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The Iron Heel of the Union

[ 23 ] April 10, 2008 |

Red State wonders why Democrats are so stoopid:

Of course, it could just be that the Democrats are clueless about the military. Someone should ask the Democrats if they think we’re still at war with the confederacy, the Germans, and the Japanese given all the standing American armies in the South, Germany, and Japan.

Obviously, Erick Erickson hasn’t been paying much attention to Confederate Heritage Month; if he did, he would understand that the “standing American armies in the south” are nothing more than a smoke screen for Carpetbagger and Negro Domination. Look! Here’s the testimony of T.W. Morrison, a 2nd Lieutenant in the US Army, to the House of Representatives in 1872:

Text not available

Is John McCain prepared to allow this shameful occupation to continue for another 150 years? When will the South at last be free again? The people must be told.

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Welcome to the Ranks of the Hyper-Over-Educated

[ 7 ] April 10, 2008 |

I present Dr. Erik Loomis, Ph.D.

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John Quiggin Makes John McCain Look Like a Moron (Difficulty Scale: 0)

[ 32 ] April 10, 2008 |

This bears emphasis:

As usual with McCain’s statements in his alleged area of expertise, the claim [that winners don't offer cease-fires] is factually dubious. More importantly, the implicit analysis here, and in nearly all pro-war thinking is that of a zero-sum game, in which one side’s gains equal the other side’s losses. The reality is that war is a negative sum game. Invariably, both sides lose relative to an immediate agreement on the final peace terms. In the vast majority of cases, both sides are worse off than if the war had never been fought. With nearly equal certainty, anyone who passes up an opportunity for an early ceasefire will regret it in the end.

The negative sum nature of war is most obvious when, as predictably happened in Basra, the stage of bloody stalemate is reached. At this point, both sides typically want to come out of the fight with some gains to show for the exercise. Fighting on, they sometimes achieve this and sometimes do not. But the losses incurred in the process ensure that both sides are worse than they would have been with an immediate ceasefire.

Indeed; this is so simple that it doesn’t seem worth repeating, yet for some reason it needs to be repeated. Unless you assign a positive value to fighting war (and such is rejected in modern conceptions of war, and also pretty clearly rejected within the Christian conception of Just War), then war always incurs substantial costs. Even taking provinces or destroying fleets is cheaper to do by threat of force than by actual force; both sides are better off if no fighting occurs. As we know from our Fearon wars still happen even though they’re negative sum; opponents have incentive to conceal information about their capabilities, some goods may be indivisible, and some agreements may be unenforceable.

The typical right wing critique of this argument doesn’t actually challenge the notion that war is negative sum, although it pretends to do so. The Ledeen Doctrine, for example, asserts that there is a positive value to demonstrating that we are willing to incur serious costs by actually going to war, instead of simply threatening to go to war. By indicating to third parties that we are willing to incur the cost of deposing Saddam Hussein, we derive benefit beyond the actual deposition. Similarly, by demonstrating our willingness to incur costs in a losing war (when someone wants Florida, or something, and we know we can’t keep it but decide to fight anyway) we communicate to third parties our irrationality, thus forcing them to treat us with respect. But even these arguments are really dependent on the idea that war is negative sum; otherwise we aren’t really demonstrating any will to incur costs.

The conservative case for irrational war is pretty weak, in my view; it depends on a set of implausible assumptions about human behavior and about how humans react to information. It turns out, of course, that reputations don’t really form in the way they would need to for this kind of argument to work, and especially that the kind of signalling that war of this sort attempts is invariably indeterminate; we think we’re sending a clear message by invading random countries, but others don’t appreciate that clarity. It also seems to me that killing lots and lots and lots of people for what might amount to a “message” is inherently evil, but whatever. In any case, it’s not even clear that McCain’s understanding of war rises to the level of this conservative critique; McCain seems to understand war as bound up in a set of beliefs about national honor and manliness, which has the perverse effect of making the fighting of war a net positive.

Quiggin includes several of the many cases in which the winner of a conflict has offered a truce; McCain’s idiotic statements reveal that he doesn’t really understand that war, after all, has at its heart a political purpose. As such, he’s apparently rather less capable than Moqtada Al-Sadr, who appears to have understood that a) continuing the fight would have incurred further costs to both sides, and b) reaching a settlement without incurring those costs would pay political dividends in the medium and long term. I, for one, would prefer to have a President who’s less, rather than more, likely to get outsmarted by the Mook.

Also see Yglesias.

