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Nobody Could Have Predicted

[ 11 ] May 26, 2010 |

The states would end up pulling a bait-and-switch on the significant resources necessary to actually make “welfare reform” work.

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If You Love Reagan, You’ll Like Field of Dreams.

[ 3 ] May 26, 2010 |

Indeed.

V Sucks

[ 11 ] May 25, 2010 |

Here’s a thought: If you’re going to make one of your main characters a Catholic priest, try to have a point.  It makes it so much more interesting for the viewer.  You’d think, for example, that the Catholic priest might have some mild qualms about the plan to abort several hundred alien eggs with plastic explosives.  Did the Pope determine that the Visitor unborn don’t have souls?  If so, did the half-human-half-lizard baby have half a soul?

I really wish I could believe that this was a subtle dig at the incoherence of the anti-choice movement, but coming from ABC that really strains credulity…

More on Israel and South Africa

[ 2 ] May 25, 2010 |

Josh Pollack engages in a somewhat defensive dissent from the idea that Israel may have offered to sell nuclear weapons to South Africa. He argues that the documents do not provide sufficient proof that Israel offered to sell warheads to SA, and mobilizes Avner Cohen, who knows a lot about the Israeli nuclear program, in support of this case. A couple of observations:

  1. Cohen and Pollack are correct to note that the evidence presented is not definitive. The problem is that, short of a signed confession by Shimon Peres detailing his intentions behind offering payloads in three sizes, there essentially can be no proof of Israeli willingness to sell nuclear weapons to South Africa. Even in that case, it could correctly be noted that Peres often undertook somewhat adventurous foreign policies, and there’s no evidence that Rabin would have allowed the sale go forward. There might be some document somewhere in the Israeli archives indicating a willingness, but I doubt even that. The question, then, isn’t whether we have 100% proof of such willingness, but rather what standard of evidence we’re willing to accept. Frankly, I don’t know whether Rabin (and the rest of the relevant bits of the Israeli national security apparatus) would have gone ahead with the sale if the South Africans had pursued the question further. In this sense, Pollack is probably correct to suggest that McGreal’s headline was a touch sensationalist. I do know, however, that the documents raise some exceedingly difficult and twitchy questions about the Israel-South Africa relationship, above and beyond what was previously known.
  2. Cohen and Pollack seem to allow that Peres was at least rhetorically open to the option of selling nuclear weapons to South Africa. While the statement “Israel was prepared to sell nuclear weapons to South Africa” is more troubling than “Israel’s Defense Minister was willing to entertain the idea of selling nuclear weapons to South Africa,” the distance isn’t all that great. As I suggested in my earlier post, catching the Defence Minister of Iran, Pakistan, or North Korea in a similar conversation would produce calls for the most drastic international action. Relatively few, I suspect, would worry overmuch about whether Supreme Leader Khamenei or Kim Jong-Il had actually given the go ahead to such a sale.

Mavericky!

[ 17 ] May 25, 2010 |

It’s pathetic enough for the Deeply Principled John McStraightTalk to flip-flop on DATA. But it’s especially risible that he’s using the favorite new Republican form of evasion, “they’re ramming it through!

While it pales in importance next to the bungled coverage in the runup to the Iraq War, the creation of John McCain, Maverick (TM) in the 2000 campaign is about as egregious a case of media incompetence as one can imagine.

A Minor Correction

[ 6 ] May 25, 2010 |

While I can’t disagree that Ross Douthat seems to have dedicated his career to proving his thesis about the inadequacy of his education correct, this particular example of reducing serious arguments into silly “Patio Man drives like this, but Grill Man drives like this” categories is in fact a Bobo special; one shouldn’t have even needed to see the byline.

