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Crew of the MV Faina Getting Twitchy

[ 0 ] December 9, 2008 |

It’s not nice to hold people hostage for two and a half months:

“Some crew members on the Ukrainian ship are misbehaving,” the pirate said.

“They tried to harm two of our gunmen late Monday. This is unacceptable, they risk serious punitive measures. Somalis know how to live and how to die at the same time, but the Ukrainians’ attempt to take violent action is misguided.”

He claimed that two of the pirates were taken by surprise when a group of crew members attacked them. “Maybe some of the crew are frustrated and we are feeling the same but our boys never opted for violence, this was a provocation,” he told AFP by telephone.

Another report of the incident, by Russian Ren TV, quoted one of the pirates as saying that the crew responsible would be “seriously punished”.

See also James Wimberley’s thoughts on piracy.

The Detroit Bailout

[ 0 ] December 9, 2008 |

Marcy Wheeler has the details on the bridge loan plan. I like the Atrios and (especially) Pelosi amendments, the latter of which is certainly essential.

I also agree with Wheeler about the double standards in coverage. Citigroup has gone back for much more money with much less oversight, but this seems to get considerably less scrutiny from the media and (especially) Congress. But, of course, getting rid of those greedy union workers with their “middle class wages” and “apocryphal gold-plated benefits” and making sure any remaining jobs go to companies whose sales are taking a similar hit but employ people in reactionary right-to-work states is just the Natural Order of the Free Market. (BTW, have any of the banks bailed out by the government had to give up their corporate jets?)


[ 0 ] December 9, 2008 |

Does Blagojevich think he’s Vladimir Putin?

Authorities say they’ve also accused Blagojevich of threatening to withhold state assistance to the Tribune Co. in connection with the sale of Wrigley Field to induce the firing of editorial board members who have been critical of the governor.

A federal official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press that the allegations include that the governor took money from at least one individual in connection with naming a successor for the U.S. Senate seat that was vacated by Obama. The official declined to be named publicly because the investigation was still under way.

Hey; it’s not like anyone was paying attention to the junior Senate seat in Illinois.

The Answer is "No"

[ 0 ] December 9, 2008 |

Someday, you might encounter someone — a hopeless naif, or someone who spent most of this decade living off the grid, or perhaps someone recovering from an infestation of brain parasites — who will ask, “Isn’t there anything George Bush didn’t knock into a cocked hat? Anything at all?”

The answer, of course, will be “No.”

Here’s my favorite, but you really could select at random:

GAO investigators found that information technology security is so poor at the Department of Agriculture that its operations are “seriously” jeopardized. They also found that the federal farm programs the agency administers are handing out money to people who are not actively engaged in farming. Perhaps most distressing, the agency is not doing enough to secure “high-consequence biological pathogens” at laboratories carrying out agency-funded work. That means labs studying potential biological weapons agents are not handling these materials adequately and pose their own security risk.

But remember: George Bush Kept Us Safe (TM).

Glenn Reynolds: Concern for the Help

[ 0 ] December 8, 2008 |

The Ole Perfesser is vacationing in hedge fund Disneyland. After snorkeling about for a bit to assess the deterioration of the marine environment, Reynolds ponders the economic health of the Cayman Islands. It’s generally Teh Awesomez, but there are a few signs of worry.

One sign that things may not be quite as rosy as they seem: I noticed that service staff seemed far more eager to please, and far more grateful for tips, than a couple of years ago. I don’t know if that’s psychology, or reflective of an actual reality, though.

One can only imagine how deep into the night Reynolds will lie awake, trying to discern the answer.

That Word "Absolutism," I Do Not Think…

[ 5 ] December 8, 2008 |

I was amused to see Ross Douthat claim that “[A]n iron law of recent American politics dictates that any Republican setback at the polls will be quickly pinned on the pro-life movement.” I certainly agree that (pace William Saletan) national elections are not referenda on the abortion issue. But in fact, the Republicans’ unpopular abortion policies have been consistently given undue credit for Republican electoral victories, to the extent that the real “Iron Law” is that every time the Democrats lose an election an army of pundits will claim that the solution is for the Democrats to abandon their popular support for Roe v. Wade. This is just the beginning of the problems with the op-ed — Steve M. identifies the most remarkable one, Douthat’s argument that the “pro-life” movement compromised by…reducing terrorism against American women and medical professionals who serve them. How thoughtful! And, of course, this wasn’t really so much a decision of the movement as the result of federal legislation (that substantial numbers of anti-choice legislators opposed.)

