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Hopefully a Quick End to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

[ 0 ] January 10, 2009 |


As part of the transition team’s “Open for Questions” project, press secretary Robert Gibbs responded to questions posed online and voted on by visitors to The final inquiry: Is the new administration going to get rid of the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy?

Gibbs responded, “Thaddeus, you don’t hear a politician give a one-word answer much, but it’s yes.”

FWIW, I’ve been told by people in the military that there’s almost no stomach to fight for Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and that in any case the retention of Robert Gates has been so popular that Obama has an enormous reserve of political capital. Then again, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has never been just about the military; even if the officer corps was strongly in favor of scrapping, Republicans could still be relied upon to demagogue it.

Who Would Win in a Fight?

[ 0 ] January 10, 2009 |

Clay Davis vs. Rod Blagojevich?

…speaking of which, apparently there’s corruption in the Baltimore mayor’s office. Who could have guessed?

Separated at Birth?

[ 0 ] January 9, 2009 |

Huh. Has anyone ever seen Olbermann and Poe in the same room?

I’m hoping this guy wins the nomination next year, if for no other reason than to freak Palin out on a daily basis.

I Can’t Argue With That Logic!

[ 0 ] January 9, 2009 |

America’s Worst Columnist says that “there are only two possible endgames: (A) a Lebanon-like cessation of hostilities to be supervised by international observers, or (B) the disintegration of Hamas rule in Gaza.” It will not surprise you that he advocates for (B). Alas, it will also not surprise you to know that he doesn’t seem to consider the question of what exactly Hamas would be replaced by should these aims be achieved. The assumption that a lengthy, destructive Israeli bombing campaign will produce a government more sympathetic to Israel and less sympathetic to Iran is so transparently idiotic that I think we can assume it’s the one that Krauthammer is working with.

Deep Thought

[ 0 ] January 9, 2009 |

The fact that more than two and a half million jobs were lost in 2008 proves that upper-class tax cuts are great economic policy. And thank God we took the advice of the great Alan Greenspan and didn’t pay down the debt too quickly; that was always a serious risk and we sure couldn’t use that money now.

If Tim Tebow and Tiger Woods had a baby, would that baby be Superman?

[ 0 ] January 9, 2009 |

Actual quote from Thom Brennamen last night: “If you are fortunate enough to spend five minutes with Tim Tebow your life will be better.”

Bowl Mania Final Standings

[ 0 ] January 9, 2009 |

The Knows Pickers win it! If the winner would furnish me with an address, I will furnish s/he with an appropriate prize. I’m almost (but not quite) inclined to give a prize for last, too; 9-25 is impressive in its own right.

1 Dr. Squid Knows Pickers, C. Carrell 20-14 402
2 Ain’t That Pretty At All, R. Cobeen 17-17 368
3 Foggy Bottom Line, S. Scott 19-15 356
3 long time lurker, J. DeLange 18-16 356
5 enelson44, E. Nelson 18-16 354
6 Cookie Monsters, J. Lobasz 18-16 353
7 Schwyzer, H. Schwyzer 20-14 341
8 Bishus, O. Bishus 18-16 333
9 Gaw, C. Gaw 21-13 331
10 g, s g 21-13 330
11 Evan, E. Robertson 19-15 329
12 gj manatees, b. junge 17-17 320
13 Tha Crusha, T. Militano 16-18 319
14 Seals, C. Seals 18-16 310
15 penasquito, W. Wyatt 15-19 299
16 husker doo, c. rasmussen 17-17 291
17 Kooistra, K. Kooistra 18-16 282
18 Samoan Napoleon Trefoil, J. M 16-18 281
19 Minnesota Venturas, J. Fecke 15-19 278
20 jmack, J. Mackin 13-21 271
21 Jshinola, J Shinola 16-18 270
22 Smith, P. Smith 16-18 269
23 B, J B 15-19 264
24 The Usual Suspect, E. Gomez 16-18 261
25 Drunken Warthogs, S. Ehrlich 15-19 259
26 Go green, go white, W. Chum 12-22 258
27 Girding the Nittany Loins, D. Stefanon 14-20 252
28 Pootie Tang, D. Raskin 13-21 248
29 EV_Debs, B. Alpers 12-22 240
29 Dr. Awkward, Z. Keane 14-20 240
31 Fraud Guy, E. Cerevic 15-19 233
32 Cincinnati Bearded Ducks, R. Farley 16-18 231
33 Stay Classy, C. M 15-19 225
34 With the Russians, too, D. Merrill 15-19 224
35 Ottawa Rough Riders, K. Witter 13-21 191
36 kodos423, k. crockett 12-22 179
37 smith, m. smith 11-23 148
38 Ducking Minerva, M. Power 9-25 128

[ 0 ] January 9, 2009 |

Friday Cat Blogging… Starbuck

One starves, get another

[ 0 ] January 8, 2009 |

I’m not sure what’s more troublesome here: the fact that Alabama allows county sheriffs to profit from serving meals in their jails, or that it allocates a mere $1.75 per diem to feed them in the first place:

A northern Alabama sheriff was in federal custody Thursday after a judge ruled he purposely fed inmates skimpy meals so he could make money from an unusual system that lets sheriffs turn a profit on their jail kitchens.

