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Can This Man be the Leading Candidate?

[ 0 ] September 16, 2007 |

I’m still inclined to think that Bush wants a fight, but there seems to be some chance that he’ll go for the more confirmable Michael Mukasey. Jeralyn, persuasively, sees him as definitely conservative but better than, say, Ted Olson. For example, consider this radical idea:

Last month, Mr. Mukasey wrote an op-ed article in The Wall Street Journal in which he seemed to embrace a view shared by the administration suggesting “current institutions and statutes are not well suited” to the military effort against terrorism. He recommended that Congress intervene “to fix a strained and mismatched legal system.”

Whoa, whoa, whoa — he thinks Congress actually has the power to regulate Presidential war powers, and that the President doesn’t just have the power to ignore laws he doesn’t care for? Clearly, he must be some sort of free-thinking anarchist…

This Should be Interesting…

[ 0 ] September 16, 2007 |

Speaking of disciples of Ayn Rand:

AMERICA’s elder statesman of finance, Alan Greenspan, has shaken the White House by declaring that the prime motive for the war in Iraq was oil.

In his long-awaited memoir, to be published tomorrow, Greenspan, a Republican whose 18-year tenure as head of the US Federal Reserve was widely admired, will also deliver a stinging critique of President George W Bush’s economic policies.

However, it is his view on the motive for the 2003 Iraq invasion that is likely to provoke the most controversy. “I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil,” he says.

This should be fun. It’s kind of interesting; the oil justification is based around the destabilizing threat of Saddam Hussein, and to solve that problem we’ve succeeded in destabilizing the region, endangering Iraqi oil production, and driving oil to nearly $80 a barrel. On strictly practical grounds, the “war for oil” has been about as successful as the “war for democracy” and the “war against WMD.” These morons can’t even pull off a land grab successfully.

Heh. Louisville Sucks.

[ 0 ] September 15, 2007 |

Thoughts on today’s games:

  • Look on the bright side, Irish fans; at least Notre Dame won’t suffer an embarrassing defeat in a BCS bowl this year.
  • My efforts to watch the Oregon-Fresno State game were stymied by the fact that every television in Kentucky was tuned to the UK-Louisville tilt. That ended up being okay, since the latter was a far better game than the former. Congrats are due to the Wildcats, who scored their first victory against a top ten foe in thirty years. The celebration is already beginning outside my window.
  • The Pac-10 didn’t cover itself with glory today. I think that the speculation that Washington might beat Ohio State was misplaced, as there wasn’t really much reason to think that the Huskies were very good or that Ohio State was vulnerable. The Ducks cruised, and USC beat Nebraska, but the 38 point UCLA loss to an 0-2 Utah team is simply inexcusable.

Fifty Years of Moral Illiteracy

[ 0 ] September 15, 2007 |

About halfway through college, I concluded that pretty much anyone who recommended The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged was probably crackers. My first direct experience with Ayn Rand’s prose came when a fellow English major offered me his copy of Atlas Shrugged with John Galt’s unreadable, 70-page radio address helpfully marked with a paperclip and what I continue to hope were mere coffee stains. I lasted about five pages before deciding that John Galt was the libertarian equivalent of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, if only JLS had spent his time trying to have sex with the other seagulls while kicking their nests to splinters and trampling on their eggs. Years later, it didn’t surprise me to learn that Rand had croaked on the 125th anniversary of the Dred Scott decision.

So with all that as prologue, you can probably guess my reaction to The NY Times‘ survey of Rand’s corporate mouseketeers, who are currently frosting the cake for John Galt’s 50th birthday. Not impressed, was I. There are plenty of golden moments in the piece — including the obligatory reminders that Alan Greenspan thought she was just dreamy — but this one really stood out as a good example of how reading Ayn Rand actually makes a person stupid:

“She wasn’t a nice person, ” said Darla Moore, vice president of the private investment firm Rainwater Inc. “But what a gift she’s given us.”

Ms. Moore, a benefactor of the University of South Carolina, spoke of her debt to Rand in 1998, when the business school at the university was named in Ms. Moore’s honor. “As a woman and a Southerner,” she said, “I thrived on Rand’s message that only quality work counted, not who you are.”

Rand’s idea of “the virtue of selfishness,” Ms. Moore said, “is a harsh phrase for the Buddhist idea that you have to take care of yourself.”

