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Japan PM wants to "cowboy up"

[ 0 ] May 14, 2007 |

Monday, the AP reported that Japan’s parliament voted to hold a referendum on Article 9 of its constitution. That provision in the constitution very strictly limits Japanese use of force. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe strongly supports a variety of measures and the country will spend the next few years debating the language of the referendum:

Abe’s party has promoted weakening Article 9 to allow more peacekeeping missions, and perhaps to let Japanese troops come to the aid of an ally such as the United States.

Sounds kind of defensive, eh?

However, many of Japan’s neighbors are likely NOT to want this change:

“Although Japan doesn’t have the intent of becoming a military power, revising the constitution could be seen by neighboring countries as a move toward militarism,” said Hiro Katsumata, a defense analyst at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

China and Japan, according to some scholars, interact in a “classic security dilemma.”

Short version: anything that makes Japan feel more secure has the opposite result in China.

Incidentally, the vote cannot come before 2010 and the parliament cannot vote on the issue during the preparation period. Cynically, that allows plenty of time for hotter heads to prevail.

14 May 1932

[ 0 ] May 14, 2007 |

Good times:

In New York City, Mayor Jimmy Walker demonstrated his support for the cause by organizing a day-long Beer Parade on May 14, 1932. An estimated 100,000 people turned out to cheer for the legalization of beer. One New Yorker in attendance, a toddler, held a sign that read, “My daddy had beer, why can’t I?” Some 40,000 Detroiters held a similar event in the Motor City on the very same day. Marchers in the parade chanted “Who wants a bottle of beer?,” baiting spectators to call back, “I do!”

Air America Disaster

[ 0 ] May 14, 2007 |

Well, the brilliant Sam Seder’s 9-12 replacement on Air America had his debut this morning.


Dear Jeebus, it is absolutely awful. I listened to over 2 hours (2 hours of my life that I will never get back, unfortunately) and couldn’t take it anymore. I’d say I heard about 2 minutes of political discussion. Well over an hour was devoted to some shock jock controversy that I really couldn’t give a fuck about, and it was just repetitive and extremely boring.

Is this what Air America is supposed to be about? How about this- we just firebomb the tattered remains of Air America that have been left by possibly the most incompetent media management the world has seen outside of WKRP in Cincinnati. Raze it to the ground and put it out of its misery.

Then, some intelligent liberals who actually know how to run a radio network can start a new one from the ground up, because the Air America liberal radio experiment has officially failed.

(cross posted at BlueGrassRoots)

Bin Laden’s Ideal Mark

[ 0 ] May 14, 2007 |

Shorter Ace O. Spades, heterosexual: “The rhetoric of terrorists should always be taken strictly at face value! If Al Qaeda says it’s not in their interests for American troops to be in Iraq, that’s just what they mean, because they’re well aware that their words will be very popular among the American public! And yes, I would be interested in your oceanfront property in Kansas! “

Countermobilization Notes

[ 0 ] May 14, 2007 |

Charles Krauthammer, taking one of the laziest column ideas off the shelf, is the umpteenth nominally pro-choice wealthy male columnist to argue that Roe should be overturned and that this would end most of the conflict about abortion in the United States. The problem with his argument is that there isn’t the slightest reason to believe that it’s true. Matt deals with some of the obvious problems; a few more points, some in response to his commenters:

