as inevitable is considerably less tenable than Clinton as inevitable. I’ve been trying to think through Huckabee’s chances, coming out of a strong performance in SC. As Rob reminded me earlier, states that support Republicans in presidential elections in the past get a bunch of extra delegates. If Romney, McGain, and Gulliani all stick around (with Paul siphoning off 5-10 percent in most states), this could push him through. A long time ago, I fully absorbed the conventional wisdom that “the GOP establishment gets what they want out the Republican Primary.” It’s pretty clear they don’t want Huckabee, but I don’t know who they do want. Furthermore, while I’ve long believed that wisdom to be true, I confess I have no idea precisely what the mechanisms are that produce that outcome. So maybe I’ve been a bit too quick to dismiss him? I just don’t know. His trouble with Catholics in Iowa isn’t really a good sign for him.

4a) For the 15th consecutive month, it’s impossible for any of the GOP candidates to win this nomination. I just hope this keeps up for 8 more months.

5) Is there strong evidence that Edwards will draw significantly more votes from Obama than Clinton? I’m not sure that it is. There seems good reason to believe Edwards will draw more votes from Clinton than from Obama in South Carolina, and that could produce an Obama victory. It seems this dynamic might repeat in other southern states with sizable black minorities. It seems his presence might hurt Obama in Nevada, but if the unions back Obama, that should be minimized. I knew several strong Edwards supporters this morning; they’re all Obama supporters tonight (myself included). My hunch is that Edwards share of the vote, outside of a few states, will dwindle considerably, and for some who aren’t interested in supporting Clinton or Obama, he’ll be a convenient protest vote. I doubt he’ll tip the race one way or another.

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Knife Fight

[ 14 ] January 9, 2008 |

It seems to me that we have ourselves a knife fight. It also seems to me that this is a wonderful thing; Iowa and New Hampshire shouldn’t have the right to determine our Presidential nominees.

… and in brief response to Scott’s post, I really don’t know how to determine which candidate is more or less vulnerable in the general election. It seems to me that Clinton just turned a 13 point deficit into a 4 point victory in spite of everyone’s predictions; this obviously has to factor into general considerations of electability.

… and the other basic happiness here is that the Democrat outpolled the Republicans by a wide margin, in a state where Republicans outnumber Democrats. Given that both races are still on, this is a remarkable outcome.

… just on CNN: “Barack Obama got a tremendous bounce; now Hilary Clinton will get a big bounce”. Well, it seems to me that this isn’t, so much, you know, true. Obama’s big bounce managed to get him a 4 point defeat in New Hampshire; as such, it’s a bit troubling to claim that the bounce has much of an effect. Moreover, I think that this is ideal; it’s never been clear to me why the voters in South Carolina and the rest of the country should take the Iowa/NH results very seriously.

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Ack

[ 11 ] January 9, 2008 |

Apparently Clinton has won outright. Basically a the worst plausible outcome from my perspective; Clinton wins despite expectations of a loss, Edwards obviously can’t win the nomination but is strong enough to throw the nomination to Clinton, and the Republican candidate who would be strongest in a general election got enough independent votes to win as well as to torpedo Obama. Well, as little sense as it makes to nominate both the most conservative and most electorally vulnerable major candidate, Clinton would certainly be better than the ’04 nominee, and now that I’m overwhelmingly convinced that she’ll win she’s probably in trouble again…

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#4 with a bullet!

[ 8 ] January 9, 2008 |

The universe acknowledges today’s official release of the Pantload’s pantload.

For those who aren’t completely sick of thinking about the Doughy one, Dave Neiwert’s review is well worth the read.

The public understanding of World War II history and its precedents has suffered in recent years from the depredations of revisionist historians — the David Irvings and David Bowmans of the field who have attempted to recast the meaning of, respectively, the Holocaust and the Japanese American internment. Their reach, however, has been somewhat limited to fringe audiences.

It might be tempting to throw Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning into those same cloacal backwaters, but there is an essential difference that goes well beyond the likely much broader reach of Goldberg’s book, which was inexplicably published by a mainstream house (Doubleday). Most revisionists are actually historians with some credentials, and their theses often hinge on nuances and the interpretation of details.

Goldberg, who has no credentials beyond the right-wing nepotism that has enabled his career as a pundit, has drawn a kind of history in absurdly broad and comically wrongheaded strokes. It is not just history done badly, or mere revisionism. It’s a caricature of reality, like something from a comic-book alternative universe: Bizarro history.

It gets even better from there.

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