Subscribe via RSS Feed

David Horowitz is the Kindest, Bravest, Warmest, Most Wonderful etc. etc.

[ 0 ] September 26, 2008 |

I have reviewed Party of Defeat. Full story as soon as I have time. What I really want to see is a cage match between Horowitz and Ramesh Ponnuru; is the Democratic Party the Party of Death, or the Party of Defeat? The world wonders!!!

Huh? What? Was Pete Carroll Deeply Invested in Washington Mutual?

[ 18 ] September 26, 2008 |

Before I forget, precisely what the fuck happened last night in Corvallis?

Tax Cuts Solve Everything!

[ 0 ] September 26, 2008 |

House GOP says we can solve the problems created by companies possessing now-worthless securities can be solved by…a temporary suspension of the capital gains tax cut. I can’t see any problems with that logic!

Evidently, no deal is better than a Republican solution crackpot scheme.

[ 0 ] September 26, 2008 |

Friday Cat Blogging… Nelson.

Best bailout-related caption wins.

Posse Comitatus on the Merits

[ 36 ] September 26, 2008 |

Over e-mail, Glenn has suggested that the origins of posse comitatus in the United States are irrelevant to the wisdom of maintaining the policy today. I only partially agree with that claim. To briefly set aside the question of the origins, and to entirely set aside the question of whether the incident Glenn mentions actually represents an erosion of posse comitatus, it is certainly worthwhile to examine whether or not posse comitatus is a policy worth maintaining. It’s also worthwhile to dispose of this:

Even after the last 8 years, there are still plenty of people — including, apparently, liberals like Farley — who dismissively wave away concerns about presidential seizures of radical, dangerous and possibly illegal powers as nothing to worry about. That mentality bodes well for the McCain/Palin ticket and for authoritarian policies in general, and explains much of what has happened during the Bush era (throngs of people like Farley who mocked objections to Bush’s radical executive power theories as “handwringing”).

Yup…. C’mon, Glenn; just call me Neville Chamberlain. You know you want to.

Anyway, the case against posse comitatus runs something like this; giving the President the capacity to legally use the United States Army within the United States will lead to an increase in the militarization of our society, and an erosion in our civil liberties, the latter created by the increased capacity of the President to use force in the face of civil disobedience. Moreover, while the United States Army has a substantial organizational capacity, its strengths do not lie in crowd control, disaster relief, or other tasks that a President might wish to use it for; even though the Kent State incident didn’t actually involve the US Army, more incidents like Kent State would occur if the Army was regularly used inside the borders of the United States. This is an entirely reasonable case, and one that reasonable people can hold to; if there’s a part of the case that I’m missing, please feel free to indicate in comments, because I don’t want to build and burn a strawman. It’s also fair to say that no small percentage of United States Army officers hold to this position; the Army is not, by any means, seeking a larger internal role. Moreover, while posse comitatus in the United States was born of the effort to destroy Reconstruction, as a policy it certainly shares much with the concerns of the Founders regarding the dangers of standing armies.

So what’s the case against? The first is merely practical; the military is capable of a multitude of tasks associated with disaster relief and crisis preparedness, and is regularly asked to execute the disaster relief role. It would be better, I think, if we simply accepted what everyone already knows (that the military will be asked to participate in disaster relief, as indeed is allowed by the Posse Comitatus Act), instead of regarding the semi-permanent designation of a brigade to handle and prepare for disaster relief as an encroachment on civil liberty. This brigade is not, in fact, the only one stationed in the United States, and is not the only one that would be asked to respond in the case of natural disaster. Moreover, the use of the military in natural disasters isn’t something that started in the Bush administration, but rather has been ongoing for some time.

The case for holding the line on posse comitatus would be more compelling if the theoretical argument made more sense. Civil liberties come under threat not simply from the Federal Government, but also from states, localities, and private actors. Armed force is not inherently hostile to civil liberties; indeed, it can and has enabled people to take advantage of their civil and political rights, such as voting, assembly, and speech. As such, an increase in the ability of the Federal government (through use of the Army) to intervene in domestic situations does not necessarily lead to a loss of freedom. If rights come under threat from private actors, localities, or states, then the intervention of the Federal government can have a net positive effect on the ability of the people to take advantage of their civil rights. Moreover, the Federal government is a good deal more capable of protecting civil liberties than states or localities, because it enjoys far greater resources. Small government entities are no more likely to recognize civil liberties, political freedoms, or minority rights than the Federal government, and potentially could be a good deal likely.