The Ressentiment of the Reactionary Elite

[ 15 ] May 25, 2010 |

Zev Chafets has padded his fawning, puddle-deep New York Times Magazine profile of Rush Limbaugh into a book, with results that are apparently so bad that World’s Nicest Reviewer Janet Maslin delivers a merciless pan.   The WaPo, meanwhile, has enlisted the Good Frum to review it, with entertaining results:

“Largely decorated by Limbaugh himself, [his Palm Beach house] reflects the things and places he has seen and admired. A massive chandelier in the dining room, for example, is a replica of the one that hung in the lobby of New York’s Plaza Hotel. The vast salon is meant to suggest Versailles. The main guest suite, which I didn’t visit, is an exact replica of the Presidential Suite at the Hotel George V in Paris. There is a full suit of armor on display, as well as a life-size oil painting of El Rushbo. Fragrant candles burned throughout the house, a daily home-from-the-wars ritual.”

There is a great deal more in this vein, and not a syllable of it is meant mockingly. Yet Chafets also writes the following, with equal non-irony: “Rush wasn’t enthusiastic [about the reelection bid of George H.W. Bush]. Bush struck him as a pretty, country club moderate, an Ivy League snob.”

[…]

Chafets quotes Limbaugh telling Maureen Dowd in a 1993 interview, “You have no earthly idea how detested and hated I am. I’m not even a good circus act for the liberals in this town. . . . You can look at my calendar for the past two years and see all of the invitations. You’ll find two, both by Robert and Georgette Mosbacher.” (Robert Mosbacher was secretary of commerce under President George H.W. Bush.) Not two pages later, we hear of Limbaugh’s New York evenings with investment banker Lewis Lehrman, William F. Buckley and Henry Kissinger. And yet the aggrieved subject and biographer are fully sincere in both instances.

Limbaugh has skillfully conjured for his listeners a world in which they are disdained and despised by mysterious elites — a world in which Limbaugh’s $4,000 bottles of wine do not exclude him from the life of the common man.

This line of argument merely skims the surface of how bad the book is, but it’s certainly especially instructive. The way in which extremely wealthy and powerful conservatives have not merely portrayed themselves as endlessly put-upon victims but gotten gullible hacks like Chafets to play along is remarkable.

Hacktacular!

[ 12 ] May 24, 2010 |

Fresh off his…not entirely convincing defense of libertarianism, Matt Welch tabs uberhack Michael Barone’s argument “that [government] spending is not popular this year.”   The obvious problem with this argument is that public opinion surveys continue to indiciate that all federal government spending of any fiscal consequence ranges from “popular” to “extremely popular.”   So what evidence does Barone have for his claim?

  • A couple members of Congress defeated in primaries, and another one retiring after a 41-year career, were members of the apporpriations committee of their respective house.   Omitted:  evidence that even 1 in 20 voters were aware that these members of Congress were members of an appropriations committee,  let alone that it was a desicive factor in thier voters.
  • A conservertarian winger won…a Republican primary.   In Kentucky.

As evidence that government spending is unpopular among the American electorate, this leaves rather a lot to be desired.   And for the coup de grace, he also praises Eric Cantor’s YouCut gimmick, although the only way it could be made more farcical would be for Glenn Reynolds to design a goofy graphic celebrating the trivial spending cuts Cantor isn’t quite advocating.   Verdict: fiscal libertarianism continues to be extremely unpopular, just like the worthwhile kind.

…since most of the commentary has focused on what I assumed to be an uncontroversial throwaway line at the end, I guess I have to clarify that of course many if not most of the people who call themselves “libertarians” are basically standard-issue Republican hacks. Of course, some libertarians are not Republican hacks and have valuable things to say to people who do not share all of their values, but that’s not the real issue.    The point is that there are areas — criminal procedure, the War on (Some Classes of People Who Use Some) Drugs, executive war powers, etc. — where there are obvious overlaps between left-liberal and libertarian principles.   But, alas, libertarian principles tend to be just as unpopular when they’re salutary as when they’re pernicious.    I’m not sure how pointing this out constitutes an endorsement of a nightwatchman state.

