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Can we at at least put Dowd back behind the firewall?

[ 0 ] September 26, 2007 |

MoDo demonstrates that using fake Reagan nostalgia to critique George W. Bush is just as absurd as using fake Truman nostalgia to scold the Democrats. Here she is, in medias gibberish:

The Soviet Union’s stated policy for 70 years was the total eradication of American capitalism and democracy — backed up during the cold war with actual nuclear weapons. But while challenging the policies and ideology of the Evil Empire, Ronald Reagan understood he had to engage Mikhail Gorbachev, not ignore or insult him. . . .

Wouldn’t sticks and carrots — cultural fluency, smart psychology and Reaganesque dialogue — be a better way to bring the Iranians around than sticks and stones?

For starters, I can’t imagine what rhetorical advantage Dowd believes she’ll gain by equating the Soviet Union (ca. 1987) with Iran (ca. 2007). Even if you oppose Bush’s policies toward Iran, this is a bovine comparison that unnecessarily accepts the framework being provided by the bombs-over-Tehran lobby. It’s perfectly possible, as Matt Duss reminds us, to castigate the Bush administration for missed opportunities in its relationship with Iran. This can be done, however, without resorting to more Reagan mythology that defines Reagan’s foreign policy by forgetting all but the last two years of his administration.

Rob has already said much of what needs to be said about the “status quo” nature of the Soviet state from — I’d argue — the late 1960s onward. When a nation with more arable land than any other country on earth is forced (as the Soviets were after 1971) to import grain from the nation whose “total eradication” it supposedly seeks, one would be wise — especially in retrospect — not to overstate that nation’s inherent might. Even Reagan’s speechwriters and advisers understood this, which is part of the reason that his administration could opt for a more aggressive policy of “rollback” in the so-called Third World, where the Soviets were alleged to be “on the march.” Rollback, not dialogue, was thus the Reagan administration’s weapon of choice against the Soviet “threat,” and it either created or prolonged bloody disasters in Nicaragua, El Salvador Angola, Afghanistan, Cambodia and — cough cough — Iraq and Iran.

Dowd probably knows this, though I’m open to alternative explanations. Then again, since the range of acceptable statements about the Reagan Cold War has been permanently narrowed for the pundit class, I can’t say I’d be surprised either way.

. . . Obviously, I wasn’t clear enough here for at least one reader.

My argument is pretty simple: if Dowd wants to scold Bush for not being diplomatic enough with Iran, she’d do well to leave the Reagan mythology out of it. When someone urges a more “Reaganesque” line, they’re doing more, I think, than just emphasizing “one aspect” of Reagan’s legacy — they’re buying into the notion that at the end of the day, Reagan’s foreign policy was really quite sensible. Perhaps by comparison to Bush’s policy, that’s so — but compared to Bush’s policy, nearly anything would.

Moreover, when Dowd urges a more “Reaganesque” stance toward Iran, she’s obscuring the fact that Reagan’s policy toward the Soviets was conditioned by their strengths (e.g., they could in theory have killed us all) as well as their weaknesses (e.g., their sickened economy and lopsided state). Reagan’s actions in the Third World — including Iran — were shaped solely by their weaknesses (or his administration’s sense of those weaknesses.) Bush’s policy toward Iran is a fucking catastrophe in the making, but the making of that catastrophe has roots that stretch back to the Reagan years. If Dowd wants to compare and contrast Bush’s policies with Reagan’s, she should actually compare them in a way that makes sense.

