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Winter War II Would be a Problem for Russia

[ 0 ] January 7, 2009 |

Although Yglesias rejected my appeal to write a post on the possibility of Finland joining NATO (I used the hypothetical regularly during Patterson’s exam period to frame the question of Georgian and Ukrainian accession), he did connect to this exceedingly groovy Finnish military video. Requires Windows Media Player.

Terrorism and War

[ 0 ] January 7, 2009 |

Debates about the meaning of “terrorism” often feature some odd assumptions, including:

(1) Killing 500 civilians while making some attempt to avoid killing them is less morally problematic than killing five civilians while attempting to kill many more. I suppose this may be true, but it hardly seems self-evident.

(2) While blowing up a 19-year-old civilian walking down the street is either a horrendous crime or a deeply regrettable bit of “collateral damage,” eviscerating that same 19-year-old with a sharpnel bomb a week after desperate circumstances have forced him to put on the uniform of the local security forces is morally A-OK.

The latter assumption seems particularly strange — as if the fact that we claim wars have “rules” makes them less immoral.

Anyway, the editor of my column got mad about my failure to achieve Krauthmaurian moral clarity on these issues, leading to this little back and forth.

Risible Hack of the Day

[ 0 ] January 7, 2009 |

Erick Erickson. A lesser hack would be careful not to remind people of this great moment in circus clowndom, but Erickson is very, very special.

Recession Is Over, If You Want It Hang Out Exclusively With Other Wealthy Exurbanites

[ 0 ] January 7, 2009 |

Shorter Verbatim Dr. Helen: “Now, most Americans under 70 apparently think that 2008 was the worst year they have ever seen economically. Yet, whenever I talk to people, they always tell me that they, themselves are doing fine.” [Via]

What could possibly explain this baffling paradox?


[ 0 ] January 7, 2009 |

Via AG, this brings some funny…

The Face of the New Pacific War

[ 0 ] January 7, 2009 |

Matt points out that Eliot Spitzer has become a shill for our robot would-be overlords. Even more alarming, Josh Keating posts the graph to the left, indicating international robot density.

The data support only one conclusion. On December 7, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy struck Pearl Harbor with six aircraft carriers, wreaking untold devastation. What if, next time, it’s worse? What if those aircraft carriers had been able to transform into giant robots?

This is the face of the future, my friends:

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

[ 0 ] January 7, 2009 |

So, it appears that the comments are now “working” in some important sense, although I’m not sure we’ll ever get the comment count back, or that the recent comments widget will ever work right again. Unfortunately, JS-KIT has resumed the practice of sending all comments to my e-mail inbox, annotated with a helpful “click here to change your e-mail notification preferences.” Having so clicked, I noted that my preferences specified no e-mail notifications. Nevertheless, the e-mails persist. I am now forwarding a selection to the JS-KIT support staff, with my own annotations.

…oh, better.

…. [bumped] After some wrangling with JS-KIT, notification problems are solved. I have made some changes to comment format; your comments will now look like we would imagine comments to look in the World of Tomorrow. Also enabled the formatting buttons. Let me know if thumbs up/down. Still working on the comment count problem, and the twitchy recent comments widget.

Minimizing Bushism

[ 0 ] January 6, 2009 |

Defenses of George W. Bush’s incompetence and lawbreaking have frequently relied on specious arguments about the “continuity” between his administration and those of his predecessors. According to this formula, Bush’s misconceptions about Iraqi WMD, for instance, are supposed to have been acceptable given similar assumptions by Clinton-era officials; its invasion of Iraq is supposed to have been acceptable given Clinton’s signature of the Iraq Liberation Act in 1998; the doctrine of preventive war is supposed to have been acceptable because — well, primarily because neoconservatives obfuscate the distinction between “preventive” and “preemptive” war, the latter of which the US has always been claimed as a prerogative.

The policy of extraordinary rendition is another such example of the Clinton-did-it-too argument that will forever be a staple for Bush apologists. Here, Bill Kristol’s pool boy, Michael Goldfarb, accuses “the left” of “imagin[ing] that the Bush administration represents a clean break with the previously lawful and humane history of the executive branch of government,” when in fact — or so he suggests — there’s no meaningful difference between the rendition program under Clinton and the proliferation of renditions under Cheney-Bush. I don’t know who on “the left” would actually make such an argument — I thought, for example, that we were the ones who supposedly crapped ourselves over the human costs of the sanctions regime during the 1990s — but I can’t pretend to understand the extraordinarily sharp intellect of Michael Goldfarb.

