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Fighting the Bad Fight

[ 4 ] December 4, 2007 |

We’ve all got to just face facts: we have lost the drug war. In a lengthy article in Rolling Stone, Ben Wallace-Wells tells us why. In short, after Escobar was killed, the US took its eyes off the ball, Clinton kicked out his academic and liberal “drug czar” and replaced him with a “tough” military man, and Bush ruined a good policy proposal with his swagger. And, well, here we are. A choice quote from the Rolling Stone article:

The real radicals of the War on Drugs are not the legalization
advocates, earnestly preaching from the fringes, but the bureaucrats
-the cops and judges and federal agents who are forced into a growing
acceptance that rendering a popular commodity illegal, and punishing
those who sell it and use it, has simply overwhelmed the capacity of

So given what we know, why is it that we are only inching — if that — toward implementing a more sensible drug policy? Yglesias and Brad Plumer are optimistic that change is on the way, modeled after successful pilot programs in several American cities. I’m not sure I’d be as hopeful as they are. Yglesias thinks that implementing drug policies that actually work (for once) might be politically popular. There’s definitely some truth to that, but a legislator (or executive) would have to get past all the “tough on crime” posturing to even get there.

If Hillary Clinton is any indication, the smart politicians — or at least the ones with smart people advising them — aren’t taking Matt’s advice just yet. Clinton said yesterday that she is against making the reductions in crack sentences retroactive. Admittedly this is not the same as saying she’s against some time-proven effective policing technique. But still. The five other Dems who appeared at the same forum in Iowa all favor retroactivity. Hillary talked a big game about getting rid of the crack-cocaine disparities in an earlier debate, but now she doesn’t think the disparity reduction is important enough to warrant retroactive application, even though thousands sit in prison serving what even she has acknowledged are unduly long sentences.

So we’re in dire need of new policy. And though there are some beacons of common sense in cities around the country, I’m not yet convinced that real change is ahead.

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The Beauchamp Retraction

[ 0 ] December 3, 2007 |

Franklin Foer has officially withdrawn his support for the reporting of Scott Beauchamp. I’m not terribly surprised with how this turned out, having thought from the beginning that the stories had a certain…Glassian quality about them. It still hasn’t been proven that Beauchamp has a Glass-like fabulist, but believing difficult-to-prove-or-disprove stories comes down to the reliability of the storyteller, and in this case it’s pretty clear that faith in his reliability isn’t warranted. The story probably shouldn’t have been printed, and it was also obviously a mistake to have his wife involved in fact-checking the article.

Having said this, I don’t see anything especially problematic with anything Foer did after questions were raised about the story. I think this passage is worthy of emphasis:

My colleagues and I placed calls throughout the military’s public affairs apparatus in Baghdad and Washington, hoping to set up back channels. We asked officials to provide us any conclusive evidence, even off the record, that would give us faith in the Army’s findings.

We never received this cooperation. But conservative bloggers who were fixated on this controversy–one arrived unannounced at TNR’s offices with a video camera, another later attempted to organize an advertiser boycott of the magazine–were treated differently. After we had posted an online statement explaining that we had been unable to communicate with Beauchamp–who, according to Reeve, was under orders not to speak with us–and pleading with the Army to make him available to us, General David Petraeus’s spokesman, Steven Boylan, told the Standard, “We are not preventing [Beauchamp] from speaking to TNR or anyone.” One of our editors called Boylan’s office on a near-daily basis to set up a phone call with Beauchamp; every time, they told us they were working on our request. After several weeks, we stopped hearing back from them. The Army later confirmed to us that it had, indeed, prevented Beauchamp from speaking.

If the Army has actually provided evidence to TNR that the stories were false, or were even allowing Beauchamp to speak freely, a great deal more of the criticism directed at Foer would be warranted. But that wasn’t the case. Given that Beauchamp wasn’t retracting his stories, and TNR was being prevented from effectively discerning their truth, Foer did the right thing in not saving himself by throwing his writer under the bus prematurely. (He’s also right, of course, that many of the arguments made against the article at the time were obviously specious.)

