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Robert Gates Gave a Speech…

[ 0 ] May 5, 2010 |

I have some thoughts on Gates’ Navy speech over at ID.


The Would-Be Facebook Refugee’s Dilemma

[ 42 ] May 4, 2010 |

Dan Yoder is leaving Facebook, and implores us to “join him.” He has almost a dozen reasons why. Some of them are even good reasons. He’s not alone. And more and more of us, disenchanted, disenfranchised Facebookers know it.

But here’s the rub, Dan. A lot of us can’t just decide to “leave” without having somewhere to go. That’s because Facebook has become not just an extension of our offline networks, but to some extent, a space in which our virtual identities live – our most important semi-imagined community. The decision to leave such sites is usually agonizing and isolating, because we are deeply committed to what Facebook has to offer, even as many of us abhor on principle what Facebook is becoming. You offer us not a chance at diasporic exile, Dan, but rather a path to online death. We seek instead a better life.

In short, Facebook is like a beloved national homeland poisoned by a corrupt and unyielding government. As in real life, a few people like Dan will respond to such a situation by ritual suicide. Others will choose to exercise voice and or soldier on with resigned loyalty to life under the boot. But in real life, a significant number of people choose to defect, to flee. That’s different from just “deleting” yourself. And to do that, you have to have somewhere to go.

Plenty of us would choose such an exile from the dictatorship of Facebook were there a welcoming neighbor nearby to which we could escape with our friends and families. The latter is crucial: since the “space” of social networking sites is constituted both by the platform and by one’s social network, we need a way to convince people in our Facebook networks to join us in exodus. That requires a social networking utility as cool and functional as Facebook, with none of its privacy-violating nonsense. Not just any country, but a country where we and our friends would actually want to go.

What’s out there? Read more…

The Great One Goes To The Great Tiger Stadium In The Sky

[ 10 ] May 4, 2010 |

Ernie Harwell, R.I.P.

May 4, 1970

[ 19 ] May 4, 2010 |

Kent State

A “Balanced” Parliament

[ 14 ] May 4, 2010 |

to use the new nomenclature, offers a real chance for electoral reform in the UK: specifically, ditching the SMD / Plurality system in place that offers the country a government with an overwhelming majority of seats that 65% of those voting chose explicitly against, or even after Thursday a Tory minority government drawing on a similarly robust 35% of public support.

This would require several events to occur, none of which are beyond possible:

First, the outcome of the election would have to result in no party with a clear majority of seats.  A straight majority is 326, but as my colleagues over at the LSE Elections Experts blog correctly point out, this number should be considered lower for the Tories, who could rely on support from the unionist MPs from Northern Ireland (DUP and UUP, the latter of whom the Conservatives are in an explicit alliance with).

Second, the gap in seats between the Tories and Labour (or the other way around) should be slim.  If the Conservatives are only 25 seats shy of an outright majority, with Labour and the Liberal Democrats trailing 100 seats behind, then convention would dictate a hobbled Tory minority government.

Third, and this is the tricky part: Labour and the Lib Dems would have to negotiate successfully for a formal coalition government.  I would expect the Lib Dems to have two red-line demands: electoral system reform is the main component of the legislative agenda, and Gordon Brown resigns as Prime Minister.

Following the election on Thursday, there is time for these negotiations to take place.  Existing rules allow the sitting Prime Minister a week to form a new government.  The Tories are not happy about this, but (quoting the Guardian piece linked) “The Queen does not summon a prime minister to resign; convention dictates that is for the prime minister to tender his or her resignation.”  In other words, Gordon Brown is the Prime Minister until he says he isn’t.  Or is he?

Considering what is coming out in the press, including Peter Hain’s suggestion that Labour and the Liberal Democrats can sit in a coalition on a fixed four-year term, it’s safe to assume that there has been some high level behind the scenes negotiation between Labour and the Liberal Democrats, with or without Gordon Brown’s assent.  With Labour “losing” the popular vote, even quite possibly finishing third, I don’t see how Brown could hang on to Number 10 in such a scenario.  Nick Clegg would correctly demand he stands aside.  If Scenario 4 from this Guardian interactive is to be believed, Labour can oust Brown as Leader in the midst of coalition negotiations, replacing him with an alternative preferable to the Liberal Democrats, and then we may just be in business.  This would still require support from within Labour for electoral reform, but surely even the most tribalist of the lot would see the lunacy of an electoral result where they finish third in the popular vote and yet still technically form (part of) a government.  Personally and professionally, I see lunacy in a system that manufactures a 158 seat majority out of 35.3% of the popular vote, as Labour benefited from in 2005.