Now, this may all seem terribly abstract; the intervention of the Federal government in a military sense could yield benefits for civil liberties, but is it likely to do so? The possibility of a direct confrontation between the Federal government and a state or local government that would require the use of the Army, or even the threat of the use of the Army, would seem pretty unlikely. This, I think, is where the history becomes relevant. In asking whether posse comitatus results in a net positive or negative for civil liberties, it hardly seems irrelevant to note that the Posse Comitatus Act was part of an explicit bargain to enable the re-establishment of a white supremacist regime across the South. In other words, the point of the act was to insulate states and localities from the threat of Federal force, such that those states and localities could either tolerate white supremacist activites (involving the disenfranchisement and murder of thousands of African-Americans) or directly engage in the support of those white supremacist activities. It’s not as if this behavior stopped in 1952; states and localities bitterly resisted Federal efforts to disassemble the white supremacist regime that held sway over the South after Reconstruction throughout the heyday of the Civil Rights Movement. Moreover, efforts to resist the expansion of civil rights and civil liberties on the part of states and localities continue to this day, albeit through means less direct than those pursued in 1890.

In short, the Federal government might well try to use the Army to threaten civil liberties, but we absolutely, without a doubt know that states and localities will use force and other means to eliminate or reduce civil liberties, and we also know that the desire of states to do this has been a significant source of friction between those states and the Federal government for the last 130 years. This is why the invocations of Kent State, the Minneapolis police, and various other organs of state are rather beside the point in a discussion of posse comitatus; states and localities already possess considerable coercive capacity, and have demonstrated a strong willingness to use that capacity against groups and individuals that they don’t care for. We also know that in the most egregious case of the destruction of civil liberties in US history (the end of Reconstruction and the establishment of Jim Crow), the states perceived the Federal government to be their enemy and sought a specific prohibition on the ability of the Federal government to mess with their business.

This point is not lost on conservatives. There’s a reason that Glenn found it useful to cite Alan Bock, a right-wing libertarian who strongly opposes Federal interference in local affairs. Bock, to put it as simply as possible, doesn’t believe that the Federal government had any business in enforcing respect for civil liberties during Reconstruction, or during any other period of note. It’s not that he’s afraid of what the Federal government might do; he thought it was wrong to use the Army to enable black people to vote in the first place. Similarly, Glenn cites right wing libertarian James Bovard in defense of his case for posse comitatus. These are hardly the only right wingers to share an aversion to Federal power; to the extent that “state’s rights” has any content whatsoever, it has typically included a commitment to the privilege of state’s to restrict the civil liberties of whatever minority groups that find distasteful.

And so yes, it is possible to have a reasoned objection to posse comitatus without necessarily being an appeaser of the Bush administration. Glenn (and some others) think that the Reconstruction story is irrelevant, but it’s not at all difficult for me to envision the need for troops to protect the rights of African-Americans to vote, or of women to have access to abortions. It makes a substantial difference whether those troops belong to (say) the Alabama National Guard, or the US Army; I know that I’d strongly prefer the latter.

See also Yglesias, who touches on some of these points. Chris Quillen had a good article on posse comitatus in the Spring 2002 Parameters, the timing of which should also suggest that this debate was ongoing prior to the Bush administration. Finally, let me again recommend Nicholas Lemann’s Redemption, which is a detailed account of the role that the US Army played in Reconstruction-era Mississippi.

Another View

[ 14 ] September 26, 2008 |

With all due respect to Paul, my latte-sipping colleague, it bears pointing out that neither he nor his libertarian friend have taken the time to consider the possibility that Sarah Palin is not so much a conveyor of “context-free linguistic gobbets” so much as she’s “a down-home straight-talker who doesn’t dodge a bullet.” Which I suppose means she’s slow and possesses no survival instincts.

Which I guess reinforces Paul’s point. Er…

But she’s at least as smart as Paul Krugman!