I also agree with Andrew Sullivanclaims that TNR published Beauchamp in the hope that the “piece would help turn people against those serving in the war” are beyond ludicrous. Leaving aside the fact that TNR‘s turn against the war has been pretty subtle — it doesn’t seem to involve supporting a withdrawal, for example — it doesn’t make any sense. First, if TNR wanted to publish a diarist who would undermine the war effort, publishing someone whose first story was about how a vicious militia cut out the tongue of a boy who was friendly with American troops seems like an odd choice. And secondly, nobody opposed the war because…American soldiers might make cruel remarks about a disfigured woman. I can understand why people defending the fiasco in Iraq want to make arguments about the valor or the troops rather than attempting to defend the war on its actual merits, but they really need to stop projecting.

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Another Reason Not To Shop At Balducci’s

[ 51 ] December 3, 2007 |

As if the high prices and the fact that I have the greenmarket and Chelsea Market nearby weren’t enough, they go and totally misunderstand a basic tenet of Jewish eating. Exhibit A:

I don’t know about you, but I enjoy a good ham ‘n’ cheese sandwich on my Jewish holiday.

(via Eater)

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It’s Your Fault For Not Having a Penis

[ 0 ] December 3, 2007 |

Via Ann, Megan Carpentier finds that the “Medicare program spent $450 each on about 47,000″ penis pumps, although “Medicaid (which serves low income Americans) only covers abortions in the case of rape, incest or the health of the mother.” Although an amusing tale of government waste — maintaining erections is a legitimate medical problem, but they overpaid by hundred of dollars each — as Carpentier suggests, this story has a serious point.

Given the recent death of Henry Hyde, allow me to point out again that the constitutionality of the Hyde Admendment is a much more difficult question than it might seem on first glance. It is true that Americans don’t have to right to health care spending per se, but this doesn’t end the dispute. As Justice Stevens noted in his dissent in Harris v. McRae — which upheld the Hyde Amendment — “When the sovereign provides a special benefit or a special protection for a class of persons, it must define the membership in the class by neutral criteria; it may not make special exceptions for reasons that are constitutionally insufficient.” To take an obvious example, Americans also don’t have the constitutional right to a state-funded education, but when the state provides one it cannot provide one to white people but not black people. And as the fact that the feds are willing to shell out for dick pumps at $450 a throw makes clear, abortions are not excluded from Medicaid funding for a legitimate neutral reason, such as the procedure being insufficiently important or too expensive. It can’t be because it’s too dangerous, because 1)an abortion performed by a trained professional is safer than carrying a pregnancy to term and 2)the Hyde Amendment makes the procurement of unsafe abortions more likely. The Hyde Amendment does not have a justification related to the criteria of the program; its sole purpose is to obstruct the exercise of a fundamental right.

This raises serious constitutional problems. And while reasonable people can disagree about whether the policy is arbitrary enough to be unconstitutional, it’s certainly arbitrary enough to be awful public policy.

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A Defeat For Autocracy

[ 25 ] December 3, 2007 |

Hugo Chavez’s referendum has apparently gone down to a narrow defeat. This is a good thing for reasons that Randy Paul explains here.

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Today’s Dose of Shameless Racism

[ 16 ] December 3, 2007 |

Based on the assurances of an anonymous “expert,” K-Lo reassures the world that Thomas Smith is off the hook because Arabs are filthy liars.

[W]e “should have provided readers with more context and caveats” – the context that Smith was operating in an uncertain environment where he couldn’t always be sure of what he was witnessing, and the caveats that he filled in the gaps by talking to sources within the Cedar Revolution movement and the Lebanese national-security apparatus, whose claims obviously should have been been treated with the same degree of skepticism as those of anyone with an agenda to advance.

As one of our sources put it: “The Arab tendency to lie and exaggerate about enemies is alive and well among pro-American Lebanese Christians as much as it is with the likes of Hamas.” While Smith vouches for his sources, we cannot independently verify what they told him. That’s why we’re revisiting the posts in question and warning readers to take them with a grain of salt.

Well, I suppose it’s something that she didn’t refer to them as “sneaky” or “sinister.” But as long as she’s performing due diligence, Lopez should also be aware of Will Saletan’s recent discovery that black people are dumb — something the National Review might want to consider the next time they receive something from Thomas Sowell.