Sexist Nonsense About Trivia

[ 6 ] May 24, 2010 |

Christ, Givhan is awful.    (See also the point made in limerick form.)

…I had forgotten about this one.  [via]

Showing the Way

[ 11 ] May 24, 2010 |

Sarah to Rand: When you say something stupid, horrible, and indefensible in public, always blame the questioner. It never fails; the morons just lap up the “liberal-media-coastal-elite-hate-America-bias” bullshit. Try it yourself!

South Korea Takes Steps

[ 7 ] May 24, 2010 |

We’re beginning to see the outlines of South Korea’s response to the sinking of Cheonan:

President Lee Myung-bak said on Monday that South Korea would drastically reduce trade with North Korea, restrict North Korean merchant ship use of South Korean sea lanes and call on the United Nations Security Council to punish the North for what he called the deliberate sinking a South Korean warship two months ago…

Cutting off trade with North Korea is probably the strongest unilateral action the South can take against the impoverished North. South Korea imports $230 million worth of seafood and other products from the North a year. North Korea earns $50 million a year making clothes and carrying out other business deals with South Korean companies.

Mr. Lee also said that South Korea would block North Korean merchant ships from using South Korean waters off the southern coast. That would force the ships to detour and use more fuel.

South Korea has also agreed to a major anti-submarine exercise with the United States, more extensive naval coordination with the PSI (Proliferation Security Initiative), and resumption of propaganda broadcasts from loudspeakers in the DMZ. North Korea, for its part, has threatened to start breaking (more of) South Korea’s stuff:

North Korea threatened to fire at South Korean loudspeakers along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and destroy them, Monday, if Seoul resumes propaganda broadcasting suspended since 2004.

“If South Korea installs new speakers for psychological warfare, we will directly aim at them and open fire to destroy them,” an unnamed North Korean military commander said in a statement, carried by Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency.

While on the topic, allow me to say that I’m less than impressed with this David Sanger article. Key graf:

A new American intelligence analysis of a deadly torpedo attack on a South Korean warship concludes that Kim Jong-il, the ailing leader of North Korea, must have authorized the torpedo assault, according to senior American officials who cautioned that the assessment was based on their sense of the political dynamics there rather than hard evidence.

The officials said they were increasingly convinced that Mr. Kim ordered the sinking of the ship, the Cheonan, to help secure the succession of his youngest son.

“We can’t say it is established fact,” said one senior American official who was involved in the highly classified assessment, based on information collected by many of the country’s 16 intelligence agencies. “But there is very little doubt, based on what we know about the current state of the North Korean leadership and the military.”

Well…. that’s pretty authoritative. The crucial bit of evidence seems to be that Dear Leader visited and decorated the leader of the unit that’s suspected in the attack. Call me a raging skeptic, but that seems somewhat less than conclusive. I suspect that Kim Jong-Il did push the button; CoGs tend to be responsible for this thing more often than not. However, I also wouldn’t be stunned if the order came from a lower level commander, or one of the various brokers jockeying for position in anticipation of Kim’s death. If there’s a single problem that has bedeviled US intelligence in the last sixty years, it’s the difficulty in understanding the internal operation of authoritarian regimes. Even when we have a relative wealth of information (Kremlinology, for example) we still manage to make large errors. In this case, the officials that Sanger quotes don’t really seem to have any evidence worth noting.

Israel Offered to Sell Nukes to South Africa?

[ 50 ] May 23, 2010 |

Seems like rather a big deal:

Secret South African documents reveal that Israel offered to sell nuclear warheads to the apartheid regime, providing the first official documentary evidence of the state’s possession of nuclear weapons.

The “top secret” minutes of meetings between senior officials from the two countries in 1975 show that South Africa’s defence minister, PW Botha, asked for the warheads and Shimon Peres, then Israel’s defence minister and now its president, responded by offering them “in three sizes”. The two men also signed a broad-ranging agreement governing military ties between the two countries that included a clause declaring that “the very existence of this agreement” was to remain secret.