Ignorance v. Stupidity: A Sarah Palin Steel-Cage Death Match

[ 52 ] September 26, 2008 |

I’ve been having an argument today with my friend JJ about whether Sarah Palin is, as Jeeves says of his employer, “mentally negligible.” JJ (who btw is a hardcore libertarian who is voting for McCain on a lesser of two evils basis) watched the latest clips from the Katie Couric interview and decided she was. I hadn’t watched the clips, but in classic academic fashion I argued with him about it anyway, reasoning that while she is obviously a profoundly ignorant person in regard to the sorts of things a person who could become POTUS needs to know (like, um, various stuff about the US political and economic and social system), she surely isn’t stupid in the she has an IQ of 88 sense.

So I finally watched the clips and, well . . . let’s say my faith was shaken a bit. The best part are the cutaways to Katie Couric’s face, which betrays a truly priceless incredulity at what she’s hearing. What she’s hearing are long strings of semi-literate English sentences that are both profoundly unresponsive to Couric’s questions and seem to make little sense even as context-free linguistic gobbets.

Still, I don’t think Palin is an actual idiot. I think it’s extremely difficult for a person who knows almost nothing about a subject to fake her way through an interview on that subject, even if she’s got a cheat sheet (which Palin glances at several times) and has had her head crammed full of catch phrases and stock responses that for the last month she’s been coached to repeat.

Consider, for example, somebody who knows almost nothing about baseball having to fake a way through a conversation about baseball. Unless the person has a photographic memory and a gift for pathological lying, even a month of cramming on the subject isn’t going to create a knowledge base sufficient to fool any baseball fan into thinking this person really knows anything substantial about baseball.

Contemporary U.S. politics and its institutions comprise a much more complicated subject. People who have spent their lives learning about, arguing about, participating in, etc. national politics will find it easy to underestimate what a fantastic amount of knowledge they’ve accumulated over the years on these matters.

OK, I’m sipping a latte as I type this, so I’m going to be blunt: Sarah Palin is a completely uneducated hick from a nowhere town in the deepest backwoods. She has spent her life surrounded by 4,999 other people who have very similar backgrounds to herself. I’m sure she knows a great deal about all sorts of things that have come in handy in the context of her particular social circumstances, involving field dressing moose, fixing snowmobiles with tools assembled completely out of dryer lint, etc. But she doesn’t know ANYTHING about the sorts of things a person who might become POTUS needs to know. This is almost literally true. It’s like taking somebody whose knowledge of baseball is pretty much limited to being able to identify Babe Ruth and Willie Mays, and that a batter gets three strikes and that there are four bases on the field, and then naming them general manager of a major league club. It’s preposterous. It’s insane.

It’s also the ultimate reductio ad absurdum of populist politics — the idea that literally anybody can be a competent and effective president of the United States if she has the right values and is an ordinary hardworking salt of the earth real American, even if she knows nothing whatsoever about almost any of the stuff that you, ideally, would want someone to know something about before she got within hailing distance of the most powerful and important political office in the world.

Good Lord.

A Deal

[ 11 ] September 25, 2008 |

Doesn’t look awful at first glance, although of course we’ll see what makes it into the final deal. This is the key:

They also said that there would be limits on pay packages for executives whose firms seek assistance from the government and a mechanism for the government to be given an equity stake in some firms so that taxpayers have a chance to profit if the companies prosper in the months and years ahead.

Will these provisions survive?

Panic buttons

[ 0 ] September 25, 2008 |

In spite of the fact that I teach for a living and have been running my own courses for about 15 years, I experience tremendous, daily pre-class anxiety, enhanced by my chronic inability to manage my time effectively (e.g., as I’m writing this, I’m only half-prepared for the class that begins in five minutes). Not a day passes that I don’t look forward to the possibility that a meteor will crush me as I’m driving to campus; once there, I usually waste several minutes concocting a fallback excuse just in case I decide there’s no way to go on with the day. I never follow through on any of these plans, because it would be too humiliating to concede to my worst instincts. I also usually think of the high school friend of mine who, during college, slept in accidentally and missed a major presentation that comprised 50% of his final grade. Realizing his error, he actually beat himself to a bloody pulp in his dorm room and wound up having to go to the hospital — all for the purpose of concocting a plausible excuse for missing class.