Um. No. No it isn’t. Indeed, I can’t think of anything more contrary to Buddhism than “the virtue of selfishness.” Then again, maybe I’ve missed out on all those Buddhist defenses of “selfishness” that also celebrate the liquidation of American Indian land and identity, as Rand did quite joyfully at West Point in 1974:

They didn’t have any rights to the land, and there was no reason for anyone to grant them rights which they had not conceived and were not using . . . . What was it that they were fighting for, when they opposed white men on this continent? For their wish to continue a primitive existence, their ‘right’ to keep part of the earth untouched, unused and not even as property, but just keep everybody out so that you will live practically like an animal, or a few caves above it. Any white person who brings the element of civilization has the right to take over this continent.

That ought to please the shareholders!

The Wait Is Almost Over

[ 0 ] September 15, 2007 |

This is an exciting time for connoisseurs of wingnuttery. Alec “Skips A Generation” Rawls has finally expanded his profound insights concerning the IslamofascistCommieNazi conspiracy behind the 9/11 memorial in Pennsylvania into book format. The race is now on to see whether this or Liberal Fascism will come out first. What a moment for American letters!

If you just can’t wait for the book to come out, you can enjoy other Rawls classics such as “vegetarianism is genocide” and “the appeasement gene.”

A Polite Request

[ 0 ] September 14, 2007 |

Dear Red Sox:

Please stop allowing the Yankees to fill the bases each inning. It makes me greatly unhappy, and I’d like you to cut it out before they score 45 runs.


P.S. — I’m going to resume drinking now, so my next complaint might not be so carefully worded.

. . . Well, that was goddamned pathetic. Six outs from taking a significant step toward cleaning up the division, and Okajima gives up a homer to Giambi, who’s been batting around .100 for the last few weeks and — best I could gather from listening on MLB radio — played like a drunken, be-gloved walrus in the field. I don’t know about other Sox fans out there, but I pretty much knew it was over at that point; after Damon’s double, I wisely left the house for 20 minutes and let the malignancy of the universe take its course.

The only thing that needs to be said has already been pointed out by Scott three weeks ago, the last time the Sox fucked things up.

[T]he Red Sox have had three [now four] chances to knock out the Yankees this year, and each time they have generously prevented the Yankees from reaching the canvas and poured them a cup of Bigelow Green Tea.

Should Opponents Of Safe Legal Abortion Support Rudy?

[ 0 ] September 14, 2007 |

Eric Johnston’s op-ed making the “pro-life” argument for Giuliani is awful in many respects. It repeats many plainly erroneous assertions common to Republican opponents of reproductive freedom: most notably, the claims that abortion would “leave abortion to the states” (a particularly ridiculous argument in light of Carhart II) and that “strict constructionism” actually means anything in constitutional interpretation other than “outcomes consistent with the political platform of the Republican Party.” And as my colleague Bean notes, the idea that Giuliani is OK with Roe being overruled is related to his broader commitment to democracy and constitutionalism is utterly risible. And yet, while he makes many bad arguments in its defense, the overall thesis that supporters of forced pregnancy can support Giuliani without short-term sacrifice is actually quite reasonable. The most important thing a President does with respect to legal abortion is to appoint judges, and the kind of statist reactionaries Giuliani would appoint to the Court would obviously be likely to vote to overturn or gut Roe. Nor would Giuliani be likely to veto any abortion regulation that could actually pass Congress during his tenure. And if Giuliani is the most electable candidate — and he probably is — it’s a better risk for anti-choicers than a Democratic President.

Over the long-term, though, I’m not so sure. One thing he doesn’t mention is that overturning Roe is extremely unpopular, and it’s not obvious why the leadership of one national party has to almost uniformly support a minority position (particularly one that, one suspects, is not a strong priority of most elite Republicans.) If Giuliani can win the nomination and then the election as a pro-choice Republican, this could undermine the power of the anti-choice lobby in the national GOP over the long haul.

The Folly of Local Control In Federal Elections

[ 0 ] September 14, 2007 |

I have a new article up at TAP about how the collective action problems surrounding attempts to “reform” the distribution of California’s electoral votes to help the GOP is an outgrowth of the foolish (or at least anachronistic) decision to leave most of the standards for federal elections up to state legislatures:

The California case illustrates the central problem with America’s severely deficient electoral system: the fact that the administration of federal elections was largely left to the states. The Electoral College is an anachronism that distorts electoral outcomes (most recently, and with disastrous consequences for not only the country but the world, in 2000) and overrepresents small-state minorities that are already overrepresented throughout American political institutions. (As Yale law professor Akhil Reed Amar has pointed out, “the electoral college was designed to and did in fact advantage Southern white male propertied slaveholders in the antebellum era. And in election 2000, it again ended up working against women, blacks, and the poor, who voted overwhelmingly for Gore.”