The Vote Fraud Fraud, Pt. IV: Hans A. von Spakovsky

[ 1 ] September 26, 2007 |

The great Dahlia Lithwick explains why Democrats should not vote for Hans von Spakovsky, just as he would prefer that they not vote for anything else:

Von Spakovsky currently sits on the FEC as a result of a recess appointment made by President Bush in January of 2006. Before that he served as counsel to the assistant attorney general in the Civil Rights Division at Justice. Von Spakovsky’s Senate confirmation hearing last June was noteworthy for many oddities, not the least of which was a letter sent to the rules committee by six former career professionals in the voting rights section of the Justice Department; folks who had worked under both Republican and Democratic administrations for a period that spanned 36 years. The letter urged the committee to reject von Spakovsky on the grounds that while at DoJ, he was one of the architects of a transformation in the voting rights section from its “historic mission to enforce the nation’s civil rights laws without regard to politics, to pursuing an agenda which placed the highest priority on the partisan political goals of the political appointees who supervised the Section.” The authors named him as the “point person for undermining the Civil Rights Division’s mandate to protect voting rights.”

“If von Spakovsky is confirmed,” Lithwick notes, “it will be yet more evidence that Democrats have no more regard for the rule of law, or the integrity of the Justice Department, than Karl Rove does.” Indeed.

I should also say, since some commenters in various discussions seem to miss this distinction, that there’s nothing inherently wrong with requiring Voter ID to vote. If IDs were provided by the state, made easy to obtain, and part of a general policy was to maximize voter turnout, an ID requirement would be fine. But many actual Voter ID laws — which are advanced by people who don’t favor measures to increase voting, are supported by people who have no problem with much more susceptible to fraud but GOP-skewing absentee voting, and are not supported by any actual evidence that people voting under other names is a remotely significant problem — are simply a pretext for suppressing Democratic turnout and should be rejected.

…Christy has a good roundup here.


[ 0 ] September 26, 2007 |

Matt and Ezra cite this wonderful Rick Perlstein post, with Ezra adding the following:

Remember here that the Soviet Union wasn’t just a mean country. It was the epicenter of an expansionistic ideology that believed its historical triumph to be pre-assured. It was as religious as any religion. And it actually had a basis for this belief, as communism was a superficially attractive ideology that was attracting adherents in major countries — the US included. And yet we not only dealt with the Soviets, but spoke to their leaders and welcomed them on our soil. Because we were the superpower, and we believed in our country.

Elements of that are debatable; I for one think that, ideology aside, the Soviet Union was pretty much a status quo state during the bulk of the Cold War. What’s interesting, though, is that while the common conservative rejoinder to the Iran-USSR comparison is now “Yeah, but those Iranians are crazy!”, back in the Cold War, the Founding Fathers of neoconservatism went out of their way to argue that the Soviet Union couldn’t be deterred, either. The motivating logic of Team B was not, officially, to wildly overstate Soviet military power (although it succeeded in doing that), but rather to argue that the Soviet Union was developing an offensive nuclear doctrine and capability and would make deterrence irrelevant.

In other words, it’s the same argument, over and over again. The difference is that today, the nutjobs have been allowed to take over the asylum. Eisenhower, Nixon, and Reagan were smart enough to understand the distinction between rhetoric and action, and how to prevent the former from overtaking the latter. That doesn’t look like it’s going to be the case with the current crop…

OK, Reed, Whatever You Say

[ 0 ] September 26, 2007 |

I’ve been remiss in not writing about the Jena 6. There are excuses but I am not offering them. Just going to jump right in.

Reed Walters, the District Attorney who has led the prosecution against the Jena 6 (more here and here), defends himself in a column in today’s NY Times. His defense: there was no crime with which to charge the white kids who hung up the nooses, and the Jena 6 deserved the charges they got. Oh, and PS, my black friend couldn’t figure out what to charge the white kids with either.

My problems with this are manifold, but in sum:

(1) While a hate crime charge might not be possible (or advisable) against the kids responsible for the nooses because there is no predicate offense on which to hang that aggravating charge, what about harassment? I’m not sure how it’s worded in the Louisiana code, admittedly, but the resort to “my black friend says so too” immediately makes me suspicious.

(2) Why not then at least verbally condemn what the kids did in putting up those nooses (which he finally does in the column) by calling for harsher punishment at school?

