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Indefensible Corn Subsidies: This Time It’s Personal

[ 0 ] September 11, 2007 |

Apparently, among the many other bad side effects, the massive amount of corn being grown is pushing up the price of other commodities. For example, “Heineken, the brewery giant, said beer prices might have to be raised because so many crops are being planted and diverted to bio-fuel production that the supply of barley and hops is being reduced.”

My question: what the hell does the price of hops matter to Heineken? It’s almost as crazy as saying that the price of dairy products would affect the price of a McDonald’s shake…

Bribery Will Get You (Almost) Everywhere

[ 0 ] September 11, 2007 |

Many thanks to our regular reader Howard for favoring me with some hot jazz selections from my wish list: namely, Abbey Sings Abbey and Bill Frisell, Ron Carter, Paul Motian. Many thanks! Indeed, I’m so grateful I’ll even say something nice about Howard’s beloved Yankees:

OK, not really, but you can see what I’m driving at. However, if a Republican wants to buy me something to say nice about Sam Alito — hey, I’ll betray my principles up to a point!


[ 0 ] September 11, 2007 |

I haven’t seen this article cited elsewhere, but Jane Hamsher points to the inspiration for MoveOn’s “Betray Us” headline, about which many an indignant fist has been shaken today.

After being hailed as King David, the potential saviour of Iraq, the US commander General David Petraeus is facing a backlash in advance of his report to Congress in September on the progress of America’s troop surge.

Critics, including one recently retired general, are privately calling him “General Betraeus” on the grounds that he is too ambitious to deliver a balanced report on the war.

As for today’s “Betray Us” ad, it seems like a non-issue to me. Surge supporters were going to raise the stabbed-in-the-back narrative regardless of what else happened today; whether or not the headline could have been more tactfully phrased, a full-page ad from MoveOn in the Times would itself have been thrown into the wingnut wood chipper anyhow (even if, as it may be, the offending phrase had originally come from one of the general’s former colleagues).

The more interesting issue, as far as I can tell, is what the fake controversy itself reveals about the course of arguments on behalf of the surge (and the war itself). Instead of lame defenses of the clowns operating the Bush administration, we have jingoes and Serious People alike offering up Petraeus as their (infinitely more competent) proxy. At the same time, we’re asked to think of Petraeus not as someone implementing a policy dreamt up by the Kagan Family Circle, but instead as someone who is in fact one of The Troops ™.

As a result, whatever specific arguments might be raised against the prevailing “surge is workin’” narrative, Petraeus’ defenders know how to use clunky, synechdochal arguments to deputize anyone in the chain of command as The Troops. As Thers pointed out last week

if you think anything is dodgy about the Petraeus Report, you Hate the Troops, because General Petraeus is The Troops. . . . General “Troops” Petraeus is thus always and forever immune to all criticism, much as the Cootie Shot provides enduring protection against Cooties.

And since it isn’t self-evident that Petraeus — unlike Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Feith, et. al. — is a weasel, the synechdoche will probably work to some degree for a while. But since the Petraeus caucus seems to have forgotten than the surge was supposed to generate political reconciliation, I suspect the jig will be up within a Friedman Unit at the latest.

Dubya (et al) Doublespeak

[ 0 ] September 10, 2007 |

Either I missed my dear Liptak last week, or he was off for Labor Day. Either way, he’s back in action today, with a column about the FISA court , recent federal court decisions requiring it to be more open, and the Bush administration’s constant double speak — asking that the court remain confidential and under seal at some times, while itself revealing the court’s workings at others. And, per usual, Liptak’s not pulling any punches:

The Justice Department, judging from the tone of the brief it filed Aug. 31, was taken aback by that suggestion. The A.C.L.U., the government said, “requests that this court second-guess the executive branch’s classification decision.” And the executive branch had decided, the brief continued, that “no part of any documents can be released without harming national security.”

A little sheepishly, the brief conceded that there had been exceptions. In January, for instance, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales described aspects of orders the court had issued that month.

But those disclosures, the brief said, were “in the interest of informing the public debate.” Perhaps coincidentally, they were also made just before a federal appeals court in Cincinnati was to hear arguments on the legality of the surveillance program.

I’m wary of any court whose M.O. is confidential. Seems to me it should be the other way around — a court should be open unless specific reasons necessitate its closure. As the ACLU’s Melissa Goodman told Liptak, “Having secret bodies of law is antithetical to our constitutional democracy.”

I know, I know, national security is important. We all know that. But the Bush (et al) tactics on the FISA court seem to mirror what they’ve done in other areas related to the “war on (politically expedient so-called) terror”: Scare the bejeezus out of people. Tell them that some drastic action must be taken for the people’s safety. Mislead the people about the breadth of that action. Win elections. Maybe with the FISA court asserting a little independence and journalists remembering how to do their jobs, this tactic will start to backfire. Just maybe.

