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Blackmail

[ 33 ] July 19, 2008 |

The NYT has given prominent space to some reckless, uninformed voices in recent months, but there’s little to my recollection that compares with this horrific offering from the Israeli historian Benny Morris, who supplies his readers with a perverse, Strangelovian offer: Join Israel in a massive, conventional attack on Iran, because we’re going to do it anyway regardless of the low odds in our favor; if the US fails to cooperate, the aftermath will be worse for everyone, since Israel will soon enough be forced to use nuclear weapons.

Leave aside the possibility that the “Benny Morris” who wrote this is not the human-animal hybrid offspring of John Bolton and Atlas Shrugs. The fact that Morris suggests that the plan would only work between the November 5 and January 19 — when a lame-duck president would be able to support it — is reason enough to wonder why Morris’ doctors are still allowing him to use sharp dining utensils.

Let’s review that again: Benny Morris, who until recently was properly regarded as one of his country’s finest historians, now believes Israel’s interests will be ably served by yanking its greatest ally along on a mission that a vast majority of Americans citizens would oppose and whose target would be a nuclear weapons program that the CIA believes to be nonexistent and which, even if functioning, could not possibly bear fruit until 2015.

David Kaiser has more on why this is such a disappointing moment for anyone who appreciates Morris’ work.

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It’s Hard Out There for a Kangaroo

[ 0 ] July 19, 2008 |

This had me worried about the kangaroo problem; when we face the onslaught of Svalbard hatched monkey cyborgs, will the kangaroo be at our back, or in our face?

An Australian woman has been saved by a pet dog which leapt to her aid after she was attacked by a large kangaroo, her son has said. The marsupial assaulted Rosemary Neal, 65, at her farm near Mudgee in New South Wales, 265km (160 miles) north-west of Sydney, her son, Darren, said.

“The kangaroo just jumped up and launched straight at her,” he said. “My dog heard her screaming and bolted down and chased him off. If it wasn’t for the dog, she’d probably be dead.”

Terrifying. But then I read this:

A kangaroo met an unlikely death after it bounded into the surf in southern Australia and was mauled by a shark, according to eyewitnesses.

Mr Hurst said he was walking along Torquay beach in Victoria when he saw the marsupial behind scrubland next to the dunes. “It just headed down towards the water and in it went,” he told Australia’s ABC News. “There’s a bit of a rip in that area so… the kangaroo could have been dragged out, but I could still see its head, and that’s when the shark leapt out of the water on its side.

So even if we do face a monkey-cyborg-kangaroo Axis of Evil, we can count on the support of the sharks. This alliance seems well worth the sacrifice of a few swimmers each year; as Churchill said, “if Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons”. We also know that Shark Nation is willing to do battle with the zombie menace:

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The Ongoing Integrity Of "Compassionate Conservatism"

[ 3 ] July 19, 2008 |

Shorter Michael Gerson: The blame for the consequences of global warming must be put on people who support measures to curb it, not people who reflexively oppose any solution when they don’t simply deny its existence.

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Stephen’s Shame

[ 4 ] July 19, 2008 |

Stephen Hayes is embarrassed and ashamed. No, not for that. Or that. No, not for that either. No, not really for any of the reasons that Stephen Hayes ought to be embarrassed and ashamed of himself; rather, he’s ashamed that the United States has taken the first positive steps towards dealing with the North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs for the last eight years.

It has been a dispiriting few weeks. Several conservative political appointees have said that they are embarrassed to be working in the Bush administration. One called the new policies “preemptive capitulation.” Another suggested that whatever credit the Bush administration deserved for keeping Americans safe in the seven years after 9/11 would be offset by the blame the administration will have earned for emboldening America’s enemies with its reflexive weakness. And a former adviser to Condoleezza Rice said: “This is stunningly shameful.”

Indeed; it must be depressing when even the slowest professionals in the business conclude that the policy pursued for the last eight years not only “isn’t working”, but indeed is significantly increasing the chance of the negative outcome you want to avoid. I’m also inclined to wonder; does Stephen Hayes prefer US prestige, or a non-nuclear North Korea? For me this isn’t so much of a problem, since I think our ability to negotiate away the North Korean nuclear program is actually an element of national prestige, but for Stephen, not so much. At this point, I’m strongly inclined to believe that Hayes would prefer a world in which both Iran and North Korea had nuclear weapons to one in which the United States negotiated away substantial portions of those programs. It’s insane, yes, but this, after all, was not a sign of a healthy mind.

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Great Moments in the Mainstreaming of Confederate Historical Fantasy

[ 30 ] July 18, 2008 |

Courtesy of The United States Army.