  • One of Matt’s commenters brings up the often-told myth that Ruth Bader Ginsburg actually agrees with Krauthammer, but this is very misleading. Ginsburg’s argument isn’t that the Court shouldn’t have reached the outcome it did in Roe, but that it should have waited until gender equality jurisprudence was better developed to rest on those grounds. Even this much different argument, however, is also almost certainly wrong; it wouldn’t make any difference to the public what grounds the Court used to reach its decision. Almost nobody without a professional obligation reads Supreme Court decisions, and Roe already polls better than its underlying policy outcome.
  • In addition to Matt’s examples, devastating to the “countermobilization” hypothesis are the facts that 1)the American abortion debate was already highly “divisive” and pro-life groups powerful enough to stop virtually all state liberalization, before the Supreme Court intervened, and 2)in Canada, courts created the most liberal abortion regime in the world but abortion isn’t a remotely salient issue in Canadian politics. On the latter point, Pithlord argues in comments that “Parliament decriminalized in 1969″ and that “abortion in Canada has been left to the political process.” The first claim is straightforwardly erroneous; abortion remained a criminal offense for doctors who performed one outside of the arbitrary committee structure (which in practice was just a codification of abortion-on-demand for affluent women and no abortion for poor rural women that exists under a ban anyway.) Second, in its insistence on non-arbitrary regulation, the Canadian Supreme Court created a standard that is, in practice, far more restrictive than Casey. (A 24-hour waiting period or the recent “partial birth” ban, for example, could not remotely pass the Canadian Supreme Court’s requirements.) It is true that the fact that Canada hasn’t passed further abortion regulations reflects the popularity of the pro-choice position in Canada, but of course this is precisely the opposite of what Krauthammer claims will happen. There was supposed to be a backlash against the Court striking a policy hammered out by the legislature; there wasn’t.
  • It is true that as a manner of formal logic Matt isn’t correct to say that a pro-choice anti-Roe position is absurd. It’s possible (indeed, if one takes constitutionalism seriously, necessary) to believe that the Constitution doesn’t require all of one’s preferred policy preferences (I don’t believe that the Constitution requires universal health care, for example.) In practice, however, very few people oppose Roe out of some kind of coherent constitutional theory, and as his inability to understand the implications of Carhart II and many of his previous writings suggest Krauthammer certainly has no idea what he’s talking about. (A handy tip: anybody who defends Bush v. Gore isn’t opposing Roe out of a commitment to judicial craftsmanship.) In addition, I suspect Matt had in mind the Wittes/Rosen types who believe that overturning Roe wouldn’t matter for abortion rights, which is of course a plainly absurd position.

Overturning Roe would not attenuate the conflict over abortion in the United States; it would remain a very important (indeed, in the short-term, more important) issue in American politics that divided legislators at the federal and state level, Krauthammer’s fairytales about a mythical pre-Roe policy eden notwithstanding. It would just mean that the abortion rights of some classes of women would be extinguished for no good reason.

Oh, Mitchy…

[ 0 ] May 14, 2007 |

(As much as I try to pry myself away from Political Scientists, they keep pulling me back in. Nevertheless, it is an honor to be guest blogging here amongst the ivory tower academics at LGM. Though if I’m exposed to any references to heteroskedasticity, endogeneity or two-stage least squares regressions, I’m outta here.)

As Markos points out, our esteemed Senator from the Bluegrass State has made what could be a major foot-in-mouth statement.

“I want to assure you, if they vote to ask us to leave, we’ll be glad to comply with their request,” he said.

That would be the Iraqi Parliament that he is referring to. The same Iraqi Parliament that has reportedly built a majority in favor of a bill to demand a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops.

So what happens if this actually passes? Does McConnell stick by his words? Do Republicans break ranks in numbers sufficient to build a veto-proof majority for withdrawal or timetables?

There will certainly be Republicans that break ranks, but i doubt enough for veto-proof majorities. I would have to think that the likely outcome would be the disbanding of the Iraqi Parliament for reasons of “incompetence” or some other charge, followed by new elections. Then the Republicans, media and Liebercrats will insist that we must stay in order for the elections to proceed safely and fairly. And once that happens, the pictures of smiling Iraqis with purple thumbs will flood the media along with cheerful cries that we have now, finally, “turned the corner”.

Why does this sound familiar?

But then again, maybe more of those pallets with billions of dollars will go missing and Iraqi legislators will suddenly change their minds and vote against American withdrawal.

Smell the sovereignty….