This works for both Labour and the Liberal Democrats.  If Labour want a progressive government, their only hope is a deal with the Lib Dems.  As for the Lib Dems, they know damned well that the Tories will not now, not ever, budge one inch on electoral reform (though see Guy Fawkes for an analysis suggesting a Tory-LibDem coalition is not as far-fetched as conventional wisdom dictates; h/t Fruits and Votes).

What about conditions 1 and 2 above?  Projections are all over the place at the moment, which is expected considering the nature of the 2010 election and the competing projection models trying to make sense of it all.  The BBC projects C 278, L 261, LD 82, a context where a LibLab coalition might work.  UK Polling Report has the Tories with the most seats, short by 43.  FiveThirtyEight has the Conservatives on 308, which is enough for them to assume a minority government and dash any hopes of a Lib-Lab coalition outlined above (indeed, their projections do not allow for a combined Labour – LibDems to command a majority of seats).  LSE have Labour as the largest party on 276 seats, and the Lib Dems on just short of 100; this is precisely the context where the scenario outlined above could work.

In short, it’s possible.  Furthermore, with Gordon Brown belatedly accepting “full responsibility” for an electoral failure by Labour, implying that he would stand aside in the event of a hung balanced Parliament, a deal between Labour without Brown and the Liberal Democrats is not as unlikely as I might have imagined a week or two ago.  Ironic that Labour couldn’t get rid of Brown the several times they tried, but the Liberal Democrats very well may.

There is, of course, one rather large stumbling block to all of this.  Liberal Conspiracy argues that the Conservatives have a plan for a hung Parliament, and I grimly suspect that this analysis is spot on.

Furthermore, I suspect that it would work.

Peace Negotiations May Do More Harm Than Good

[ 5 ] May 4, 2010 |

This is according to a new policy brief out from the Belfer Center at Harvard, in which Monica Duffy Toft details a study of 137 civil wars fought from 1940-2007. Toft finds that more civil wars are ending in negotiation these days than in stalemate or in victory by one side over the other, possibly reflecting the diplomatic norms promulgated across the globe by the conflict prevention sector. But:

Does the trend toward negotiations correlate with improved outcomes? The data suggest that it does not.

Civil War Recurrence. Wars ended through negotiated settlement are twice as likely to reignite as those ending in victory. These renewed conflicts are more likely to last longer than wars ended by other means. Further, recurring civil wars following negotiated settlements were roughly 50 percent more deadly. Not only does it matter that the war ended with victory but also who achieved that victory. The data show that rebel victories were more stable than government victories. Whereas 17 percent of wars ending in government victory recurred, only 6 percent of wars won by rebels did so.

Post–Civil War Politics. Negotiated settlements are associated with higher levels of authoritarianism over time. Incumbent governments faced with the likelihood of renewed war seem to sink precipitously into authoritarianism as they attempt to avert another round of fighting. Cease-fires/stalemates do not appear to have an impact on the level of autocracy or democracy. Although in general victory does not have much impact on regime type, the data suggest that when governments win, repression remains, whereas levels of autocracy decreased after rebel victories.

Post–Civil War Prosperity. Economic growth or decline is unrelated to the type of civil war settlement. Most of the states that suffered civil wars followed the same trajectory, with little divergence. The highest degree of divergence occurred among states whose civil wars ended with a rebel victory. These states suffered a decline in gross domestic product immediately following the war. Within ten years, however, they recovered, displaying the same level of economic performance as states whose civil wars ended in something other than a rebel victory.

What to do instead? Toft argues that policymakers are not stuck choosing between these two extremes but can manufacture strategies that draw on the elements off each that are likeliest to lead to both enduring peace and stable democracies: in short, a combination of benefits and credible threats in negotiated settlements. She also suggests an emphasis on security sector reform -incentivizing former armed groups to reintegrate into post-war society – be a key component of such settlements. The article-length version, just published in International Security, expands usefully on this point.

