…but unlike Sarah Palin, I do not read all newspapers.
Settlements, Bailouts, and the Roman Republic
So now Ehud Olmert thinks that Israel needs to uproot the settlements and withdraw from Jerusalem and the West Bank. That’s kind of interesting in the context of this article on radical settlers, which makes pretty clear that any effort to uproot the West Bank settlers will result in a campaign of terror and assassination against Israel’s leaders.
When I was in Israel with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies last June, we were given a lecture on Palestinian terrorist organizations that ended with the surprising (given the FDD sponsorship) argument that the settlements would destroy Israel if they weren’t abandoned in the next ten years or so. The argument (which I substantially agree with) went like this: If not abandoned, the settlements will require either the construction of a full apartheid state, or the extermination/expulsion of the Palestinian inhabitants of the West Bank. Either way, Israeli democracy dies, and Israel cannot survive without democratic institutions. Interestingly enough, a friend and I were speaking with one of the FDD organizers after the lecture, and he made the argument that the settlers could not be moved; there were too many of them, and they held too much political power. When we asked what his solution was, he said “Eventually, one side will develop the political will necessary to resolve the situation”.
I found that claim pretty scary, but then I’m not sure that the political argument is wrong. There is, believe it or not, space for the settlers in Israel, and the border could be drawn or redrawn such that some settlements would be enclosed in Israel, potentially with territorial or other compensation for the Palestinians. But that’s not the problem. The problem, rather, is that the political institutions of Israeli life are insufficient to accomplish the task of removing the settlements. To vastly oversimplify, the Israeli body politic is divided into three groups; those who recognize the threat that the settlements pose and want to uproot them, those who recognize the threat but for instrumental reasons don’t want to uproot them, and those who don’t because they just want to watch the world burn.
The outcome, I fear, is that a majority of the Israeli population will realize the problem that the settlements represent, but that Israeli institutions (in particularly the structure of its political parties) will prevent their uprooting; fear of terrorism on the part of settlers and greed for the votes of settlers will prevent the kind of broad compromise necessary to withdrawing from the West Bank. And so, I’m afraid, Israeli democracy is in serious danger, in spite of the fact that Israel has, in many ways, a more vigorous culture of democratic participation than the United States. Other than those who are happy to watch the world burn, no one wants this outcome; nevertheless, avoiding it is going to be extremely difficult.
Posts by Ezra and Hilzoy make this point in reference to the bailout bill. There seems to be fairly broad consensus that something ought to be done, strong differences of opinion on this particular bailout bill notwithstanding. These differences are strong, however, and are by and large seriously held; people from legitimately different perspectives on the economy are going to have different bailout priorities, even within each major party. And there is also a group that is content to watch the world burn; this group constitutes the greater portion (although, I think, not the entirety) of the Republican Party. Within this context it should be possible to put together some kind of bill that will ward off the worst economic consequences of the financial collapse, but it is wrong to assume that a bill will actually happen. The Democrats could push the bill through with a party line vote, but such a bill might well be vetoed by the President, or filibustered by the Senate. Any concession either way on the current bill could easily alienate as many votes on the one side as it brings on the other. It is not at all difficult for me to believe that no bailout bill will pass; the consequences of that may or may not be grave, but in any case the risk is worrisome. Although there’s plenty of perfidy to go around on the bailout, this outcome is not dependent on that perfidy; institutions can fail without any help from the evil or stupid.
Both the settlements problem and the bailout problem remind me of something I wrote a while ago in reference to the Roman Republic. Simply because something must happen does not mean that it will happen. The Roman Republic faced a series of internal crises that were evident to all and that desperately required political solution; moreover, the contours of such solution were evident to most of the relevant political players, and in the abstract were achievable. The Republic had been designed to manage the political affairs of a small city-state. The achievement of Empire made those institutions quaint; provincial governors would make war on their own authority, and return to Rome at the head of Legions bound by personal loyalty and with more money than the whole of the Roman state. The institutions of the Roman Republic, solid enough for five hundred years, were insufficient to actually achieving the necessary solutions. In the face of crises that demanded solution, the Roman Republic crumbled, because the institutional structure created vested interests and veto points that prevented the achievement of any solution. The Republic could not save itself because its very structure prevented it from doing the things that were necessary to reform. Almost no one wanted this outcome, but no one could stop it from happening. It’s not that people are stupid (although many are) or dishonest (although many are); its that the institutions make certain outcomes difficult to achieve.
This doesn’t mean that everything is going to fall apart. The United States, I think, faces a crisis far less substantial than that of Israel or of the Roman Republic. I’m not so sure about Israel’s crisis; I do think that the settlements problem could, in the end, be as devastating to the Israeli state as the problems that the Roman Republic faced in the first century BCE. This is to say that the Israeli state may cease to exist in its current form in the same sense that the Roman Republic ceased to exist in the latter half of the first century. This also isn’t a call for bipartisan hand-holding; the Republican Party has essentially ceased to be an organization interested in policymaking of any sort, and can’t be regarded as a legitimate partner for the making of responsible legislation. Still, politics can fail even when almost everyone knows that they want to succeed. In the context of both the settlements and the bailout, that can be kind of scary.