(cross posted at BlueGrassRoots)

Sympathy for the Hack

[ 0 ] May 13, 2007 |

Henley makes a good point in re: Paul Bremer’s apologia today:

And yet! Bremer’s arguments on de-Baathification and disbanding the army have some plausibility to them. He points out that the most famous case of trying to reconstitute part of the old army – the so-called “Fallujah Brigade” – was an embarrassing failure. He claims at least, that the Shiite and Kurdish elites on whom the success or failure of Iraq’s reconstruction was always going to depend cheered de-Baathification and indeed insisted on it. What Bremer actually establishes without seeming to intend is that there were, even at that very early date, no reliably good options. De-Baathification and disbanding the army worked out badly, and we can draw causal connections from those orders to Iraq’s present-day problems. But we can see plausible alternate histories in which the opposite decisions led to a contemporary Iraq that was just as bad. Unhappy occupations are all unhappy in their own way.

Bremer’s article actually shows again the folly of having conquered Iraq by force in the first place.

This seems right to me. While the administration has been incompetent in an innumerable variety of ways, it’s never been obvious to me that disbanding the army was the wrong decision. Certainly, it seems exceptionally implausible that a Suuni-led force was going to be even remotely effective at the necessary social control, and without the officers you have…pretty much the Iraqi “army” you have now. The De-Baathification of the civil service is more problematic, but as Henley says it seems pretty clear that it was going to largely happen under the new government anyway. What happened after the disbanding of the army is much more evidence that the war was an extremely bad idea that was unlikely to succeed even had the administration been competent than evidence that the fiasco was easily avoidable had better decisions been made in the first 90 days.

…I should say that I agree with Matt that Bremer doesn’t deserve much sympathy. I just think it’s dangerous to think that the war could have been easily salvaged with a couple of early decisions, which is a very dangerous delusion. In particular, the imperatives of Shiite elites have to be considered when assessing what realistically could have been done with the army.

Mr. Mom

[ 0 ] May 13, 2007 |

I should start by thanking Rob and the gang for allowing me to guest blog at LGM. I’m actually starting a little early, but I have a fairly busy schedule Monday…

Anyway, I’m a bit older than the regular bloggers and have a daughter about to enter high school. This article in the May 14 Christian Science Monitor provided yet another reason why that can be such a scary proposition: government representatives come into the school and try to convince kids to become soldiers.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with being a professional soldier. My wife and I have had first cousins in Iraq and I think military service is an honorable profession. America obviously needs soldiers.

But I don’t want my kids to move from a school to a battlefield.

Apparently, I’m not alone. The US military just reported results of a survey finding that fathers are increasingly skeptical about military service:

The percentage of fathers who said they would support military service for their son or daughter dropped from 77 percent in 2003 to 59 percent by last August, according to defense officials.

Moms have long been more skeptical, but their support dropped even more — from 65% to 52%.

The military says it is meeting its recruiting quotas, so this drop in support might not be a big deal. However, as retired Army General Barry McCaffrey says bluntly: “No kidding, we’ve got trouble.”

Happy Mother’s Day everyone.

Worst American Birthdays, vol. XIV

[ 0 ] May 13, 2007 |

Jim Jones, the son of a Klansman who originally hailed from Indiana, was born on this date in 1931. He sold monkeys door-to-door to finance his first ministry in downtown Indianapolis, where he founded an organization that eventually became known as the People’s Temple. Dismayed by the city’s racism and convinced that Indianapolis would be annihilated in a nuclear war, Jones moved the People’s Temple ministry to Northern California during the mid-1960s, believing his followers would be safer there. Part religious cult and part social service agency, the People’s Temple is perhaps best understood as a “charismatic bureaucracy” that appealed to some of the poorest, most desperate, and most marginalized Americans living in an era of tremendous social upheaval and dislocation. African Americans joined the People’s Temple in comparatively large numbers, drawn to Jones’ anti-racist vision and his anti-poverty programs. Proposing a creed described by Jones as “apostolic socialism,” the Temple established soup kitchens, health clinics and daycare centers, residential homes for the elderly and a ranch for the developmentally disabled; they offered financial support to a San Francisco pet shelter and established a fund to assist the families of slain police officers; and they fleeced their members, urging them to surrender their property and savings to support the good works of the Temple.