Ignorance: Still Free!

[ 0 ] September 10, 2007 |

If you’ve ever read the half-baked, foul-mouthed philistinism otherwise known as “My Posts” and wondered by what satanic collusion I managed to land a job outside the temp industry, now is your chance to renew your childlike sense of astonishment.

For the second semester in a row, I’m podcasting my US history survey lectures, which is a service I offer to those who might be sick of “The Glenn and Helen Show,” “Audible Althouse,” or the Macranger Show. Otherwise, I can’t imagine why anyone would bother.

If you have iTunes, you can subscribe by clicking this surprisingly-lifelike rendition of my “lecturing face”:

If you don’t use iTunes, you can find a link to the audio feed by clicking this photo of me in a moment of celebratory repose after a long day of explaining shit:


[ 1 ] September 10, 2007 |

Attaturk notices the most salient aspect of yesterday’s Tom Friedman joint. If you actually needed a war to figure out the staggeringly obvious fact that the utter lack of the civil-society institutions might be extremely important to whether a state riven by sectarian conflict is a good candidate for democratic transition…you really shouldn’t be allowed to write about foreign affairs for the Dubuque Telegraph Herald, let alone the New York Times.

A Few Words on Federer.

[ 0 ] September 10, 2007 |

Damn, that man can play.

But is anyone else sick of seeing him win so often and so seemingly effortlessly? I would love to see that steely shell crack just a bit. Djokovic, choke though he did in those set points, at least has a sense of humor and lets us see his personality on and off the court.

We Can’t Get Up from this Blackjack Table

[ 0 ] September 10, 2007 |

Matt hits the nail on the head:

And reading Pollack & Pascual write about it, on some level I agree with them. As they say, probably if we made a big push for a UN-sponsored diplomatic settlement of Iraq’s internal conflicts and related regional ones, etc., etc., our push would fail. On the other hand, if such a push succeeded, that would be very good. And the costs of trying for such a settlement and then failing would be low.

At the end of the day, though, the whole premise of a discussion like this is that Bush might read a Brookings Institution report and agree to a radical change in direction. That, of course, isn’t going to happen. At the present day, the set of options that might plausibly occur between today and January 2009 are:

1. Bush gets his way.
2. Enough Republicans get freaked out that congress is able to force Bush to start withdrawing troops.

Under the circumstances, the political impact of things like this Pollack/Pascual report seem to me to be mostly pernicious. It mostly serves to obscure the real issues and choices in play. It lets people continue with the delusion that they’re floating off on some worthy path between Bush and Bush’s opponents. This nicely serves various people’s sense of vanity and desire to avoid undue association with dirty fucking hippies, but it’s every bit as detached from realities on the ground in America as Bush’s policies are from realities in Iraq. Either the Bush steamroller is going to plow forward for 18 more months, or else congress is going to muster the votes to shut it down.

Right, and the same could be said for the notion that hey, the Surge may have only a 10% chance of success, but since the gamble is relatively low cost and the benefits very high, we might as well try it. These arguments make a certain kind of sense, but they’re dependent on a logic that fundamentally ignores American political reality. In order for the “one last time, and if we fail we’re out” to work, you need the following:

  1. An administration that agrees that leaving Iraq is a plausible option; in other words, an honest and competent broker in the White House.
  2. A set of clear metrics for analyzing the success of the operation.
  3. An elite political culture with memory; one that could remember the last four “last ditch gambles” well enough to accurately assess the prospects for the latest one.

Unfortunately, none of these conditions hold. We have an administration that doesn’t want to leave Iraq under any circumstances, and that will distort any available data and manufacture new data out of whole cloth in order to “prove” that the latest gamble is working. In part because of this, and in part because of the nature of the beast, we lack clear metrics to tell us whether we’re on the lucky 10% side or the unlucky 90%. Finally, the game just happens over and over and over again; the political/media culture doesn’t seem to remember the last gamble when the next one is offered.

Imagine you and a friend are at a blackjack table, and your friend has been losing all night. He seems to enjoy doubling down on 16s against a dealer 10. But now he insists that he’s “figured the game out” and can win a lot of money. Pollack is telling us that it might be worth it to loan your friend $50 to stay at the blackjack table, on the condition that he’ll leave if he loses it. But your friend is lying to you; he’s so convinced that he understands the game that he’s planning to borrow another $50 after he loses your stake. Moreover, he’s going to do everything he can to obscure his losses thus far, and pretend that he’s doing quite well. Finally, he’s going to use the fact that you’re confident enough to loan him $50 in order to leverage more loans from all of your other friends.

Only a drunken idiot would go for that, which is why casinos give out free drinks. David Petraeus, as far as I can tell, is not planning to let us all drink for free.