(1) A statistic that will appeal to any baseball fan’s inner geek: Alex Rodriguez has scored one fewer run than he’s batted in in his career, and he’s consequently 691 RBI short of Hank Aaron’s career record, and 690 runs scored short of Rickey Henderson’s career mark. Bill James’s favorite toy formula gives him a 39% chance of breaking the RBI record and a 36% shot at the runs scored crown. It also projects him to finish with exactly 760 career home runs (somehow I doubt he’ll stop at just that number), which of course means he’s projected at even money to break Bonds’ record.
(2) As a Detroit Lions fan, it gives me a certain grim comfort to know that Oakland Raiders fans are in an even worse position, given that their franchise is being held hostage by a senile madman. Al Davis’ latest stunt is that he’s flatly refusing to pay the millions he owes newly fired coach Lane Kiffin. Davis has a history of doing this (he still owes Mike Shanahan a lot of money). Davis, who is 79, claims that he won’t quit until “he” wins two more Super Bowls.
(3) The NFL replay rule, which gives coaches three challenges per game, plus unlimited replay discretion for the officals in the last two minutes of halves, is vastly superior to the college version, where every play is subject to potential review at the discretion of the officials. This leads to pointless delays as the refs review trivial plays, compounded by their occasional failure to review crucial plays that absolutely should be looked at again. A flaw with both systems is the standard of review, which is far too high — “indisputable visual evidence,” which is supposed to be a beyond a reasonable doubt standard. If you’re going to review the play, it should be done on a de novo basis, or maybe with a clear and convincing standard, which in effect is what a lot of replay officals end up using informally.
(4) This is pretty awesome: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WyLCo5AUo0A
Yglesias makes a couple good points about the failure of the bailout bill. I especially agree that Paulson isn’t getting nearly enough blame for having completely botched the process at the start. Paulson’s initial proposal reminds me of the great scene in A Civil Action where Schlichtmann opens up settlement negotiations with an utterly outrageous proposal, which rather than bringing a counter-offer simply causes the other parties to walk away from the table, starting a spiral that would lead to him losing his shirt although he had a good case against one of the defendants. While an initial proposal should be more than you think you can get, Paulson’s proposal was so baldly indefensible that it made getting even an improved plan passed much more difficult, and initial negotiations should have occurred in private.
I think this is also right:
The House conservatives who sank the bailout didn’t do so because they were listening to loud and angry voices. They sank the plan by accident. They were trying to double-cross the Democrats. First, they wrung lots of concessions out of Democrats at the negotiating table as the price for delivering 80 votes. Then, by not delivering 80 votes and forcing Pelosi to pass the bill as a partisan Democratic bill, they were going to wage a demagogic anti-bailout campaign. But Pelosi refused to be played for a sucker and so the conservative inadvertently sank a bill that, all evidence suggests, they actually wanted to pass. They just wanted to vote “no” on it for short-term political gain.
It seems pretty obvious that if Boehner can’t get enough of the people sharing his clown car to vote for a bill, then the Dems simply need to pass a better bill and take responsibility for it (since they’ll get it anyway.) If the GOP wants to make a big issue out of maintaining stringent bankruptcy laws in this economic climate, let ‘em.
Dear Dr. Farley,
In view of the impending financial distress, I’m worried about my cats. Should I stock up on cat food, or will it be available in post-apocalypse America?
Worried in Dubuque
Dear Worried in Dubuque,
No. You should concentrate on stocking up on firearms, clean water, and canned goods. Cat food will most certainly not be available in post-apocalypse America; any housecats will only be a drain on your resources. Your cats should be eaten at the first opportunity, followed by the eating of any surplus cat food. Most such food is edible by humans, and while you may be tempted to “fatten up” your cats, much of the energy in the cat food is lost when its eaten by the cat.
Dear Dr. Farley,
Will they need political scientists in post-financial apocalypse America?
Tenured at Texas Tech
Dear Tenured at Texas Tech,
No. They don’t need political scientists now, and certainly won’t need them after the apocalypse. I suggest you find a new profession, such as trapper, tanner, mercenary, or apocalypse specialist.
Dr. Farley, accredited* Apocalypse Specialist, has a twice-weekly column at lefarkins.blogspot.com. Update here.
I missed this from Tapper the other day. Commenting on the fact that Obama and Biden appeared in a Virginia rainstorm, he wrote:
Astute students of history have noted, weather is not something politicians should take lightly. The presidency of William Henry Harrison, indeed Harrison’s life lasted a mere month after after he caught a cold at his inauguration, which was held outside on a chilly Washington morning.
I won’t be too hard on the guy here, since I only learned about two years ago that Harrison actually didn’t fall ill after delivering his inaugural address, but instead developed a cold — and soon after pneumonia and pleurisy — three weeks into his presidency. But still. If you’re going to make a medically untrue observation about how people actually get sick, and if you’re unwilling to spend a few seconds on the internets to weigh the historical veracity of your irrelevant aside, you’d do well not to open the sentence by invoking what “astute students” happen to think.
