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It Never Ends

[ 0 ] December 19, 2008 |

This abominable rule shouldn’t survive the first week of the Obama presidency; the fact that it will — because reversing it takes a good bit of time and squanders resources that could be devoted to other tasks — it’s precisely the sort of thing that puts the lie to the polite notion that we should “disagree without being disagreeable.”

The country is being managed for the time being by people who would be instantly tossed into the ocean if our democracy permitted such an entirely reasonable solution to be put to a national plebiscite. And yet here they are, providing legal cover for the tiny percentage of health professionals who would rather adhere to religious superstition than do their bloody jobs. Moreover, they did so in the face of overwhelming professional condemnation of the proposed rules during the public comment period, and they issued the final regulations late enough that they’ll take effect two days prior to the end of the Bush administration. Being “disagreeable” with the people who created and supported these changes is quite literally the least they deserve. These people don’t care about effectively running a government, and of course they never have. But now that the end is near, they’re ripping out the drywall and stripping the wires, fastening laser printers to their backs, and loading up the service elevators with everything that isn’t nailed down.

Coleman Cites Bush v. Gore

[ 0 ] December 18, 2008 |

I’ve believed for a while that the most constructive way for progressives to deal with Bush v. Gore is to play it straight — that is, to pretend that it actually stands for a principle that vote counting standards should be fair and uniform. Norm Coleman, however, has an approach much closer to the spirit of the Supreme Court’s indefensible intervention into the 2000 election. Obviously, his claim that the 14th Amendment requires ballots that were improperly excluded to remain excluded is a legal argument with the rare distinction of being more farcical than Bush v. Gore itself. But when you consider that the actual “principle” (to distort the word beyond any possible meaning) that the Supreme Court seemed to be applying in that case was that arbitrary, non-uniform recounts are perfectly acceptable unless they threaten the election of a Repblican candidate, in which case states are required to conduct a recount according to uniform statewide standards restore the arbitrary recount that benefits the Supreme Court’s preferred candidate…well, you have to admit that the Coleman team’s cite is directly on point. Fortunately, I doubt that the Minnesota courts are going to go along….

Religion versus religiosity

[ 0 ] December 18, 2008 |

Barack Obama has always claimed his religious faith is one of the most important things in his life, and essential to his identity. It’s therefore all the more disappointing that his choice of Rick Warren reflects a particularly American brand of incoherence and hypocrisy when it comes to public displays of supposed religious belief.

The incoherence is reflected by behavior — such as choosing Warren to give the invocation — that seems to affirm two propositions:

(1) Religious beliefs are enormously important.

(2) The actual content of those beliefs is irrelevant.

The first proposition is something that almost all religious believers have to affirm, given the putative content of their beliefs. The second is affirmed by absurd formulations such the supposed importance of being “a person of faith” , without any regard to the actual content of that faith (assuming of course it stays within the boundaries of the “acceptable” religions with which American politicians may be affiliated).

Does Obama have to be as phony on this kind of thing Mitt Romney? That’s a pretty low bar to leap.

If Obama’s religious beliefs are important to him as he claims, and he wanted to do something genuine in regard to the invocation, he would either have someone from his own religious community deliver the invocation, or not have an invocation at all. Both choices would no doubt be considered too politically problematic, so they had to do something phony. But if they were going to do that, they should have picked some utterly generic person to give an utterly generic invocation, devoid of any real religious or political content, like the rote invocation of God’s blessing at the end of a presidential speech.

Choosing somebody like Warren is an insult not only to political progressives, but to religious believers (and especially politically progressive religious believers). It trivializes religious belief — which I would bet even most of Warren’s biggest fans will recognize as well, thus eliminating any supposed political advantage to be gained from this nauseating little exercise in pseudo-ecumenical posturing.

Warren Addenda

[ 0 ] December 18, 2008 |

In addition to Rob’s links below, make sure to read Sarah Posner. And as Steve Benen notes, even defenses based on crude political criteria are exceedingly unconvincing. It’s unlikely in the extreme that Rick Warren’s “purely symbolic” selection is going to attract any non-negligible number of reactionary evangelical voters, while slapping major Democratic constiuencies in the face surely carries its own risks. And worse, it elevates Warren’s stature further, giving him “bipartsian” media credibility when he inevitably attacks any decent part of Obama’s agenda. It’s a dismaying choice, wrong on the merits and wrong on the politics.

Speaking of unconvincing defenses, some low comedy from the woman whose alleged support for gay and lesbian rights and reproductive freedom has long put the “effectively non-existent” in “nominal.” The punchline: “I don’t believe the image of the angry, spiteful gay is helpful to the gay rights cause.” I strongly advocate finding some way of stripping law professors who constantly make excuses for bigots of crucial fundamental rights and we’ll see how many of them don’t start sounding “angry” or “spiteful.”

Making Me *BLARF*

[ 0 ] December 18, 2008 |

What Adam and Matt and Digby and everyone else said. The presence of Rick Warren is inexcusable; the guy is more dangerous than James Dobson, and at least six times as annoying.