But privileging “states’ rights” over people’s rights not only constitutes a primary problem with the Electoral College but makes it nearly impossible to change. It produces the kind of collective action problems we can see in the California case (the states that act first will disadvantage their state’s citizens) and gives small states a vested interest in maintaining the less democratic system. This is particularly irksome because, in a modern democracy, the decentralized administration of federal elections is “local control” fetishism at its least defensible.

The value of decentralized power in some contexts is that it can allow for experimentation and policies more attuned with local values. But such experimentation, while logical for a time period in which giving the franchise even to propertied white males was a fairly radical idea, could not be more inappropriate for a modern democracy. It should no longer be acceptable, of course, for states to “experiment” with which adults should get the franchise.

Much more over at TAP.

"Fuzzy Math"

[ 0 ] September 14, 2007 |

I certainly expected Bush’s speech to contain an element of Disney-esue fantasy, but I must admit that I’m somewhat surprised to see that The Decider apparently can’t count:

Oddly, he thanked “the 36 nations who have troops on the ground in Iraq.” At the peak of the “coalition,” back in the fall of 2004, only 31 countries besides the United States had any troops in Iraq. They amounted to 24,000—fewer than one-fifth of America’s numbers—and one-third of those were contributed by Britain. Now, according to the most recent official report (dated Aug. 30, 2007), just 25 countries have troops there; they number fewer than 12,000 (an average of fewer than 500 per nation), and more and more, including Britain, are leaving every month.

Perhaps one of General Petraeus’ charts would have helped.

Shorter Eric Johnston

[ 0 ] September 14, 2007 |

I know, I know, I am not supposed to be here today. Oh well. Rules were made to be broken.

Shorter Eric Johnston in today’s NY Times: Giuliani is an abortion wingnut’s dream come true — just see how he drove smut (oh and civil liberties) out of New York when he was mayor!

Johnston’s point: forget about Giuliani’s professed personal beliefs about abortion. He might think like Kerry but he talks — and will appoint judges — like Bush. And Giuliani would be more damaging as president because no one could argue that he’s just advancing his religious preference. Johnston says about seven times in the column that Giuliani is not an observant Catholic but that he’s willing to do the church’s dirty work (see: the kerfuffle over the Madonna made out of dung exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum).

Johnston may be right that Giuliani would be a more effective advocate for the right-wing anti-rights and liberties agenda than would a more religious person. But to say that Giuliani is willing to fight these battles because of his “commitment to democracy” is ridiculousness to the nth degree. Giuliani couldn’t care less about democratic principles; it’s the power and attention he loves, and he’ll shill for whoever will give it to him.

Checks, Balances and National Security

[ 0 ] September 14, 2007 |

Ben Wittes points out, correctly, that although Jack Goldsmith has been critical of some aspects of the Bush administration he remains a statist conservative. (“Jack Goldsmith is no human-rights lawyer,” says Wittes; he means this as a compliment.) But while I certainly agree that expanding executive power via Congress is preferable to the Yoo strategy of just making farcical arguments about the Constitution granting unlimited arbitrary war-making authority to the executive, it hardly follows from this that all expansions of executive power are desirable. I haven’t received the Goldsmith book yet, so I can’t judge the quality of his arguments, but Wittes seems, as he has before, to simply assume that expansions of executive authority enhance national security. For example, he continues to misconstrue the criticism of the recent Democratic capitulation on FISA:

The idea that the president ought to have a fairly free hand in the war on terrorism, but that the source of his freedom should be congressional permission for bold action, rather than broad claims of inherent presidential power, lacks much of a constituency today. The ire directed at Democrats who supported the recent temporary FISA amendment is one dispiriting indication of that.

Except, of course, that most of this ire was not based on some principle that congressional expansions of presidential power are inherently wrong. To repeat, the Senate leadership and the administration hammered out a deal that would expand power in some ways, but retaining clear definitions and meaningful oversight. Unless “fairly free hand” means “virtually unconstrained arbitrary power,” there’s no necessary contradiction here.

And this is related to the overall problem with the assumption that expansions of executive power — especially those that remove any oversight — improve national security. But this assumption is false. As Stephen Holmes argues in his recent book:

Would weakening the constitutional system of checks and balances, for example, help the executive become more focused and less reckless? This is unlikely. Indeed, the Administration’s desire to circumvent traditional checks and balances patently weakened its capacity for critical thought and self-correction, preparing the way for its gratuitous invasion to invade Iraq. To defend ourselves against our most dangerous enemies, we do not need unrestricted government, We need intelligent government. And no Administration that shields itself compulsively from criticism has a prayer of being even sporadically intelligent.