Nevertheless, I’ve been reading Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side, and it’s hard to get through it without realizing several things about rendition. First, it was a terrible, illegal policy under Clinton that resulted in people being tortured at the hands of (mostly) thugs in the employ of the Egyptian government. Legal and human rights safeguards were ignored. It was pretty fucked up stuff that became, as Mayer describes it, bureaucratized and routine over time. That said, it was an extremely limited technique by comparison with the transformation it took after 9/11. It was employed against individuals who had already been convicted in abstentia, and as part of a broader anti-terrorism policy, it was accompanied by — and this is significant — investigative work by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies that actually bore results that were usable in American courts. Rendition was not, in other words, used to apprehend suspects who would be transferred to sites under US control, to develop information that might lead to convictions. It was not used as a dragnet to bring Pakistani Koran-readers to Guantanamo Bay for half a decade without charge or trial.

It was a bad policy that did nothing to improve US national security, and there’s a genealogical relationship between Clinton-era rendition and Bush-era rendition that’s worth bearing in mind. But as with so much in the Bush years, where rendition is concerned, differences of degree became differences of kind.

Institutions and Health Care

[ 0 ] January 6, 2009 |

Long-time readers will know I agree entirely with this:

So that’s the context in which to ask whether or not it makes sense to have a supermajority requirement for many Senate votes. I would say “no.” Even absent the filibuster, our system would still feature an unusually large number of veto points, especially when you take our unusually robust system of judicial review into account. The supermajority requirement is at odds with our basic democratic norms, you’d be hard-pressed to come up with an example of it ever actually being used to protect the interests of some kind of put-upon minority, and I see no empirical reason to think that our systematically larger number of veto points is producing systematically better results than you see elsewhere. On the other hand, there’s good reason to believe that the large number of veto points makes it easier for narrow interest groups to block public interest reforms.

In terms of Matt’s question about the originality of Tsebelis’s argumemts, I don’t mean it as a criticism of his excellent book to note that this point has been made convincingly by people working in the historical institutionalist tradition as well as rational choicers. Most relevant to the Obama administration is the analysis of scholars like Ellen Immergut and Sven Steinmo, which demonstrates how the chances of achieving major health care reform diminish greatly with additional veto points. Talk about how American doctors and insurance companies oppose health care reform doesn’t explain much in itself, because these groups pretty much always oppose comprehensive reforms everywhere. The difference is that the American system allows representatives of these interests to block even popular reforms much more easily.

For this reason, it’s good that Pelosi is taking away tools allowing for minority vetoes in the House of Representatives, and it’s black comedy for Congressional Republicans to claim that making it more difficult to quietly thwart majority-favored legislation without an up-or-down vote is a blow to “transparency” and “fairness.”

The Answer is "Yes"

[ 0 ] January 6, 2009 |

Yes, I know that comments are down. Yes, I have complained. Yes, I share the impression that the rollout of JS-Kit has been… bumpy.

Romans Where There Should Be No Romans

[ 0 ] January 6, 2009 |

This is a very interesting find:

Archaeologists have found more than 600 relics from a huge battle between a Roman army and Barbarians in the third century, long after historians believed Rome had given up control of northern Germany. Some of the artifacts are so well preserved that the scientists can already retrace some of the battle lines.

“We have to write our history books new, because what we thought was that the activities of the Romans ended at nine or 10 (years) after Christ,” said Lutz Stratmann, science minister for the German state of Lower Saxony. “Now we know that it must be 200 or 250 after that.”

For weeks, archeologist Petra Loenne and her team have been searching this area with metal detectors, pulling hundreds of ancient Roman weapons out of the ground. They paint a picture of a highly organized, technologically superior Roman army beset by Germanic tribes in a forest about 80 km (50 miles) south of the modern city of Hanover.

The site is about 90 miles east southeast of the location of the Battle of Teutoberg Forest, where Arminius supposedly kicked the Romans out of Germany in 9 AD. Finds thus far include coins with the visage of the Emperor Commodus, who reigned between 177 and 192. Yes, that Commodus. It’s unclear what a Roman army was doing that far from the Rhine at such a late date; permanent Roman fortifications were about 150 miles to the west.

A New Power Rises in the East Blogosphere

[ 0 ] January 6, 2009 |

So when I wasn’t paying attention, Foreign Policy went and seized the greater portion of the international affairs related blogosphere. Congrats to Dan, Marc, and the rest on successfully selling out. I’ll be following the blogging of Israel hating monster and mild mannered realist Stephen Walt with particular attention…