Is Michael Barone Just a Moron or…. is there Any Other Way to Finish that Sentence?

[ 0 ] September 10, 2007 |

In trying to argue that the public really does favor the Republicans on foreign policy, Barone writes:

But when it comes to the question of protecting Americans from Islamist terrorists, the Democrats have little to say, or nothing. Democratic candidates have mentioned Islamist terrorism only briefly or, more often, not at all in their several debates. In contrast, Republican candidates in their debates have more to say on the subject. On this issue, it is the Republican candidates who are in line not only with their primary electorate but also with most voters in the general election.

This helps to explain one anomaly in current polling, that while voters generically prefer a Democratic candidate, when they are presented with a choice between the two candidates now leading in the polls, Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani, they are split just about evenly. The reason is that Democrats are giving voters the impression that they believe everything will be just fine in the world once Bush is back in Crawford and the troops are home from Iraq.

By Real Clear Politics own data, Clinton (the most right wing Democrat on foreign policy) beats every Republican contender, including Fred Thompson (by 6.5%) and Mitt Romney (by 9.7%). The other two major Democrats (who are, to repeat, left of Clinton on foreign policy) also beat every Republican, only by much larger margins. Call me crazy, but it’s almost as if a Podhoretz-esque foreign policy stance isn’t popular amongst the voting public…

A GOP Clark?

[ 0 ] September 10, 2007 |

As with Publius, it’s occurred to me looking at the less-than-rapturous reception to Fred Thompson in some of the blogosphere’s conservative precincts that there are may be a loose parallel between Clark’s campaign in ’04 and Thompson in ’08. The surprising early decline in support for the war created an obvious structural problem for the Dems in the last primary campaign: the best strategy was probably to make a strong case that the Iraq War was a counterproductive strategy that undermined national security and the struggle with terrorism. but a candidate that supported the war initially would be fatally compromised in trying to make this case and there was good reason to believe that although he had the right position Howard Dean probably wasn’t the ideal candidate to make the case. Clark — a Southern four-star general who had the right position on the war — seemed right on paper to address this, but his amateur-night campaign made that inoperative. (The great unanswered question is whether Clark had few innate political skills or whether he was just too green. I frankly lean towards the former; the very fact of his bizarrely late entry and decision to skip Iowa when running against two New Englanders doesn’t suggest a political mastermind.) Thompson, similarly, fills an obvious structural void: a plain vanilla Southern conservative acceptable to both pro-business conservatives and their cultural reactionary junior partners. But while unlike Clark he’s run a successful campaign (although getting elected as a Republican in Tennessee isn’t exactly rocket science), I strongly suspect that his good-on-paper candidacy will prove less effective in practice.

Of course, if this turns out to be true, the structural void is still there: somebody who would be disqualified by some factor in a normal year has to win by default. One implication of this is that –while I still don’t think he will win — my categorical assertions that Giulani has no chance are probably mistaken. Part of me is even tempted to say that even McCain could pull off a miracle Kerryesque comeback, although the fact that Steve Hayes and David Broder see it coming means that it’s probably safe to keep writing it off. If it’s not Romney, I still think that Huckabee may be able to appease the business wing of the party enough to be the next most likely nominee.

St. Pedro Day

[ 0 ] September 10, 2007 |

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Went to the Mets game yesterday courtesy of the great Roy Edroso and his lovely and gifted significant other. And the spirit of 1994 lived, as Pedro pitched five shutout innings and Moises Alou homered. Even more than before, Pedro isn’t going to throw a lot of innings; he has to nibble enough that batters will work some deep counts, and though his pitch count will be stretched a bit he’s a 6 inning pitcher at best now. But he’s still beautiful to watch, gutting it out without his A stuff and outsmarting hitters. (And he somehow hit a double.) Moises is unbelievable in his own right; he’s injury prone and 41, and yet he’s almost as good a hitter now as he’s ever been. (The last time he had an OPS+ significantly under his career total was ’03.) And I still can’t figure out how he hits out of that stance…

We were discussing that Shea is one demolition that nobody can lament; it’s a Robert Moses project that combines the charm of the 70s toilet bowl stadiums with the amenities of the relics. One thing I will miss, though, is the large capacity, which the new stadium (like most of the new ones) won’t have. One great thing about baseball is that outside of a few markets like contemporary Boston there are generally many games one could go to on a whim for a reasonable price, as we did this week: Pedro’s Shea debut, Sunday, let’s go! At the new park, though, one will have to split a season ticket or plan out purchases in advance, which isn’t as much fun.

The Horror of a Giuliani Presidency, Summarized

[ 0 ] September 10, 2007 |

I think this is sufficient: “Podhoretz, remember, is advising Rudy on foreign policy.” If that doesn’t make a Rudy! presidency scare the living piss out of you, I’m not sure what will. (cf. also here, here. And here.)

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