While Congressional delegation of unconstrained power to the executive may be more legally defensible, it doesn’t solve the underlying problems that caused the framers to place constitutional constraints on executive warmaking power in the first place. Particularly relevant here is that under the FISA bill that was passed Congress has no effective way of knowing in many cases whether the policy is working or not. Not only is this bad for civil liberties, it’s bad for national security, unless you believe that it’s sound policy to place blind faith in the competence and judgment of an administration whose competence and judgment have repeatedly proven to be catastrophically bad.

Beyond the Sword

[ 0 ] September 14, 2007 |

Just completed my first game of of Civ IV: Beyond the Sword. Loved it. It’s a very solid mix of a return of older elements of the game with new improvements. Some specifics:

  • Better units. The addition of a Ship of the Line unit (and the Trireme unit that came with Warlords) improves pre-modern naval combat considerably. Also like the Missile Cruiser, Stealth Destroyer, and especially the return of the Privateer from Civ III; the latter is just about the right strength, able to threaten a galleon but inferior to a frigate. Mobile artillery and mobile SAM were absolutely necessary; artillery in CIV IV became useless late in the game because it couldn’t keep pace with mechanized infantry and armor. I like the introduction of the airship, although it should probably promote to fighter rather than bomber.
  • Operations short of war. With the Privateer and a very well developed espionage system (although I don’t know if it’s completely balanced right yet; it’s hard to protect your own cities even late in the game), it’s possible now to seriously mess with another country without starting a war. The Privateer is especially effective against sea improvements like fishing and clam boats, and can also institute a blockade. With espionage, which allows the sabotage of improvements, poisoning of wells etc., severely damaging the economy of a competitor without actually going to war is pretty easy.
  • Colonies and Vassalage: Vassals were introduced in Warlords, and represented a considerable improvement over the total wars of annihilation that would normally develop in Civ games. When faced with a hopeless war, most foes will capitulate, giving you control over their foreign policy, freedom of movement in their territory, and access to their resources. Not infrequently, a civ will offer to become a vassal while it’s losing a war to another civ, which then puts you at war. While you don’t have control of a vassal’s military forces (which makes planning offensive wars a bit more tricky), the system does allow you to concentrate on your core group of cities. Beyond the Sword introduces colonies, which allows you to grant independence to overseas groupings of cities on the condition that the new civilization will become a vassal. This helps to keep maintenance costs low while preventing other civs from occupying vacant territory. In the game I played, I ended up creating four colonial vassals (Greece, the Holy Roman Empire, America, and the Celts) in various parts of the world, while accepting three start game competitors into vassalage. Due to war or luck, a colony will occasionally exceed the power of its mother country, and there are mechanisms that allow capitulated vassals to regain independence.
  • Air-Naval/Ground interaction. I still don’t like the way that Civ IV handles air-naval interaction, and in fact this is a hold over from Civ III. It is still, apparently, impossible to destroy naval units with air units. They can be dropped to half strength, but this doesn’t even seem to slow them down. Cruise missiles can kill naval units pretty effectively, but they don’t appear until late in the game. This is really absurd; you can bomb the snot out of enemy transports loaded with invaders approaching your coastline, but if you don’t have a destroyer around, they’re still going to invade. There are some other interaction problems as well, again holdovers from the first iteration of Civ IV. Naval units can damage city defenses, but cannot attack improvements; complete domination of the coastline should be more helpful, I think. Also, bombers and other air units can no longer conduct strategic bombing. I don’t care for Curtis Lemay, but I loved to play him in video games; one of my favorite tactics in Civ III was to grab an island city near some big enemy cities, send a fleet of bombers, and proceed to reduce a modern age 26 population city to a 1 population hovel without any improvements. This option is no longer available, since air units only attack city fortifications or units (although you can destroy territorial improvements). I do, however, like the fact that cities have a limited air unit basing capacity in Beyond the Sword (4 without an airport, 8 with). That tends to limit the damage that air units can do, and to increase the usefulness of aircraft carriers.
  • Space ship: The space ship mechanics appear to have reverted to their superior Civ II form, in which you could customize your spaceship, changing the duration of the journey to a new planet. This means that you have a choice between a cheap space ship that will take a long time to arrive, and a more expensive one that will get their quicker. Although it usually doesn’t matter, the distinction is occasionally critical to victory.

All told, it’s a worthy waste of 45 hours of your time.

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