(3) The reasoning behind the decision to charge Mychal Ball as an adult is flimsy at best. His attack was by surprise (so the DA says)? Still not enough to try to throw a high school kid in jail for double-digit years. Besides, witnesses say that it wasn’t he who threw that first punch.

(4) Oh, and if you leave out the information about the allegedly provocative statements made by the “victim” of the attack, he sounds more sympathetic (oh, and PS, all the white supremacist and other racist websites are holding him up as a hero).

(5) Walters conveniently leaves out all of the other icky racist details: the all-white jury, the fact that all 10 students who testified against Bell were white, the fact that there was a “white tree” to begin with.

I’m sure Pam Spaulding and others will have their two cents later. But my first reactions ranged from “oh please” to “I think I am going to be sick.”


[ 0 ] September 25, 2007 |

The man is unbelievable. Now if they can get him home from second…

…Ack. Damn false hope.

The New Left

[ 0 ] September 25, 2007 |

Mr Shandy asks an important question: now that The Left is no longer blogging, can its presence in the blogospehere ever be regained? Alas, until Ward Churchill starts blogging, I’m not sure that there can be a true representative…

Signs of Hope

[ 0 ] September 25, 2007 |

It’s a busy teaching day, but I thought I’d let everyone know that I just dropped by the cafeteria for a quick bite, and no one was screaming “Motherfucker, I want more ice tea!”

That includes yours truly, which — for those who haven’t seen me around food and drink — is really saying something.

Student Silence

[ 0 ] September 25, 2007 |

Chris Bertram at CT is asking for suggestions regarding a constant and difficult problem for those of us who teach undergraduates for a living. There’s obviously no one silver bullet answer, but I’ve used a technique for several years that’s generally been pretty successful.

At the beginning of a discussion, ask a fairly broad, big, open-ended question. The best of these questions have the following characteristics: 1) They provide prompts and opportunities for the best students to answer in a sophisticated manner, but aren’t so intimidating that students with less confidence of analytic thinking skills can’t potentially answer them. 2) The potential range of answers to the question might direct class discussion toward a range of issues you were hoping to raise in discussion that day, and 3) The question should be difficult to answer, but not totally impossible to come up with something, for those who have not completed the reading.*

Then, rather than let the question just sit there, tell the students to write an answer, and give them five minutes. Let them use their books, and make sure not to frame it as a quiz, but collecte them at least occasionally and grade them on a credit/no credit basis (but dole out praise for really smart answers sparingly). Then, once the five minutes is up, begin the discussion. No one can credibly claim they’ve got nothing to say, since they’ve got a half-page in front of them that must say something.

The key here is that this forces everyone to actually activate their brains a little bit, rather than just passively sit through class and let others carry the discussion. I never cold-call on students ordinarily, but with these questions, I will, by asking them what they wrote about. I really don’t like the pressure cold-calling puts on shyer students, but I want everyone to participate at least some of the time, and this seems like a nice compromise.

The success I’ve had with this technique seems dependent on making it a regular feature of the course from the beginning–not necessarily every day, but most of the discussion days in the course. When I’ve tried to introduce it as a remedial feature in a too-quiet course, it’s met with significant resistance and is deeply disliked. When it’s a structural feature, it’s not exactly wildly popular, but a lot of students seem to write in my course evaluations that while they disliked the daily writing exercises, it was actually helpful on reflection.

*This is the hardest feature, and I often rely on questions that require reading, or sometimes questions that clearly don’t. When I can, though, I like to use questions that reward students who read without completely excluding those who didn’t that day.

There are a lot of other interesting suggestions in comments. This one from Aaron_m

Be funny and energetic, or at least try. I usually find that students are kind of like an audience at a wedding listening to a toast. They really want you to succeed at being entertaining, so you just need to avoid making a complete ass of yourself in the process. Given the usual lack of alcohol during seminars this should be easier than at a wedding.