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They Let James Q. Wilson Write a High School Textbook?

[ 23 ] April 10, 2008 |


Student Matthew LaClair of Kearny, NJ — whose AP Goverment class uses American Goverment — “was particularly upset about the book’s treatment of global warming.”

The book’s authors James Q. Wilson and John DiIulio Jr. claim that “the scientific community is divided over the issue,” and “activist scientists say that the earth is getting warmer; skeptical ones note that the earth’s atmosphere has been getting cooler.” Environmentalists are portrayed as “elites who often base their arguments on ideology as much as facts” and “raise money with scary statements about the harm global warming will cause.”

Here’s the thing; I’m not terribly surprised that Wilson and DiIulio would spend some of their precious time trying to indoctrinate America’s high school students. To attack global warming specifically, however, is not an approach that I would have expected; it has always struck me that the bulk of such efforts are cynical attempts to feed the rubes and the oil companies. I would have doubted that Wilson and DiIulio actually believe that there is a vast conspiracy of scientists and activists dedicated to the project of making Michael Crichton cry. I suppose that either a) I would be wrong, or b) Wilson and DiIulio really are more comfortable with the Mayberry Machiavellianism that the latter would lead us to believe…

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Wait; Arming Random People Doesn’t Help with Statebuilding?

[ 2 ] April 10, 2008 |

This is interesting:

NATO commanders in Afghanistan have decided to end local police training, fearing that cops in remote areas -– most of whom once fought for tribal warlords –- might one day turn their weapons against Kabul and the U.S.-led coalition.

The change in policy perhaps signals a shift in Western attitudes towards the growing ranks of sanctioned tribal armies that perform routine security functions in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The “Sons of Iraq” militia groups, in particular, are a key facet of the U.S. strategy for preventing extremists from taking root in vulnerable Sunni communities.

But some military officers have questioned the long-term wisdom of arming sectarian groups whose allegiances are notoriously fickle.

Did the Pentagon hire Charles Tilly, or something? The skepticism about arming local groups with no allegiance to the central governments doesn’t yet seem to have spread to Iraq, perhaps with good reason; the entire “Awakening” strategy which has accompanied the Surge is dependent on nothing so much as payoffs of money and weapons to the people who used to be killing American soldiers. Arming locals isn’t part of the project in Iraq; the powers-that-be have determined that it is the project, consequences for the Iraqi state be damned.

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Southern-Fried Red-Baiting

[ 0 ] April 10, 2008 |

Shorter All-too-verbatim Treason-in-Defense-of-Slavery Yankee:

Is Obama “merely” another radical leftist like another one of his mentors, Saul Alinsky?

Is he a Marxist, as would befit his continued 20-year association with a church founded on the Marxism underlying Black Liberation Theology?

Is he a socialist revolutionary with Maoist tendencies that wants to wage war against the United States like his close friend, fellow Woods Fund board member, and domestic terrorist William Ayers?

Is he a communist, like his mentor Davis, his father, his ethic-cleansing, Islamist-coddling cousin, and even his own wife Michelle Obama, who insisted just yesterday the thought that, “someone is going to have to give up a piece of their pie so that someone else can have more.”

At this point we simply do not know where along the radical leftist continum Barack Obama’s thoughts reside, because no one has ever pressed him on his beliefs or his meager record.

Is Obama the moderate liberal (or center-rightist in virtually any other non-Stalinist liberal democracy) his record suggests? Or is he the Maoist radical envisioned in Bob Owens’s Southern-Comfort-and-Coke-fueled fever dreams? If you’re a star writer for Pajamas Media, it’s a real puzzler!

Bonus wankery in comments:

He hasn’t yet tried to nationalize corporate property, but promising to take money (also property) from you for the common good is the same thing in my mind. That is certainly a statist philosophy. Is it communist? Marxist?

Nozick lives! In really, really dumb form! Sure, the income tax, being sent to Siberia by an undemocratic government for 6 months, what’s the difference? Also note above that he considers “adding to the budget deficit” evidence of Obama’s communism, which I guess puts Bush well to the left of Brezhnev…

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NHL Playoff Preview

[ 0 ] April 10, 2008 |

Various other commitments will prevent the usual lengthy analysis, but for fun some quick picks and comments.


(1)Det v. (8)Nsh Nashville seems to be a trendy upset pick, and with Lidstrom, Rafalski and Holmstrom all seeming less than 100% and the goaltending dubious I would give Detroit very little chance against San Jose or Anaheim. But I think they’ll get through the first round; Nashville is a similar but inferior team, and I don’t like that matchup. Wings in 6.