The documents, uncovered by an American academic, Sasha Polakow-Suransky, in research for a book on the close relationship between the two countries, provide evidence that Israel has nuclear weapons despite its policy of “ambiguity” in neither confirming nor denying their existence.

The Israeli authorities tried to stop South Africa’s post-apartheid government declassifying the documents at Polakow-Suransky’s request and the revelations will be an embarrassment, particularly as this week’s nuclear non-proliferation talks in New York focus on the Middle East.

They will also undermine Israel’s attempts to suggest that, if it has nuclear weapons, it is a “responsible” power that would not misuse them, whereas countries such as Iran cannot be trusted.

This isn’t completely new; see here for a good run-down of Israeli-South African cooperation on nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. The evidence of an offer to sell nuclear warheads isn’t a 100% clear smoking gun, but it’s fairly close:

The top secret minutes of the meeting record that: “Minister Botha expressed interest in a limited number of units of Chalet subject to the correct payload being available.” The document then records: “Minister Peres said the correct payload was available in three sizes. Minister Botha expressed his appreciation and said that he would ask for advice.” The “three sizes” are believed to refer to the conventional, chemical and nuclear weapons.

The use of a euphemism, the “correct payload”, reflects Israeli sensitivity over the nuclear issue and would not have been used had it been referring to conventional weapons. It can also only have meant nuclear warheads as Armstrong’s memorandum makes clear South Africa was interested in the Jericho missiles solely as a means of delivering nuclear weapons.

Emphasis mine. “Correct payload” could conceivably mean something other than a nuclear warhead, but it’s fair to say that the inference is likely correct. It should also be emphasized that the sale would have required Prime Minister Rabin’s approval, although there’s little reason to think that Peres would have made the offer without Rabin’s knowledge. Let’s put it this way; if this sort of evidence emerged about a potential deal between North Korea, Syria, and Iran, the Israeli response could hardly be characterized as tepid. The fact that the chief negotiator in the deal is the sitting President of Israel also means that this can’t legitimately be described as a “youthful indiscretion.” Moreover, it’s difficult to reasonably argue that the sale was necessary to the maintenance of the Israeli-South African nuclear relationship, and consequently to Israel’s ability to develop a nuclear deterrent. The premise of the sale is that Israel already possessed nuclear warheads and the ballistic missiles capable of carrying them; it didn’t, at that point, have to sell them to anyone.

We should also be clear that this isn’t what could be characterized as “good” proliferation, whatever that means. South Africa was obviously not a democracy in 1975; rather, it was a brutal, repressive police state that systematically crushed the freedom of the vast majority of its population. If you think that domestic repression has implications for foreign policy (realists don’t, but some do), then obviously it’s not ideal to sell nukes to this kind of state. Moreover, the same “what if the state collapses” concerns that apply to Iran apply to South Africa; there were ample concerns in the 1970s that freedom fightersdirty communist terrorists would overthrow the Pretoria regime, which would then have led to obvious “loose nuke” issues.

The larger issue is obviously this: Evidence that a chief proxy of the United States offered to sell actual, functioning nuclear warheads on actual, functioning ballistic missiles to an autocratic, unstable state somewhat undermines US “moral authority” to undertake anti-proliferation efforts in nuclear and ballistic missile technology. Iran is enriching uranium? Well, Israel offered to sell nukes to apartheid South Africa. North Korea is selling ballistic missile parts and know how? Well, Israel offered to sell Jericho missiles, complete with nuclear warheads, to South Africa. In short, a US proxy offered to engage in behavior that was by several degrees worse than any behavior that Pakistan, North Korea, Syria, Libya, or Iran have ever been credibly accused of engaging in.

That’s kind of a problem. The best we can say, perhaps, is that there’s no indication as of yet that the United States was involved. Indeed, the United States mildly sanctioned Israel for past bad behavior after much of the Israeli-South African relationship became known in the wake of the end of apartheid.

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