On the brighter side of the ledger, I’m glad to hear Lopez is at last considering the possibility that sources — particularly those connected to various states interested in compliant press coverage — might be able to foist almost anything on journalists and idiot warbloggers alike.

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Solemn Announcement

[ 32 ] December 3, 2007 |

All of our efforts to convince Davida that she really could be doing a lot better having been in vain, it should be noted that Mr. Robert M. Farley is about to become the second married member of our collective. I will have the solemn responsibility of Best Man; I may or may not figure out what that entails in the next two weeks. Information about the pending nuptials in Washington D.C. can be found here.

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A Real Making-Shit-Up Renaissance Man

[ 24 ] December 3, 2007 |

The guy who filed fictions in the guise of reporting from Lebanon is also the author of the seminal The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Intelligent Design. Of course he is! The title is a little redundant, though.

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Things that don’t sound like helicopters

[ 36 ] December 2, 2007 |

Breast-feeding infants:

I’m pretty sure everything that can be said has been said in re: the suckiness of Day By Day, but good god. Has Chris Muir ever been around real humans?

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[ 15 ] December 2, 2007 |

Joe Sheehan (subscribers only) points out that it would be crazy for the Twins to trade Johan Santana for young pitching that hasn’t proven it can handle a major league workload — something it had plenty of — as opposed to major league hitters, which they lack at several positions. (At the very least, if they deal with the Yankees they should hold out for Cano, not Cabrera, who has well-below-average range for a CF and doesn’t hit enough to play the corners.) They don’t seem to consider that because, as Sheehan correctly points out, “no matter what a team actually needs, its GM always thinks it need pitching. ” But, of course, there’s the even better option:

Of course, there’s another option here, one that hasn’t been brought up very often. By virtue of having very few veteran players, the Twins have a low payroll, and one that is unlikely to rise much in the next few years given all of that cost-controlled pitching. They’re also moving into a new ballpark in 2009, one that should provide a larger-than usual boost in revenue as they get out from under a brutal lease at the Metrodome. Like all teams, the Twins have seen a jump in central-fund revenue, and even in the new park, they may find themselves the recipient of revenue-sharing money.

Taking that into consideration, the Twins should sign Johan Santana themselves. Even setting a new pitching standard of $20 million a year, or $22 million a year, is more than affordable for a team that will be able to support a payroll approaching $100 million and won’t come close to that figure without Santana around. The key thing we know about the free agent market is that the very best players in baseball are the ones on which you should spend your money. It’s infinitely better to overpay a bit—if it’s even overpaying—for Johan Santana than it is to try and replace his performance in the market, or through development.

Like Alex Rodriguez in 2000, like Barry Bonds in 1992, like Greg Maddux that same winter, Johan Santana is an elite talent irreplaceable through normal means, and as durable as any pitcher can be in modern baseball. If the standard in six years and $140 million, or seven and $155 million, as ridiculous as those figures sound, they may be well worth it if the alternative is spending two-thirds of that over that same period for half the performance.

Trading Santana for 50 cents on the dollar at best isn’t just a bad trade; it’s an outrage. This isn’t a baseball move, like letting Hunter walk (which was smart; he wasn’t worth the money.) They’re not going to use the money to sign a better player. And remember that the Twins, owned by one of the richest people in the country, are getting a large and absolutely indefensible taxpayer subsidy for the new stadium that will increase their revenues. I’m going to guess that the need to be able to pay their talent came up quite a bit when defending this regressive distribution of state revenues. And yet, when it comes to retaining the best pitcher in the game, Pohlad won’t risk any of his mutli-billion dollar fortune; after all, he can just take revenue-sharing money from teams that actually invest in their product along with a nice fat check from the state and make a safe profit instead. It’s a disgrace.