So this this seems about right.

So, let’s see, I can’t moderate the panel because I’ve been called to Washington to give a special briefing on guerilla tactics to be used against the Taliban?

Or maybe, I want to be at the meeting, but as weird as this sounds, all the bridges and tunnels out of Manhattan have been shut for the day. Some counter-terrorism thing probably. I tried renting a helicopter but they’re all booked by people at the UN.

Isn’t this pretty much what John McCain tried to pull today? But actually really did it? And on a national stage? He wants to cancel the debate? And maybe also Palin’s debate. Are you kidding? Why not cancel the election too? And because he has to go back to DC to solve the financial crisis? Really? The topic he knows nothing about and after he’s shown up less in the senate in the last two years than anyone but Tim Johnson, the guy who had the stroke? Which of my employees is going to call from home tomorrow and say they can’t come to work because of the financial crisis?

Defining Honor Down Out Of Existence

[ 4 ] September 25, 2008 |

I’m baffled by this quasi-rationalization of McCain’s reprehensible campaign from erstwhile McCain-lover Jon Chait:

Any attempt to determine McCain’s true motives is necessarily pure speculation. It’s possible that McCain has convinced himself to actually believe the lies he has been telling. But here’s a more likely explanation: All this dishonesty can be understood not as a betrayal of McCain’s sense of honor but, in an odd way, as a fulfillment of it.

McCain’s deep investment in his own honor can drive him to do honorable things, but it can also allow him to believe that anything he does must be honorable. Thus the moralistic, crusading tone McCain brings to almost every cause he joins. In 2000 and afterward, McCain came to despise George W. Bush and Karl Rove. During his more recent primary campaign, McCain thought the same of front-runner Mitt Romney. Not surprisingly, Romney was the target of McCain’s most unfair primary attack–an inaccurate claim that he favored a withdrawal timetable in Iraq.


The pattern here is perfectly clear. McCain has contempt for anybody who stands between him and the presidency. McCain views himself as the ultimate patriot. He loves his country so much that he cannot let it fall into the hands of an unworthy rival. (They all turn out to be unworthy.) Viewed in this way, doing whatever it takes to win is not an act of selfishness but an act of patriotism. McCain tells lies every day and authorizes lying on his behalf, and he probably knows it. But I would guess–and, again, guessing is all we can do–that in his mind he is acting honorably. As he might put it, there is a bigger truth out there.

If all that’s required to make dirty tricks motivated by “honor” and “patriotism” is a subjective belief that it would be really bad for the country if your opponent won, who isn’t motivated by “honor”? I’d have to say that if you end up with a conception of “honor” that could plausibly result in Karl Rove and Lee Atwater being numbered among the most honorable men in American political history, you need a new definition.

The bigger problem here is that when Chait notes that the press has an extensive history of “portraying him as a uniquely honorable figure,” he never seems to consider the fact that this portrayal was completely unjustified. In reality, that he was a both 1)a political flyweight with little grasp of his own ostensible policy positions and 2)willing to relentlessly lie about his opponents was evident during his 2000 campaign if you bothered to look. It’s just that his genuine military heroism and remarkable ability to suck up to the press caused these things to be ignored. The question about McCain is not why he has changed; it’s why it took so many reporters (including some liberals) so long to figure out what he always was.

Oh Noes! The Army is Coming to Take Our Democracy!!!!!

[ 0 ] September 25, 2008 |

Let me second Jason Sigger’s shredding of Glenn Greenwald’s handwringing regarding the assignment of a Brigade Combat Team to NORTHCOM, the combatant command responsible for the continental United States. Jason ably dismantles Greenwald’s terror that the Army is coming to repress us, but I’d like to concentrate on something else; Greenwald’s notion that Posse Comitatus represents, in any way, a safeguard for democracy. Glenn:

For more than 100 years — since the end of the Civil War — deployment of the U.S. military inside the U.S. has been prohibited under The Posse Comitatus Act (the only exceptions being that the National Guard and Coast Guard are exempted, and use of the military on an emergency ad hoc basis is permitted, such as what happened after Hurricane Katrina). Though there have been some erosions of this prohibition over the last several decades (most perniciously to allow the use of the military to work with law enforcement agencies in the “War on Drugs”), the bright line ban on using the U.S. military as a standing law enforcement force inside the U.S. has been more or less honored — until now.