[cross-posted at Duck of Minerva]

A Question

[ 16 ] May 4, 2010 |

Did John McCain strenuously object when Scott Roeder was read his Miranda rights?   If not, I wonder what criteria McCain is using to determine which American terrorists are entitled to their constitutional rights and which aren’t…

…I see Peter King has joined the chorus in favor of slectively shredding the Bill of Rights.   In fairness, how can one disagree with the thoughts of someone who has so consistently opposed terrorism?

“Do You Know What a Blood Oath is, Mr. Ness?”

[ 9 ] May 4, 2010 |

North Korea pulls a knife, South Korea threatens to pull a gun:

Defense Minister Kim Tae-young said Sunday that retaliation over the sinking of the Cheonan must be carried out. Kim’s remarks came on the heels of Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Kim Sung-chan’s reprisal pledge made during last week’s funeral for the 46 dead sailors from the mysterious sinking of the frigate on March 26.

The Navy chief said, “We’ll never forgive whoever inflicted this great pain on us. We will track them down to the end and we will, by all means, make them pay.”

“I agree with Adm. Kim,” the defense chief told a KBS television program aired nationwide. “After finding the cause of the incident, we should pay back those responsible for killing our sailors. That’s my opinion.”

As for concerns about a vicious cycle of retaliation, the minister said, “We’ll take into account such things, but retaliation, in whatever form it takes, must be done.”

Talk may in some sense be cheap, but repeated vows of retaliation from highly placed South Korean defense officials make forbearance politically expensive. South Korea is certainly sending strong signals that it intends to retaliate for the attack on the Cheonan; these signals may (and may be intended to) politically box South Korea into a particular course of action. It goes without saying that any retaliation against the North needs to be very carefully calibrated in order to avoid escalation and a general war. Frankly, I don’t know how South Korea will manage.

Via Pileus.

Patterson Summer Reading

[ 9 ] May 3, 2010 |

The Patterson School 2010 Summer Reading List has been released:

  1. Andrew Bacevich, The Limits of Power
  2. Charles Duelfer, Hide and Seek
  3. David Kilcullen, Accidental Guerrilla
  4. Paul Collier, The Plundered Planet
  5. Walter Laqueur, The Last Days of Europe
  6. Greg Mortenson, Stones into Schools
  7. Stephen Cohen and Brad Delong, The End of Influence
  8. Huang Yasheng, Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics

I consider it a victory that Parag Khanna was banned from the list for life…

Daniel Clowes is not, per his insistence, one of those comic book readers.

[ 30 ] May 3, 2010 |

The title says “per his insistence,” but it would be more accurate to say “per his repeated insistence,” as he is incapable of writing a book in which he doesn’t distance himself from the poor sods who enjoy genre comics.  His dismissal of such readers almost reaches the point of fetish, as if he thrills at the thought of being the comic auteur who produces books that don’t belong on the same shelves as Marvel or DC titles.  So strong, in fact, is his desire to not be numbered among the lowly readers of genre titles that despite banking his career on sympathetic portrayals of losers and misfits, he lumps anyone who’s ever picked up a copy of Detective Comics and enjoyed it in with the Dan Pussey‘s of the world.

Which is only to say that in Clowes hierarchy of worth, there are reasonably well-adjusted people, self-conscious consumers of indie comic art, losers, pariahs, and loser pariahs who read mainstream comics.  The fate of the aforementioned Pussey is, you recall, to have his “silly books” ransacked and mocked by elderly iterations of Ghost World‘s Enid and Rebecca.  How powerful is his desire to distance himself from mainstream titles?  His new book, Wilson, contains exactly one reference to comic books period, and it serves to demonstrate that while his titular character may be a felonious asshole whose misogyny dresses the windows of a much more malicious psychosis, at least he knows what’s what:

Read more…

The absence of blacks is more significant than the presence of whites.