(2)SJ v. (7)Cal I’d love to make a case for my beloved Flames here. With one of the top 3 players in the league, a Norris nominee and a recent Vezina winner Calgary has more front-line talent than the typical 7 seed. I always think this is San Jose’s year and I’m always wrong, and people generally overrate late season performance, so in itself I don’t think San Jose’s red-hot finish portends a non-competitive series. But, still, I can’t do it. The Campbell trade — shoring up the overrated defense that has been San Jose’s Achilles‘ heel — really was big, and Calgary is just too mistake-prone on defense and too thin up front to beat what’s probably the best team in the league right now. Sharks in 5.

(3)Min v. (6)Col I hate to pick Quenville over Lemaire, and I like Backstrom over Theodore. But between Minnesota’s depleted defense and Forsberg playing his best hockey in a while I don’t see the Wild winning (and a Colorado/Detroit series would be fun.) Avs in 7.

(4)Ana v. (5)Dal The sooner what has become one of the most loathsome franchises in pro sports goes down the better, but I don’t see it happening here; Anaheim can beat Dallas at its own defensive game and I still don’t believe in Turco. Ducks in 5.


(1)Mtl v. (8)Bos You have to pick one massive upset for this to be any fun, right? So I’ll be the only person to pick this one. It reminds me a little of Edmonton/Detroit a couple years ago; a team with a defenseman like Chara can always be dangerous, and Thomas is pretty good. And, although I’m probably wrong, I’m still not convinced that the Habs are as good as their record. Bruins in 7.

(2)Pit v. (7)Ott Two weeks ago, Ottawa looked like a live dog (again, “momentum” being Latin for “bullshit.”) Then two of their best forwards got hurt. I don’t see Marc-Andre Fleury being the goaltender of a championship team, but the Hossa-sweetened Pens blow away the Sens and get their revenge to start. PENS IN 5.

(3)Wsh v. (6)Phi I’ll be rooting hard for the Capitals, having seen them twice live this year and been impressed, and I also think they’ll beat the Flyers. Even a Flames fan has to concede that Ovechkin is the runaway MVP, and he has more help than you might think. (I especially like the Federov trade; the fact that he’s no longer a superstar shouldn’t obscure that he’s still a tremendous defensive center.) For once, the automatic #3 seeded team is more talented than the #6. CAPS in 6.

(4)NJ v. (5)NYR Another classic rivalry matchup. It’s probably foolish to bet against Brodeur, but I think the Rangers’ talent edges up front will be decisive. Plus, if I pick against them bean will never forgive me! So RANGERS IN 6.

UPDATE: World’s most dangerous professor and Eastern Conference expert Michael Berube sends on the following predictions:

Rangers over Devils in 6. Yes, both defenses are good and both offenses have been anemic all year. The difference is, the Rangers’ offense actually can score when they need to, and they have two lines to the Devils’ one.

Penguins over Senators in 6. Maybe five! It’ll be payback for last year. The Sens started off brilliantly this year and have been strangely mediocre in the second half. They’ll stay mediocre, even though I have to like Cory Stillman as a last-minute pickup more than Hossa. Stillman is one of those undersung second- or third-liners with a hard nose and a knack for the timely goal, but he’ll be playing golf with the rest of the Senators in about two weeks.

Canadiens over Bruins in 5. Nice to see Beantown back in the hunt. Now get them out of here so we can move on the Habs-Pens conference final.

Capitals over Flyers in 6. Maybe five! Jeez, would I hate to be playing the Caps right around now. A very average team through March, they’re suddenly, what, undefeated in regulation over their last 11 or 12? And they have that guy, whatsisface, with the 65 goals. I hear he’s good. Anyway, the sooner the Flyers and their thuggish West-Coast counterparts the Ducks are watching the playoffs on TV, the better for the game of hockey.

UPDATE THE SECOND: When I picked the Sharks, I was unaware that Greg Kihn would be singing the national anthem…

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So Much for the Rule of Law

[ 5 ] April 9, 2008 |

I have to say, I have mixed emotions about the New York Times’s decision to replace Linda Greenhouse with Adam Liptak. I’m afraid it is going to defang him and render him unable to really dig into political topics with a definite viewpoint. Like, say, he did in his Sidebar column yesterday.

This week, Liptak takes on the Border Fence. More specifically, he is scratching his head about Congress’s 2005 decision to give the Secretary of Homeland Security the power to suspend any federal law that was interfering with border control. Literally. And, not only that, but to suspend judicial review of his decisions so that courts cannot tell him that he has crossed the line.