Facing legal troubles in California, Jones leased several thousand acres of jungle from the Guyanese government in 1974 and relocated his ministry to South America, where his followers were promised an earthly paradise. Instead, the colony foundered. Swelling to more than 900 members by 1977, Jonestown suffered from food shortages while its residents labored from sunrise to sunset to support the “People’s Temple Agricultural Project.” By late 1978, Jones himself was heavily addicted to phenobarbitol. Discipline inside the colony became increasingly harsh, as recalcitrant children were punished by being locked in crates or lowered into a dry well where they were told monsters lived.

When California Congressman Leo Ryan visited Jonestown with a group of former Temple members and several reporters and photographers, the visit did not go swimmingly. Ryan had come to Jonestown to investigate rumors of human rights abuses, and during his visit several Jonestown families defected and requested that Ryan take them with him when he left. Around 5:00 p.m. on 18 November 1978, members of the People’s Temple gunned Ryan and four others down as they waited in a small aircraft to leave Guyana.

That night, all but a handful of Jonestown’s 1000 residents died from massive doses of cyanide, valium, choral hydrate, and Penegram, delivered to them via grape Flavor-Aid. Although the event is usually described as a mass suicide, it should be noted that two-thirds of the Jonestown population consisted of young children and the elderly, most of whom quite probably did not drink the grape cocktail willingly.

Richard Tropp, a member of the leadership group and one of the last people at Jonestown to die, left a note that urged the world to study the history of the Jonestown colony and someday achieve the ideals of “brotherhood, justice and equality” for which Jim Jones had supposedly fought. As the bodies accumulated, Tropp described the scene:

There is quiet as we leave this world. The sky is gray. People file [in] slowly and take the somewhat bitter drink. Many more must drink. Our destiny. It is sad that we could not let our light shine in truth, unclouded by the demons of accident, circumstance, miscalculation, error that was not our intent, beyond our intent.

A 45-minute audio tape was recorded by Jones as he guided the “destiny” of Jonestown to its conclusion. Toward the end of the tape, Jim Jones attempted to reassure the Jonestown children that their deaths would be painless — that they would merely go to sleep and be at peace. The children were evidently not persuaded by Jones’ words, as their heartbreaking cries attest.

After nearly all of his followers were gone, and with the realization that his utopian project had failed utterly, Jim Jones died from a self-inflicted shotgun blast to the head.

Guest Bloggers!

[ 0 ] May 13, 2007 |

Tomorrow I’ll be leaving for Albuquerque. Coverage of the Kentucky beat will be left in the able hands of the distinguished Rodger Payne of Duck of Minerva and Rodger Payne, and Media Czech of Bluegrass Roots. My advice is not to trust either farther than you can throw them; Rodger works for the foul institution known as the University of Louisville, and Media Czech is a Cubs fan.

I will return to blogging on Sunday, May 27.

Sunday Deposed Monarch Blogging: House of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen

[ 0 ] May 13, 2007 |

The House of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen came into existence in 1576 as the result of one of many splits within the original House Hohenzollern. Unlike their more famous Franconian cousins, the Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen House remained Roman Catholic. For almost 300 years, the family ruled over the small principality of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, between Baden and Wurttemberg. The principality became formally independent in 1815, but was eaten by Prussia in 1849.

Like most other German royalty during the year of re-unification, the formal elimination of their state’s independence did not result in political irrelvance. The last Prince of Hohenzollern-Simaringen briefly served as Minister-President of Prussia. The decay of the Ottoman Empire, however, would give the House its greatest opportunity. In 1866 Romania, the product of the recent union of Wallachia and Moldavia, tossed out its prince and appointed Charles of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen as its new monarch. The Principality of Rumania remained under nominal Ottoman control until 1878, when it became independent as a result of the Russo-Turkish War. Charles was crowned as Carol I, King of the Romanians, in 1881. Romania grew slightly as a result of the Second Balkan War in 1913, and after enduring German and Austria occupation for two years, acquired Transylvania following the First World War. The entry of Romania into the war on the Allied side created some tension in greater House Hohenzollern. King Ferdinand acquired the nickname “the Loyal” from his Romanian subjects, but Kaiser Wilhelm II erased his name from the Hohenzollern House register and connived to have him excommunicated by Pope Benedict XV. The annexation of Transylvania created the historically largest Romania ever, but one which included substantial non-Romanian ethnic minorities.