[ 38 ] May 3, 2010 |

Dennis Prager confuses me.  In an attempt to mitigate the overwhelming whiteness of the tea partiers, Prager argues that “the virtual absence of blacks from tea party rallies cannot possibly reflect anything negative on the black and minority absence, only on the white tea partiers.”  Is he employing “virtual” as an intensifier and admitting that these tea parties are abundantly white affairs?  Or is he claiming that there is merely a “virtual absence of blacks,” but that in reality tea parties are teeming with blacks?  Clearly he means the former, which is quite the confession in itself, but he confuses the issue by blaming minorities for being inherently irrational and not supporting his position:

But in a more rational and morally clear world, where people judge ideas by their legitimacy rather than by the race of those who held them, people would be as likely to ask why blacks and ethnic minorities are virtually absent at tea parties just as they now ask why whites predominate. They would want to know if this racial imbalance said anything about black and minority views or necessarily reflected negatively on the whites attending those rallies.

Note that Prager himself is not asking these questions: the hypothetical rational inhabitants of a morally clear world are.  That they happen to agree with Prager is beside the point.  The point is that these hypothetical rational people want to know why “blacks and ethnic minorities” are so irrational they refuse to attend events hosted by rational people who just happen to be white.  If only minorities would stop thinking for themselves and looking out for their own self-interest long enough to listen to what the hypothetical rational people (and their proxies like Prager) have to say, they would see the error of their ways and choose to attend tea parties.

Which is to say: the tea parties will become more diverse when minorities become rational and decide to defend white interests.  I have a feeling this paternalistic insult will be received quite differently than Prager intended, but who knows?  Maybe minorities really are irrational.  We should monitor the racial composition of tea parties and find out for ourselves.

Yoo Tortures Logic Again

[ 10 ] May 3, 2010 |

Apparently having run out of human beings, the Philadelphia Inquirer has given a column to John Yoo.   And, if you’re a glass-one-twelfth-full kind of person, you could acknowledge that it’s much better to see Yoo lightly re-writing Manuel Miranda blast faxes than applying his specious arguments to defending arbitrary detention and torture in an official government capacity.    Still, you’d think the Inky would want more for its money than this kind of rote hackery:

Over the years, Senate Democrats have destroyed the confirmation process by turning it away from qualifications to a guessing game over how court nominees might vote on hot-button issues such as abortion, the death penalty, and racial quotas. They began the degradation of the advise and consent role with the 1987 rejection of Judge Robert Bork, who would have been one of the most qualified justices in the history of the Supreme Court, and the outrageous effort in 1991 to smear Clarence Thomas (for whom I served as a law clerk). They continued the descent with the filibuster of a slate of excellent picks for the lower courts by George W. Bush, and they reached a new low with their votes against John G. Roberts Jr. and an attempted filibuster against Samuel A. Alito Jr.

Even leaving aside the ridiculous premise that voting against some federal judicial nominees is somehow an exclusively “Democratic” tactic, if I understand Yoo is arguing that it’s wrong for Democrats to 1)even cast votes against judges with certain formal qualifications, and 2)it’s also wrong for Democrats to even vote against nominees who lack these formal credentials if John Yoo can vouch for them. I’d have to say I’m not persuaded.

Now consider this instructive juxtaposition:

Obama’s first Supreme Court nominee made clear that he was a man of the left. Sotomayor’s views put her at odds with most Americans – her view that a “wise Latina” made a better judge than a white man [sic], her easy approval of racial quotas for hiring firefighters, her belief that the Supreme Court should import foreign laws and precedents into its decisions, and her conclusion that the right to bear arms applied only to Washington, D.C., and not the states.

The GOP will earn public support for its actions, but more important it will be returning the Supreme Court to the original meaning and purpose of the Constitution. The framers wanted the federal government to play a limited role in domestic affairs, and an energetic one to protect the national security against unforeseen emergencies and war. They did not establish a government to redistribute income or impose a socialistic vision of regulated markets.

It’s obviously not surprising to see someone who wrote an entire book attempting to defend, directly in the teeth of the text, purpose, and history of the document, that the Constitution was originally understood as conferring virtually unconstrained arbitrary power on the executive branch make the all-too-familiar argument that the Constitution should be originally understood as enacting the 2009 platform of the Texas Republican Party. Still, he can’t help himself: he fatally undermines his arguments about judges following the law by attacking a circuit judge for following clear-cut Supreme Court precedents, and his arguments about “original intent” sit uneasily next to his demand that judges enact policy preferences about affirmative action that quite obviously cannot be justified by examining the original meaning of the 5th and 14th Amendments (something his judicial heroes have not even tried to do.)

Sad. At least some of his previous attempts to defend the indefensible had a certain creativity to them.