In addition, let’s consider Douthat’s assertion that Planned Parenthood v. Casey is a “monument to pro-choice absolutism.” I’d have to say that, given that the “undue burden” standard has been interpreted to uphold every common regulation of abortion with the exception of spousal notification requirements, Casey represents the most compromised “absolutism” in history. Indeed, one wonders if part of the reason polls reflect a desire for more restrictions is that op-ed editors are willing to let anti-choice pundits simply lie about the state of the law.

Compare, for example, the regulatory regime permitted under current Supreme Court doctrine with the French system, which Douthat sees as an acceptable “compromise.” The only major differences in terms of restrictions are that 1)the period before which a woman’s choice can merely be regulated rather than banned is a little shorter, and 2)after this period 2 doctors rather than one has to certify that an abortion is necessary for the woman’s health. Whether this is more restrictive on the ground depends entirely on how French doctors interpret this standard. Douthat shows no interest in how abortion laws actually work (and I suppose that’s a necessary condition if you’re going to support criminalization.) But given that France has similar abortion rates to Canada — where abortion is almost entirely unregulated — one doubts that the standards applied by French doctors are very stringent. Admittedly, the differences Douthat mentions aren’t the whole story. He leaves out two very important facts about the French system: the state-funded medical care and the availability of RU-486 (which greatly mitigates the effect of arbitrary waiting periods.) Taking everything into account, it’s arguable that abortion is more practically accessible under the French system. I would certainly (if reluctantly) support a couple of Douthat’s cherished treat-women-as-children regulations if I could secure a repeal of the Hyde Amendment and widely available mifepristone in return. And the idea that Casey represents “absolutism” is utterly absurd.

The dumbest thing ever posted on the Internet

[ 0 ] December 8, 2008 |

As the U.S. economy melts down, as international tensions threaten to spiral out of control, as the sixth anniversary of the biggest foreign policy disaster in American history approaches, as the question of whether George W. Bush is the worst president in American history becomes about as interesting as the question of whether the 2008 Detroit Lions are the worst team in NFL history, let us recall the words of John Hindraker (B.A. Dartmouth College, J.D., Harvard University):

It must be very strange to be President Bush. A man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius, he can’t get anyone to notice. He is like a great painter or musician who is ahead of his time, and who unveils one masterpiece after another to a reception that, when not bored, is hostile.

That’s “approaching to genius” in its own very special way — and, as the Bush presidency sinks into oblivion, good things like this should be memoralized from time to time.

From Colony to Superpower: Don’t Mess with Texas

[ 0 ] December 7, 2008 |

Erik introduces chapter five of From Colony to Superpower (for older posts click on the tag), which covers the period between 1837 and 1861. The customary random observations:

Herring discusses the impact that Texas independence had on US-Mexico relations, and especially the degree to which the decision to admit Texas to the Union precipitated the Mexican-American War. I’m not an expert on Texas history, but the widespread expectation that Texas would enter the United States, rather than remain an independent Republic, strikes me as curious. Herring noted in an earlier chapter that Thomas Jefferson expected American “civilization” to spread across the North American continent, but that this spread need not take place in the form of a single political unit. An independent Texas would have fulfilled this expectation. Of course, changes in communication and transportation technology made a continental empire more possible in 1840 than it had been in 1800, but this doesn’t quite explain why Texas pursued union rather than independence. From the beginning of its existence, Texas was dependent upon the United States, but of course such a state isn’t necessarily indicative of a particular policy; Texas might have made effort to reduce that dependence, rather than to formalize it. Ethnic and ideological affinity for the United States seems to have been the primary motivation within Texas for union, but it’s nevertheless fun to muse about the long term implications of an independent Texas.

This last week in National Security Policy the topic was Strategic Communication. We dealt at some length with the Munich Analogy as a strategic communication/propaganda strategy, concentrating in particular on how effectively it creates roles for participants (enemy=Hitler, dove=Chamberlain, hawk=Churchill). When dealing with the Analogy in the past, I’ve asked students to think about it in terms of the United States during the Polk period. Polk began by making a series of threats against British holdings in the Northwest, asserting American sovereignty over territory on which the US had virtually no legal claim. In response, the British could have fought; there were risks, but the Royal Navy could have made the Americans pay a substantial price for their aggression. Instead, the British chose a more conciliatory route, making clear that they did have clear lines beyond which they would not go (no US sovereignty north of the 49th parallel), but appeasing the US claim to the jointly administered Oregon Territory.