Huh. Why do you think that a “bright line” was created between the military and law enforcement following the Civil War? I’ll give you nine guesses, and the first eight don’t count. If you say “to protect democracy”, then sorry, you have only the most tenuous grasp of the history of the United States. If you say “to protect Southern terrorist organizations during Reconstruction from the federally controlled United States Army, thereby securing white supremacy in the American South for four generations”, then you win a kewpie doll. Glenn links to Alan Bock to provide historical context, but sadly Bock badly botches the history; it’s as if he doesn’t grasp that, absent the protection of the Army, it was simply impossible for African-Americans to exercise their voting rights in Southern states.

The utility of Posse Comitatus is debatable, even apart from its origins. Glenn calls it “an important democratic safeguard”, but I’d like to know if other major democracies have anything on their books even resembling this prohibition. Moreover, the Army is useful in crisis situations (such as the aftermath of Katrina) not because of its ability to shoot people, but rather because of its tremendous organizational capacity. It’s good at responding to crises because it’s an organization designed to respond to really big crises. We can either take advantage of the capacity that such an organization affords us, or we can pretend that it’s coming to repress us. Glenn’s a smart guy, and he should know a hell of a lot better than to take this crap seriously.

…Glenn’s schtick is “never retreat, never surrender”. I get that, and even appreciate it to some extent. But this claim:

This posts masquerades under the language of superior historical knowledge, but it’s almost completely bereft of any substance. You dismiss Alan Bock’s lengthy and well-documented history of the Posse Comitatus Act and what gave rise to it with one short, conclusory, substance-free decree (Bock “badly botches the history”) — as though your saying so makes it true — without bothering to dispute a single fact he cited.

I find well-documented, detailed claims (Bock’s article) infinitely more preferable than smug, angry self-satisfied rhetoric devoid of anything substantive (your post).

…is simply absurd. Here is the documentation that Bock provides:

The Posse Comitatus law was passed in 1878, not only in response to some of the abuses committed by federal troops during the Reconstruction period in the South after the Civil War, but more specifically after many suspected that federal troops influenced the election of 1876, in which Rutherford B. Hayes was chosen by the Electoral College and federal troops ran some polling places in the South. Specifically, Hayes won the disputed electoral votes of South Carolina, Louisiana and Florida, states where President U.S. Grant had sent troops as a posse comitatus by federal marshals at the polls if deemed necessary.

I’ve read some about that election but don’t have a settled view as to whether it was really stolen or not.

The first half is wikipedia; the second would, I think it’s fair to say, be considered tendentious by any reputable historian of the period. Specifically, Bock gives no indication as to who was claiming that the Army had engaged in abuses (Southern whites), or as to why the votes of SC, Louisiana, and Florida were in dispute (white supremacists submitting competing electoral slates with the actual winners of the election). And the documentation? Let me repeat:

I’ve read some about that election but don’t have a settled view as to whether it was really stolen or not.

Get that? Why don’t we try it one more time?

I’ve read some about that election but don’t have a settled view as to whether it was really stolen or not.

That’s some fantastic documentation there; maybe I’ll try that in my next journal submission. May I suggest that one place Glenn and Mr. Bock could start with regards to learning about Reconstruction would be Nicholas Lemann’s excellent “Redemption” which details the military occupation of Mississippi and the struggle between the Army and white supremacist forces. Reviewed here.

That Explains It

[ 0 ] September 25, 2008 |

The preening debate cancellation nonsense seems to have a clear objective — burying Sarah Palin for as long as possible. I guess you can’t argue with the logic in a way, although McCain is trying to cover his mistake by making an even worse one, his trademark.

Although not if you ask Bill Clinton — I have to agree that all of his future public statements should be followed up by Chris Rock. Contrary to media myth, Hillary Clinton has reacted to her loss with equanimity and has fought for the party, but her husband’s post-convention behavior has been an absolute disgrace.