Securing the nation’s borders is so important, Congress says, that Michael Chertoff, the homeland security secretary, must have the power to ignore any laws that stand in the way of building a border fence. Any laws at all.

Last week, Mr. Chertoff issued waivers suspending more than 30 laws he said could interfere with “the expeditious construction of barriers” in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas. The list included laws protecting the environment, endangered species, migratory birds, the bald eagle, antiquities, farms, deserts, forests, Native American graves and religious freedom.

The secretary of homeland security was granted the power in 2005 to void any federal law that might interfere with fence building on the border. For good measure, Congress forbade the courts to second-guess the secretary’s determinations. So long as Mr. Chertoff is willing to say it is necessary to void a given law, his word is final.

Thankfully, in the wake of Chertoff’s decision to suspend 19 environmental laws that stood in the way of the fence-building, two environmental groups have brought a lawsuit to challenge the delegation of power as an unconstitutional violation of the separation of powers. They’re likening it to the Line Item Veto, which the Supreme Court struck down several years ago. The D.C. Circuit disagreed, but now the case may be headed to the Supremes.

Liptak’s views on the issue are only thinly veiled:

People can disagree about the urgency of border security and about whether it is more or less important than, say, the environment. Congress is entrusted with making those judgments, and here it has spoken clearly. In the process, it has also granted the executive branch more of the sort of unilateral power the Bush administration has so often claimed for itself.

No one doubts that Congress may repeal old laws through new legislation. But there is a difference between passing a law that overrides a previous one and tinkering with the structure of the Constitution itself. The extraordinary powers granted to Mr. Chertoff may test the limits of how much of its own authority Congress can cede to another branch of the government.

How many times is it now that the Bush administration has tested the limits of executive power? I have definitely lost count. And Congress may be the biggest culprit here. It was a different Congress in 2005, but this Democratically-controlled Congress hasn’t done much to right that Congress’s wrongs. At this point, it may all hang on Justice Kennedy.

No wonder Liptak’s hackles are up.

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Wanker Retrospective

[ 0 ] April 9, 2008 |

Here’s the Ole Perfesser on 9 April 2003, several years before his More Rubble Less Trouble phase:

Some people think the looting is bad, but I think that a certain amount is good. It reinforces in people’s minds that Saddam is gone, and that he was unpopular. . . .

Yeah, the thrill will pass, and soon [the Iraqis will] be bitching about this and that, just like everyone else does. But I think that Cheney has been sufficiently vindicated. And some other people have been proven colossally, utterly, unredeemably wrong. Did I mention that?

And here’s the Saddam-o-Centric response at Powerline, where it was decreed that not a day would pass without an uninformed swipe at France:

President Bush is right when he declines to be drawn into the “Is he dead yet?” speculation, rightly noting that the main point is that Saddam is no longer tyrannizing Iraq. If he isn’t dead yet, he soon will be; and if not dead, then hiding ignominiously until he is caught and dragged before an Iraqi tribunal. Saddam–unlike, say, Idi Amin–will not spend his twilight years in the south of France.


Yes, it was a truly awful thing that Idi Amin took refuge in a place where the United States had utterly no meaningful influence.

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Five Years

[ 25 ] April 9, 2008 |

Baghdad fell five years ago today. If I understand the conservative blogs correctly, people like me were supposed to have been humiliated and distressed by the news; at the time, I was honestly relieved and mildly surprised that the city hadn’t descended into a cauldron of violence. Aside from the fact that the invasion had no legal standing, my greatest point of opposition to the war derived from my incorrect assumption that Baghdad would take weeks if not months to fall and that in the meantime, an unnecessary number of people would die. Because it happened to be on at the gym, I actually watched Fox News that morning and thought, “Well, okay. That was quick.”

I figured that Bush, Cheney, Rummy and the rest of them would be stuffing their codpieces with a little more toilet paper and asking us to support more of these sorts of things in the future; I was pretty certain I’d not oblige their wishes, but for the time being, I was relieved to have been wrong about the scale of the carnage I’d been predicting in my head. Then again, since I’m a pessimist by nature and anything but a military strategist by training, I wasn’t shocked by the revelation.

Here’s the thing, though. Though I’d opposed American wars before, I’d never seen an administration conduct a large scale operation with anything resembling abject incompetence. So five years ago today, it didn’t occur to me to think — and maybe I’m being naive to admit this — but it never occurred to me to think, “Well, okay. That was quick. I sure hope we don’t fuck this up.” Like I said, though, I was wrong about several things on April 9, 2003.