Maliki Announces His Presence with Authority

[ 0 ] December 18, 2008 |

Looks like Maliki is moving to consolidate power:

Up to 35 officials in the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior ranking as high as general have been arrested over the past three days with some of them accused of quietly working to reconstitute Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party, according to senior security officials in Baghdad.

The arrests, confirmed by officials from the Ministries of the Interior and National Security as well as the prime minister’s office, included four generals. The officials also said that the arrests had come at the hand of an elite counterterrorism force that reports directly to the office of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.

The involvement of the counterterrorism unit speaks to the seriousness of the accusations, and several officials from the Ministries of the Interior and National Security said that some of those arrested were in the early stages of planning a coup.

Credit where due, I suppose; I had not expected Maliki to survive as long as he has. This is latest of several steps that he’s taken to ensure his survival in power after the United States leaves.

…Drezner wonders “was this Maliki engaging in a coup or him preventing a coup by others?” I’m guessing the former; an “elite counterterrorism force that reports directly to the office of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki” is pretty much an ideal tool for seizing the Ministry of the Interior, which is crucial for controlling the rest of Iraq. Curious to see how the Kurds will respond.

"Bad Things Happen"

[ 0 ] December 18, 2008 |


I cringe — like many of us — when I read that the shoe-thrower may have been beaten in prison. For p.r. if nothing else, guys! But another wrong does not make a right — or a desire in me to understand the root cause; forgive me. Bad things happen, all around. And, please, guys, be humane, even in the face of shameful acts. But the fact remains: A journalist committed an outrage and the media here should be outraged, not publishing odes to him.

Like, one bad thing is that I happen to wake up with a hangover. Another bad thing is that someone happens to wake up with three quarters of a million or so dead countrymen. Bad things happen, all around!

Hat tip to CT.

Defeat as National Narrative

[ 0 ] December 18, 2008 |

I think that Burg’s comments on Masada could stand in for any number of other nationalistic narratives of catastrophic defeats:

Also, Gershom is the coolest looking person I know.

"Critical thinking? Not really my area"

[ 0 ] December 17, 2008 |

This is a pretty awesome sort-of-job-market story for aspiring academics.

Having sat on more hiring committees than I’d care to think about, I’m still amazed by the capacity of some candidates to duplicate this sort of witless reaction in actual interview scenarios. During one of my own interviews, for example, I was informed that at some point in the near future, the person hired for the job would be expected to serve as program chair. I’d known about this possibility for several hours before the official department grilling. At which point, asked to provide a brief account of my “leadership style,” the best I could come up with was a distracted, noodling monologue that ended — no kidding — with the blunt declaration that “I’m not a tyrant.”

About a month later, I received a very nice phone call from one of the committee members who — when I asked about it — confirmed my suspicion that yes, indeed, that particular moment had probably cost me the job. Of course, she didn’t put it quite so directly, but instead explained that the tipping point had been my lack of leadership “experience.” But I’m reasonably certain that if I’d managed a more capable, articulate response to the question, I’d be living in wine country right now.

More Political Expertise In Malkinland

[ 0 ] December 17, 2008 |

Former Cap’n Morrissey gives us a rousing chorus of “Kumbayah”:

Racial divide? Didn’t this election prove that our racial divide had moved to the past? Barack Obama didn’t win from the black vote — he won a majority of white voters as well. While racism will never get completely stamped out, it has thankfully faded out of our public life.


Vote By Race


Obama 43%
McCain 55%
Other 2%

And the thing is, even if you for some reason weren’t aware the exit polls were available free online, if you know anything about politics at all shouldn’t you realize immediately that this assertion is implausible? If you know that Obama overwhelmingly won the Latino vote, the GOP’s African-American vote is basically a rounding error, but McCain only lost by 7 points…how could he have lost white voters?

As for Morrissey’s claim that racism is no longer a factor in public life, yeah, it sure is an amazing coinky-dink that in the 1960 Apartheid Belt McCain did better than Bush in what was otherwise an abysmal year for Republicans.

When Bad Things Happen to Rich People

[ 0 ] December 17, 2008 |

The Madoff affair is interesting on a bunch of levels — psychologically, politically, and sociologically, among others.

Something that ought to be looked into vigorously by the new administration is how one of the financial world’s most prominent people could run a scheme that produced such an extraordinary improbable result (15 straight years of significantly above-equity market returns with something approaching zero fluctuation, i.e., something that seemed to combine the advantages of the riskiest and most conservative investment vehicles) without being investigated by the relevant regulators.

Why the Argument About Torture Will Endure

[ 0 ] December 17, 2008 |

Torture isn’t about effectiveness, it’s about toughness. As we know from Usual Suspects, the winner is the one with the most WILL; if Reuel Marc Gerecht believes that brutally torturing suspects displays more WILL than the terrorists possess, then of course he will believe that we need to torture to win. Demonstrating the empirical absurdity of such a position is, and has always been, beside the point.