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Sunday Deposed Monarch Blogging: Senussi Dynasty

[ 6 ] December 2, 2007 |

The Senussi religious order was founded in 1837 as an antidote to what amounted to the perceived liberalization of Islam. It’s founder, Sayyid Muhammad ibn Ali as-Senussi, was born in Algeria but studied in Cairo, Mecca, and elsewhere in the Arab world. He attempted to return to Algeria around 1840 but was denied entry by the French. In response, he led the construction of a monastery in Cyrenaica, now part of Libya and then part of the Ottoman Empire. Gathering followers from across North Africa, Muhammad carved a de facto independent state out of the Ottoman desert territories.

In 1911, Italy conquered Cyrenaica in the brief Italo-Ottoman War. In 1920, Italy granted Sayyid Muhammad Idris bin Sayyid Muhammad al-Mahdi al-Senussi, Sayyid Muhammad Ibn Ali as-Senussi’s grandson, the title of Emir of Cyrenaica. Two years later he was named Emir of neighboring Tripolitania. Idris’ efforts on behalf of independence were frowned on by the Italians, and he was driven into exile in the late 1920s. After struggling for independence through the 1930s, Idris followed General Bernard Montgomery and his army as they rolled up the German and Italian position in Libya in 1943. After several years of negotiations and protectorates, Libya was unified as an independent state in 1951, and Idris took the title of King Idris I.

Idris maintained close relations with the West in spite of increasing tensions between the US, UK, and the Arab world. In 1969, the King’s poor health and failure to produce an heir left his domestic opponents with an opportunity. Because of health concerns, Idris I had decided to abdicate in favor of his nephew on September 2. A coup led by Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi overthrew the King’s government on September 1, while the King was receiving medical treatment in Turkey. The King’s nephew, Sayyid Hassan As-Senussi, was placed under house arrest, along with most of the rest of the royal family. King Idris would live in exile in Greece and Egypt until his death in 1983.

In 1984 Gaddafi released the royal family from house arrest and tossed them onto the street. The family lived for a period in a cabin on a public beach. Sayyid Hassan, suffering from poor health, was allowed to travel with most of the family to London for medical treatment, where they settled. Hassan died in 1992, and was succeeded as pretender King by his son, Sayyid Muhammad bin Sayyid Hasan ar-Rida al-Mahdi as-Senussi. Muhammad has been somewhat active in Libyan exile circles, participating in an anti-Gaddafi rally in London in 2005. Muhammad has made Libyan democracy his public cause, but has not renounced the throne. Prospects for a return to the throne are uncertain. The contours of Libyan politics are difficult to get a firm grasp on, due in no small part to the continuing dominance of Gaddafi. There is no strong evidence that substantial monarchist support exists in Libya, however, and it would seem that the fall of Gaddafi would more likely result in the establishment of a republic rather than a return to the monarchy.

Trivia: Which monarch’s last serious bid for the throne ended when his proxy war patron withdrew its support in 1970?

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To Sum Up

[ 0 ] December 1, 2007 |

Edroso manages to get No Country For Old Men right in one sentence:

No Country For Old Men is an excellent chase film with twangy talk about the persistence of evil inserted at puzzling intervals.

Although mostly very-good-to-superb, I found the picture a tad disappointing, and there’s no question that the windy, portentous monologues the movie inexplicably stops dead in its tracks to give to Tommy Lee Jones’s character are the major culprit. Roy goes on to say:

In No Country, Chighur’s conversations are a little in that vein, but the pronouncements of Sheriff Bell and Ellis are closer to the tedious lecture Commissioner Hardy gives the reporters near the end of The Asphalt Jungle: an insertion that is supposed to radiate meaning onto the action from the outside. In Jungle this comes off as a quick gloss or a way of getting around the Hays Office, and is followed by a more appropriate, though downbeat, spurt of narrative; in No Country the Hardys just hang around the periphery being premonitory until near the end, when they surge to subsume and kill the story. This is the real “dismal tide”: geezers talking about good and evil (and what do they say, exactly, besides good sure is good and evil sure is evil?) till their chatter drowns out a perfectly good action picture.

They didn’t detract from the virtues of the film quite as much for me as they did for Roy, but all the tell-don’t-show bullshit towards the end is an odd lapse from the Coens (especially since their trademark dueling non-sequiturs worked surprisingly well within the McCarthy story.) I don’t know how much of it comes directly from the novel, but that’s no excuse in any case.

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