On the one hand, you could argue that the British conducted successful appeasement, and consequently that the strategy of appeasement works in many situations. The United States did not, after all, invade Canada or attack any other British possessions. This is fairly common sense; appeasement fails in the face of incorrigible aggressors, but very few aggressors actually are incorrigible. On the other hand, a proponent of the applicability of the Munich Analogy could draw a direct connection between the Oregon settlement and the theft of half of Mexico; if the British had given the US a bloody nose in 1845, and taken steps to guarantee Mexico’s territorial integrity, then the neighborhood bully would have backed down. I’m actually inclined to think that British resistance on the Oregon question would resulted in the theft of more of Mexico by a frustrated US, but there’s at least a nugget of an argument to suggest a parallel with 1938. US territorial expansion slowed down considerably after 1848, but that has as much to do with US domestic politics as anything else.

On that subject, in comments several people has questioned my suggestion that the 1790s, the 1950s, and the 2000s are the only times in which foreign policy came to dominate domestic political debate. In particular, some people have argued that the 1840s, which included the debate over the Mexican War and the expansion of slavery more generally, represents a fourth period of foreign policy dominance. My response would be that this is an issue of cause and effect; whereas the debates in the 1790s, 1950s, and 2000s came about because of changes in the international environment, the foreign policy debate in the 1840s was the product of disagreement over domestic affairs. Support for and opposition to the Mexican War can’t be entirely reduced to the question of slavery, but it’s pretty close. What we have, then, is not so much a debate about foreign policy, but rather a debate about slavery that had implications for foreign policy.

Designed to Fail

[ 0 ] December 7, 2008 |

I would expect career civil servants to do a better job than political appointees in any case, but I do wonder whether there’s a difference between the parties. Republicans, after all, expect government to fail and very often ensure that it will. Democrats think differently, and that may well show up in their performance.

Shocking Discoveries

[ 1 ] December 7, 2008 |

Following up an insane week of travel and other commitments I will be attending tonight’s Flames/Rangers tilt with the World’s Most Dangerous Professor and have another silly Times op-ed to get to, so I’ll have to let someone else give the remarkably high words-to-content ratio of Caitlin Flangan’s latest joint a more extensive treatment. I do wish to make a couple of points:

  • I often hear that, whatever one thinks of Flangan’s silly ideas, they are expressed in first-rate prose. I note that, on Decemember 7, she wrote the following sentence: “Whether that was the game-changer or not is a question for near-constant debate.” (In fairness, she at least did not follow-up that up by saying that Prop 8 opponents couldn’t “close the deal.”)
  • I am unable to discern any meaning to her distinction between ordinary coalitions and “rainbow” coalitions, except that apparently the internal tensions that are inevitable in large parties are more troubling if they contain people of color.
  • I am afraid that she considers the fact that “one oppressed group does not necessarily support the goals of another oppressed group” some sort of novel insight. She may want to talk to a feminist who was involved in anti-war politics in the 60s…

"The Underpants Gnome Theory of Political Activism"

[ 0 ] December 7, 2008 |

Hilzoy doesn’t leave much unsaid here.

I’m not sure why the Times chose to give editorial space to Ayers, either; the failure of the “palling-around-with-terrorists” narrative proved sufficiently enough that his work in the late 1960s and early 1970s was irrelevant to the outcome of the campaign. Idiots like Bob Owens and Sarah Palin tried to give Weatherman/Weather Underground an undeserved centrality in the debate about whether Obama was qualified to succeed the worst two-term president in the history of the republic. As for why his tangential ties to Obama shouldn’t matter, though, Ayers’ explanations are nothing less than boring.

Anyone who’s actually interested in the Weather Underground should watch the documentary by Sam Green and Bill Siegel is available on Google Video and is worth 90 minutes of your time.

Downfall: Apologia?

[ 0 ] December 6, 2008 |

Does anyone out there interpret Downfall in the same way as Ron Rosenbaum?

This has always been my problem with films like the German-made Downfall, which while initially being taken seriously by many, many film critics has found its true level as a YouTube camp joke. Downfall purports to offer the “inside story” of the last days of Hitler in his Berlin bunker and implicitly makes the case that the Holocaust wasn’t the fault of the German people—no, they were victims, too!—but rather of one man, Hitler, and the small coterie of madmen and evil women surrounding him. Nothing to do with Germany’s eager reception of exterminationist anti-Semitism.

Hmm. I’ve seen the movie probably half a dozen times, and I guess I just don’t get it. Some ordinary Germans in the film are depicted as tired of the Nazis. Other ordinary Germans are depicted as enthusiastic about Hitler till the end (including, it bears noting, the main character). It had never occurred to me to think about Downfall as an effort to apologize for ordinary German anti-semitism. It’s perhaps a bit too kind to Albert Speer, but that’s about it. Did I miss something?