The death of Ferdinand I in 1927 led to a crisis in the monarchy, as Carol II was tempermentally unsuited to assuming the throne. Consequently, the six year old Michael I became King, supported by a three member regency. In 1930 Carol II got bored of wandering Europe with his mistress and returned to Romania. A group of dissatisfied politicians managed to depose Michael I and crown Carol II king. Carol II ruled for ten years, lost Bessarabia to the Soviets, and watched as the Romanian government devolved into fascism. Carol II abdicated under German pressure in 1940, moving to Portugal and returning Michael I to the throne.

In June 1941, Romania joined the Nazi crusade against Soviet Russia. Like all armies allied to the Germans, the Romanians suffered from poor equipment and limited spares. The Russians took advantage of this to devastating effect at the Battle of Stalingrad, where the collapse of two Romanian armies in the face of a fierce Soviet offensive resulted in the encirclement of the German Sixth Army. German efforts to relieve Stalingrad failed, and the Soviets won one of the most critical battles of the war. In August 1944 Michael I played a crucial role in an anti-Nazi coup, which reversed Romania position in the war and facilitated a quick Soviet occupation of the country. Michael I was awarded a Legion of Merit by President Truman and an Order of Victory by Stalin in recognition of his contribution.

Soviet occupation was not kind to King Michael. Efforts at resistance proved futile, and Michael abdicated and fled the country in January 1948. Accounts differ as to the amount of money Michael escaped with. Since his abdication (which Michael later denounced as coerced and illegitimate), Michael has lived in Britain and Switzerland. In 1992 he visited Romania for Easter, and was greeted by huge and enthusiastic crowds. Apparently seeing this enthusiasm as a threat, the Romanian government banned Michael from visiting for another five years. Michael’s citizenship was restored in 1997, and he has since been a strong public advocate for Romanian interests in Europe.

Prospects for restoration are mixed. Michael remains relatively popular in Romania, but pro-monarchist parties haven’t had much political success. Michael I has five daughters but no sons, and because Romanian law prohibits female succession, the heir to the throne will become Friederich William of Hohenzollern upon Michael’s death.

Trivia: Three successive monarchs of what dynasty managed a total of 135 years of rule?

Falling Man

[ 0 ] May 13, 2007 |

Don DeLillo’s new novel about 9/11 is out. It’s been 30 years since the publication of Players, the first of DeLillo’s works to deal with the the psychology, organization and aftermath of terrorism; among that novel’s more ominous tones, the central character, Pammie, works at the World Trade Center, where she writes brochures for a firm known as Grief Management Counseling. If you’ve read anything else by DeLillo — especially Underworld or Mao II — you’ve pretty much been waiting for six years to see what he might do with the subject of 9/11.

The initial reviews of Falling Man are predictably mixed. Michiko Kakutani calls it “tired and brittle,” while Laura Frost and Sven Birkerts offer more positive accounts.

Now, I’ll read the book no matter what, because I would read — and maybe even enjoy — Don DeLillo’s grocery list. I wasn’t overwhelmed by Cosmopolis, and I thought The Body Artist was crap, but as far as I’m concerned, when you write a book like White Noise, you get a lifetime benefit-of-the-doubt pass.

(As an aside, when my wife and I got hitched a few years ago, I was hoping the ceremony might include a reading of “The Mystery at the Middle of Ordinary Life,” DeLillo’s three-minute “playlet” about marriage; this was not the last artistic battle I’ve lost, and we oped for a pretty cool cummings poem instead. Still, the DeLillo piece would’ve been priceless….)

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