Seems quite correct, until the last sentence, which clearly says the opposite of what it means to say.

Hell’s Just A Place For Kiss-Ass Politicans Who Pander To Assholes

[ 0 ] September 25, 2007 |

I’m not really sure I understand the distinction that Matt is trying to draw here. As always when questions of motivations rather than actions come up, I think we have to return to George Wallace. Even politicians who make overtly racist appeals may be much more committed to winning elections than to racism. So I’m not sure it matters much what precise mixture of partisan advantage and racism motivates Republican efforts to suppress the African-American vote; the efforts are, in the end, racist even if wholly motivated by the former. Similarly, I don’t know how much racism and how much partisan advantage led to, say, Reagan kicking off his campaign in Philadelphia, MS to deliver coded appeals to southern racists (as well, of course, as the 3 Americans consistently committed to “states’ rights” principles), but it’s indefensible either way. Attempts to figure out whether the tunes played on Nixon’s Piano are authentic expressions of subjective racist beliefs or mere self-interested cynicism are both impossible and beside the point.

A Step Ahead of SCOTUS

[ 0 ] September 25, 2007 |

Yesterday, Adam Liptak’s (now free!) column in the NYT addressed the question of photo identification and voting — specifically, whether it’s right (constitutionally, pragmatically, morally) to require voters to show photo ID when they go to their polling places. Law and Economics leader Judge Posner says it’s no big deal to ask people to get photo IDs, and it’s OK to require them (another illustration of how the Law & Economics movement is divorced from the real world). Judge Posner last year upheld an Indiana law necessitating ID’s in a decision that was seen to clear the path for other states to push through these restrictive laws.

So what’s wrong with the laws? Well, first of all, it is much harder than Posner realizes for many people — particularly the poor — to get photo IDs. This is especially true in urban areas where many people do not drive. And these laws then become an ingenious way to stop poor, usually Democrat, voters from being able to exercise their franchise right. The other problem with these laws is that they address a false problem: no one has reported or provided evidence of voter ID fraud (e.g. impersonating a registered voter). As Liptak notes:

The available evidence, thin though it is on both sides, does suggest that “the number of legitimate voters who would fail to bring photo identification to the polls is several times higher than the number of fraudulent voters,” Spencer A. Overton, a law professor at George Washington University, wrote in an article on voter identification published in the Michigan Law Review in February.

Seems the Supreme Court is in agreement that this is an issue of constitutional proportions; after its issue conference yesterday, it granted certiorari and will hear an appeal of Posner’s decision. Given the rightward shift the Court has taken over the last few years (well, over the last few decades too, but especially over the last few years), I’m skeptical that the outcome will be in favor of the protection of the constitutional rights of the poor.

We. Will. Never. Learn. In. Time.

[ 0 ] September 25, 2007 |

Elementary chaos theory predicts that robots will inevitably rise against their masters. So why this?

Here’s the UXV Combatant, a new class of warship being developed by BAE Systems to fight in the drone wars. BAE believes that the future battlefield will be full of intelligent robots fighting against each other, probably until they realize they can join together to eliminate all humans from Earth. The ship looks and specs, expected to enter service past 2020, look terrifying:

The 8,000-tonne carrier is designed “to launch, operate and recover large numbers of small unmanned vehicles for extended periods” that will operate in land, sea and air.

Via Danger Room. More seriously, the use of UAVs in naval (really, all military) aviation is only going to grow. Even in the USN, people are whispering that the days of the large deck supercarrier are numbered.

The Consequences of Forced Pregnancy

[ 0 ] September 25, 2007 |

If anything is clear about the politics of aboriton, it’s that criminalization does relatively little to protect fetal life but a great deal to endanger the health of women. Jill points us (among other examples) to Uganda, where “as many as 1200 Ugandan women die every year as a result of unsafe abortions.” See also Latin America.

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