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Most. Overrated. President. Ever.

[ 56 ] April 9, 2008 |

As an addendum to the Harding discussion, I think it’s telling that the strongest points to be made in Harding’s favor involve improvements over the civil rights and civil liberties records of Woodrow Wilson. Is there any question that Wilson is the most overrated president ever? The compendium of rankings here puts him as high as fourth and no lower than eleventh, but on balance his record was terrible. His civil liberties record was unspeakably bad, and this can’t be explained away by context — it was a much worse record than Lincoln with much less excuse, and he actually wanted more authority to criminalize political dissent than Congress was willing to grant. And, of course, the opportunity for the worst civil liberties record since Adams was created by dragging to the United States into a war whose connection to the national interest was (to put it charitably) oblique. As Matt notes, he also entrenched segregation above and beyond the requirements of his political coalition. And he is also responsible for a Supreme Court appointment–a sixth-rate intellect who refused to shake hands with his Jewish colleagues and among countless other reactionary holdings voted to uphold the show-trial death sentences of the Scottsboro boys — who has to be the worst of the 20th century. He did have some domestic policy achievements, and put Brandeis on the Court too, but that’s a pretty bad president.

Put it this way — JFK is the other candidate for most overrated among progressives, but an ineffectual pro-civil rights record is infinitely preferable to an extensive record of pro-apartheid accomplishment, McReynolds was a much worse blunder than Byron White, etc.

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Academy of the Underrated

[ 31 ] April 9, 2008 |

Ari at The Edge of the American West points us to this Ilya Somin post that makes the best possible — but I think ultimately unpersuasive — case for Warren Harding as the most underrated American president. The argument rests on two points: (a) that Harding was more racially progressive than any of his post-Reconstruction predecessors; and (b) that Harding’s record on civil liberties was better than Wilson’s.

It’s hard to quibble with the first claim, though Harding’s competition in that category can hardly be described as vigorous. It’s true that Harding — who was rumored to have a black ancestor — denounced lynching and supported federal anti-lynching legislation, but it’s equally true that this was an issue with no real political costs to Harding or his party, which could use the issue to depict southern Democrats as violent, premodern yokels. Yet in those areas where his party profited from racism, Harding was less brave.

Most consequentially, he did nothing to stanch the flow post-war nativism. Indeed, shortly after his inauguration in 1921, Harding summoned Congress back to session so that it could pass the restrictive Dillingham Act, which set national origins quotas that would be further enhanced in 1924 after Harding’s death. These quotas would serve as the basis for the country’s racist immigration laws for the next four decades; their anti-Asian components were also part of a process that would eventually result in the Japanese-American internment during WWII.

Moreover, Harding (unlike his successor Calvin Coolidge) never disparaged the Klan’s re-emergence in the 1920s — a reticence that would make sense, given the organization’s broad convergence (at least in the midwest) with the anti-Catholic, temperant Republicanism that spawned Harding’s career in the first place. (And no, I’ve never been persuaded by the idea that Harding was a Klansman. The evidence just isn’t there.)

As for Harding’s record on civil liberties, Somin may have a point there as well, but there are some important qualifications that come to mind. Harding was right to pardon Eugene Debs, and Congress repealed significant parts of the Espionage Act during Harding’s first year in office (including the sedition amendment), but we can only take things so far. Most of all, Harding’s administration could afford to be less demagogic because (a) the Great War was over, and thus the rationale for anti-civil libertarian wartime measures was reduced; and (b) its support for restrictive immigration laws allowed the party in control of the government to claim that it was taking action to prevent “alien radicals” from entering the country in the first place (and thus making emergency deportations unnecessary). I think there’s also a good case to be made that the November 1919 Palmer Raids would not have happened if Wilson — who’d nearly stroked out the previous month — had been at full capacity.

As I said, I think Somin makes the best possible case on Harding’s behalf, but I don’t think he offers much to cut against the essential awfulness of his presidency. He seems to have been a nice guy, but he was rubbish as a president and deserves his bottom-feeder status.

For the sake of sticking my own neck out, I’ll offer up Martin Van Buren as my nomination for most underrated. He got hammered by economic problems that weren’t of his own making; he told Texas to take a hike; and his sideburns rank second only to Chester Arthur’s on the (admittedly small) list of the Coolest Presidential Facial Hair. Also, he used to have a blog.

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