From now on, when anyone asks about “black Confederates,” I’m going to refer them to this.

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The Backlash Continues!

[ 0 ] July 18, 2008 |

Hysterical predictions aside, Kevin Drum notes that the initiative to overturn the pro-gay-marriage ruling of the California Courts is trailing by nine points. I don’t want to be complacent — things can change — but it is very likely that Prop 8 will fail, and California’s same-sex marriages will be entrenched. Alas, I fear that Kevin is excessively optimistic when he says that “gay marriage will have been approved by the courts, the governor, the legislature, and the public. There’s no way anyone will be able to complain that it’s anything but completely legitimate.” As far is I can tell, many of the people obsessed with “backlash” have no coherent democratic theory except that any social change that makes them or any significant number of people uncomfortable is ipso facto illegitimate.

In other backlash news, Massachusetts state legislators so outraged about judicial usurpation that almost 25% of them voted to throw the question to a referendum voted this week to repeal “a 1913 law that prevents Massachusetts from marrying out-of-state couples if their marriages would not be legal in their home states.” Fittingly enough, the law had its roots in white supremacy, was exhumed in pursuit of similarly bigoted purposes by Mitt Romney, and richly deserves its place in the dustbin of history.

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Pro-Torture Contrarianism

[ 27 ] July 18, 2008 |

Who else but Stuart Taylor? His argument seems to be that the best remedy for illegal acts of torture is to assure that (apart from some isolated low-level “bad apple” scapegoats) nobody is held responsible for them:

It’s a bad idea. In fact, President George W. Bush ought to pardon any official from cabinet secretary on down who might plausibly face prosecution for interrogation methods approved by administration lawyers. (It would be unseemly for Bush to pardon Vice President Dick Cheney or himself, but the next president wouldn’t allow them to be prosecuted anyway—galling as that may be to critics.) The reason for pardons is simple: what this country needs most is a full and true accounting of what took place. The incoming president should convene a truth commission, with subpoena power, to explore every possible misdeed and derive lessons from it. But this should not be a criminal investigation, which would only force officials to hire lawyers and batten down the hatches.

[…]

Pardons would not be favors to criminals. One can argue that officials could have or should have resigned rather than implement questionable legal judgments, but there is no evidence that any high-level official acted with criminal intent.

There’s an obvious contradiction here: if there’s a great deal we don’t know, how can we be sure that nobody aced with “criminal intent?” Wouldn’t individual immunity deals, which don’t require that assumption, be preferable to blanket pardons? But more importantly, if a legal opinion from DOJ lawyers (with the collaboration of their superiors) asserting that illegal and arbitrary actions are in fact legal is all that’s necessary to avoid legal accountability for any administration member, any subsequent attempt to prevent similar abuses is a waste of time.

The key here is what Taylor identifies as the key goals of the “Truth Commission” he envisions:

Pardons would further a truth commission’s most important goals: to uncover all important facts, identify innocent victims to be compensated, foster a serious conversation about what U.S. interrogation rules should be, recommend legal reforms, pave the way for appropriate apologies and restore America’s good name. The goals should not include wrecking the lives of men and women who made grievous mistakes while doing dirty work—work they had been advised by administration lawyers was legal, and which they believed was necessary to prevent terrorist mass murder.

A criminal investigation would only hinder efforts to determine the truth, and preclude any apologies.

I have to concede that if you consider it an important priority that people responsible for arbitrary torture policies “apologize” and that we have a Very Serious “conversation” about torture, then pardons are a good strategy. If you take my view that preventing future arbitrary torture is an infinitely higher priority than people saying they’re sorry, you’re likely to think that justice and accountability are more important. All the best-conceived “legal reforms” in the world will mean absolutely nothing if a DOJ opinion can be expected to immunize virtually any action approved by an executive branch official as long as it can somehow be linked to the “dirty work” of the War on Terror.

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All Hail the Electoral College!

[ 10 ] July 18, 2008 |

What Matt’s missing out on is the fact that I, as of May 25, am a resident of Ohio. This makes me a Swing State Voter; indeed, as 538 notes, I am one of the most important Swing State Voters in America. Moreover, as a member of the crucial white male 21-39 demographic, I can literally command the candidates to do my bidding. If I want, John McCain will come to my house and cook me a sandwich. Barack Obama will wash my car. Bob Barr will do my laundry.

And I owe all of this to the Electoral College. Thank you, Electoral College!

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Friday Squirrel Blogging

[ 0 ] July 18, 2008 |


It’s been hot in Cincy.