He could have salvaged himself, though, by at least linking to this definitive account of Harrison’s life:
The latest edition of the Palin Follies is a report that a so-far unaired portion of the Couric interview reveals that she is apparently unable to name any Supreme Court case other than Roe v. Wade.
Obviously being next in line for the presidency doesn’t require that one be a Jeopardy trivia champ, but on the other hand people need to keep in mind that we humans don’t come with pre-loaded software or anything.
If you’ve spent you’re whole life in a small town in a sparsely populated and very isolated part of the world, with the exception of the six years you spent messing around at five colleges, (by the way the media have remained studiously uninterested in the details of her curious academic wanderings — was she, for instance, getting kicked out of schools for poor performance?), and you can’t answer the most straightfoward interview questions without conjuring up phrases like “train wreck” and “verbal salad” even among some of your political allies, then there’s no particular reason why anyone should assume you know much of anything at all pertaining to the wide world beyond the borders of Wasilla Alaska.
I suspect the depth of Palin’s ignorance can be compared to a well in which you toss a rock, and then wait for it to hit the bottom, and then you wait, and you wait . . . and you start to wonder if the thing goes all the way to China, and finally many seconds later there’s an incredibly distant, barely audible plunk.
Does she know what the Bill of Rights is, or the Louisiana Purchase? Can she identify where the phrase “four score and seven years ago” comes from? Does she remember the Maine? The League of Nations? The New Deal? Seriously, I’d like to hear her describe what the Vietnam war was about, or for that matter Watergate or the impeachment of Bill Clinton.
And somebody who doesn’t know anything about history isn’t going to know — indeed in a crucial sense can’t know — anything about current events, which after all can only be understood properly within a sufficiently rich historical context.
Oh it’s all morbidly fascinating, until somebody gets hurt.
The United Kingdom is considering pulling out of the F-35 project:
BRITAIN is considering pulling out of a £9 billion project with America to produce the new Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft, intended to fly off the Royal Navy’s forthcoming aircraft carriers.
The move is part of an increasingly desperate attempt to plug a £1.5 billion shortfall in the defence budget. The RAF’s 25 new Airbus A400 transport aircraft could also be at risk.
Studies have now been commissioned to analyse whether Eurofighters could be adapted to fly off the carriers.
Since the Typhoon doesn’t have a VSTOL (vertical/short take off landing) variant, this would seem to require a slight redesign of Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales, the Royal Navy’s two proposed super-carriers. Those carriers are large enough to operate fixed-wing aircraft, but weren’t initially expected to have catapults and arrestor gear. If the British dump the F-35, arrestor wires will need to become part of the design.
Of course, since the F-35B (the VSTOL variant) apparently only has three weapons bays (compared to eight for the Typhoon), this may not be such a terrible thing. This also comes on the heels of a major computer simulation that seemed to demonstrate that the F-35 was hopelessly outmatched by the Russian Su-35. Then again, that simulation may have been rigged in favor the Su-35, such that the Air Force could argue for more F-22s. Bill Sweetman has more details on that particular possibility.
Do too much, rather than too little. Don’t shift these things around. Burn them down and salt the Earth. A future Liberal government won’t have the guts, the time, the wherewithal, or the money to recreate them all at once. Sell the land and the buildings. Shred the records. Disperse the staff. It’s easier to destroy than it is to create. A Tory government on a rampage could destroy in a couple of months what it took four decades to create – and what it would take another forty to recreate.
. . . Build big things. Canadians, for all that they claim to be a peace-loving people, want to love their country. That’s why, in the absence of a more compelling national identity, they hold onto the things that they do. Build a pair of Aircraft Carriers – giant, expensive, deadly, and useful symbols of Canadian pride that children can hang on their walls. Name them after Wolfe and Montcalm or something like that.
It’s been less than a century since Canada last threatened America with annihilation and slavery. We cannot, my friends, permit such belligerence to resurface in a new century. Canadians like Adam Yoshida clearly do not understand their proper North American role, which is to remain a refuge of utopian fantasy for Americans worried about the possibility of a McCain victory in November. Stop fucking with us, or else.
As a friend of mine puts it, if McCain doesn’t announce another faux campaign suspension, how will we be able to take the first faux suspension seriously?
I have a dream. A troubling, disturbing, “I’ve turned into a lobster and must somehow still play shortstop for the Detroit Tigers while proofreading financial documents” dream.
This is it: On Thursday, Sarah Palin, a.k.a. Bible Spice, will humiliate herself so thoroughly during the vice presidential “debate” that, within a day or two, she will withdraw from the race at a tearful press conference, surrounded by her telegenic children, including a developmentally disabled babe in arms, (the arms in question being those of her Made for Lifetime TV special daughter Bristol), and her manful First Dude of a husband, Todd.
Do I even need to draw a diagram of what happens next? Do I need to describe the waves of outrage that are unleashed against the cruel, contemptuous, sadistic and most of all sexist elites that have crushed this undeniably attractive woman under their PC-jackbooted heels? The accompanying orgies of media self-flagellation? (That’s hot!). The polls suddenly indicating that PUMAs are everywhere?
I need to keep repeating: it’s only a dream, it’s only a dream . . .