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Great Moments In High Contrarianism

[ 0 ] July 18, 2008 |

I guess it’s time to go back to this from Ben Wittes:

I know what you’re thinking: If they confirm Mukasey without answers, the Democrats will once again be caving and letting the administration escape accountability. But the Democrats actually don’t have to cave here. They just have to wait a few weeks. While Mukasey cannot answer these questions before confirmation, that inability will not persist long once he takes the reins of the Justice Department. Senators can make clear that they will let him take office but will also expect him back before the Judiciary Committee within two months of his accession to address questions of coercive interrogation, that they will expect answers far more straightforward and candid than they got from his predecessor, and that they will demand these answers–to the maximum extent possible–in public session.

The Democrats have a big club to wield over Mukasey’s head to make sure they don’t get snookered: Without a strong working relationship with them, he won’t be able to get anything done. The lack of such a relationship gravely impaired both of his predecessors, albeit for different reasons. And, with only a year to serve in office, Mukasey’s clock will tick loudly from the start.

So how has the massive leverage resulting from the bizarre assumption that Mukasey would want to accomplish goals in tandem with congressional Democrats worked out?

Mukasey succeeded toady Alberto Gonzales as attorney general last fall. But the notion that he would restore independence to that post took a big hit yesterday when he refused to turn over to a House committee key documents related to the CIA leak investigation.

Mukasey may have a better reputation than Gonzales, but it turns out he is just as willing to use his power to protect the White House from embarrassing revelations.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee had subpoenaed Mukasey to turn over, among other documents, a report on Vice President Cheney’s interview with FBI agents investigating the leak of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity.

In a move that was mutually self-serving, Bush yesterday — on Mukasey’s urging — made what may be his most audacious assertion yet of executive privilege.

Congress’s legitimate oversight interests aside, common sense suggests Cheney waived executive privilege when he voluntarily agreed to speak to FBI agents. But Mukasey countered that with a novel argument: “I am concerned about the subpoena’s impact on White House cooperation with future Justice Department criminal investigations,” he wrote in his Tuesday letter to Bush, asking to be ordered not to comply with the subpoena.

How utterly shocking! Who could ever have anticipated that Mukasey didn’t actually need Cobgressional Democrats to accomplish his inevitable goals of obstructionism in the service of executive power?

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How To Write Satire

[ 34 ] July 18, 2008 |

Tom Tomorrow explains.

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Those are Some Fabulous Chairs…

[ 13 ] July 18, 2008 |

The term “Chair Farce” is typically used in the derogatory by non-Air Force members of the uniformed military. It appears, however, that Air Force brass is trying to give the term some more substance:

The Air Force’s top leadership sought for three years to spend counterterrorism funds on “comfort capsules” to be installed on military planes that ferry senior officers and civilian leaders around the world, with at least four top generals involved in design details such as the color of the capsules’ carpet and leather chairs, according to internal e-mails and budget documents…

Air Force officials say the government needs the new capsules to ensure that leaders can talk, work and rest comfortably in the air. But the top brass’s preoccupation with creating new luxury in wartime has alienated lower-ranking Air Force officers familiar with the effort, as well as congressional staff members and a nonprofit group that calls the program a waste of money.

Air Force documents spell out how each of the capsules is to be “aesthetically pleasing and furnished to reflect the rank of the senior leaders using the capsule,” with beds, a couch, a table, a 37-inch flat-screen monitor with stereo speakers, and a full-length mirror.

The price tag? The total is a bit unclear, since the money is being taken from various different sources of counter-terrorism funding, and because the project requirements are in flux. We do know, however, that changing the color of the leather upholstery cost roughly $68000. The program has earned significant attention from the top echelons of the USAF:

Although the program’s estimated $20 million cost is nearly equivalent to what the Pentagon spends in about 20 minutes, the e-mails show that small details have so far received the attention of many high-ranking officers, including [Gen. Robert H.] McMahon; Gen. Arthur J. Lichte, the current Air Mobility commander; and Brig. Gen. Kenneth D. Merchant, the mobility command’s logistics director.

The leather and carpet color choices were made by [Gen. Duncan J.] McNabb, according to several of the e-mails exchanged by lower-ranking officers, although a spokesman for the general said those selections were McMahon’s responsibility. The e-mails state that McMahon ordered that the seats be re-covered, and one e-mail complains that the contractor “would not swap out the brown seat belts for replacement blue seat belts.” The changes delayed the project by months and added to its cost.

McMahon said he does not recall intervening on the leather color change, but said he was sure it was unrelated to the Air Force’s color. He said that it was probably because blue would not show dirt as much as tan or brown would.

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