Morgan County Sheriff Greg Bartlett testified at a Wednesday court hearing that he made $212,000 over three years by cheaply feeding prisoners – every cent of it legal under a Depression-era state law and reported on his tax forms as income.

The $1.75 allotment has apparently not changed since the law was originally passed in 1927; at the time, Alabama’s criminal justice system consisted predominantly of chain-gang labor, and I suspect the $1.75 was intended to cover all the expenses that a sheriff might incur on the job. Still, adjusting very roughly for inflation, that original allowance would amount to about $25-27 in 2009 dollars, which is considerably more than the $13 per diem that sheriffs like Bartlett receive today. Of course, Bartlett also earned a $64,000 salary in addition to the ~$90,000 he was skimming from the meal accounts.

The best footnote to the whole story is that the $1.75 is deposited directly into the personal bank accounts of the sheriffs operating under this plan (which is used in about 5/6 of the states counties). So no one really knows exactly how much each jail is spending on food, nor do they know as a matter of course how much anyone is actually earning beyond their salary. Nice work, Alabama!

Not that I can’t empathize with Bartlett’s avarice. If the state of Alaska were to adopt this payment scheme for higher education, I would probably blow off teaching altogether and just have my students read Conservapedia’s US history lectures instead.


Shame Has Consequences

[ 0 ] January 8, 2009 |

One thing to consider, when listening to Will Saletan types talking about how everybody should simply agree that abortion is immoral, is that shaming women about obtaining abortions has real (and bad) consequences. And, of course, starting from the premise that abortion is morally wrong makes even keeping abortion legal more difficult, and encourages arbitrary regulations of abortion that will inevitably lead to some women poor women to choose methods that aren’t as safe because they lack access to safe abortions.

More on the Trouble at the War College

[ 0 ] January 8, 2009 |

Thomas Ricks has a bit more on academic freedom at the Army War College. Ricks quotes Mark Perry:

It’s worse than you think. They have curtailed the curriculum so that their students are not exposed to radical Islam. Akin to denying students access to Marx during the Cold War….

I was a part of a three day seminar for military public affairs experts. All of them wondered why they were having difficulty “telling the good story of what we are doing in Iraq.” It was a tension filled three days. I was one of seven “SMEs” — subject matter experts. I was brought in as an expert on Hamas and Hezbollah. My role was to review why the Israeli public affairs people had had problems “selling” the August 2006 war against Hezbollah to the world community. I remember during the plenary session I was one of several “interventions” (as they are called) and told them: “You can’t sell an Edsel.” It was clear immediately that there were people in uniform present who were very upset that I was invited. And after the three days it was also clear that (at least for some few senior ranking officers) that my expertise was not welcome — and not wanted. I concluded that it was not simply faculty independence that was and is a problem, but freedom of expression.

This does not sound like Rumsfeld and the civilians at the Pentagon having a temper tantrum about critiques emanating from the Institute for Strategic Studies. Indeed, this sounds much worse; uniformed personnel not wanting to hear disquieting arguments about the enemy. I’m forced to wonder whether there’s a Christianist aspect to this; the unfortunate influence of evangelical Christians in the Air Force has been documented, but I hadn’t heard similar arguments about the Army, William Boykin aside. I’m not sure I can grasp another reason for refusing to read radical Islamic texts.

…to push back a little against the comments, I should explain that I’ve interacted with quite a few Army officers, both senior and junior, and I’ve found that while they do skew conservative, Southern, Protestant, etc., they are also almost uniformly thoughtful, intelligent, and serious about their work. It’s because I find it difficult to imagine such officers refusing to read “radical” Islamic texts that I expressed the surprise in this post; it doesn’t seem like any officers I’ve met to refuse to read something by or about the enemy. Rumsfeld’s nutcase Pentagon civilians, yes; uniformed officers, no. The same goes for the Navy and even (though I pick on them) the Air Force. Indeed, it would surprise me that even committed evangelical Christians would refuse to read such texts, which I was I used the term “forced to wonder” rather than suggesting more clearly that such was the case.

Unipolarity or Bust

[ 0 ] January 8, 2009 |

Via Yglesias, Justin Logan asks an interesting question:

Realists talk a lot about structure in the international political context: various structures of the balance of power push states in one direction or another. If Mexico were twice as powerful as the United States, different structural forces would be acting on us. Realists note that structures “shape and shove” but don’t determine foreign policies. Kenneth Waltz memorably wrote in 1997 that states “are free to do any fool thing they care to, but are likely to be rewarded for behavior that is responsive to structural pressures and punished for behavior that is not.”

One of the things that’s really curious about today’s world (and another about which Walt has written) is the strange condition of unipolarity. Given the size of the power disparity between the United States and, well, everybody else, there are few structural constraints acting on American policymakers. So one major input, structure, that should play a powerful role in constraining statesmen’s options, isn’t really working.

I’m not sure it’s right to think of unipolarity as a world without structural constraint. First, there are the kinds of structural constraints that realists don’t really talk about very much, such as international law, regimes, shared moral and ethical understandings, and so forth. We may think, in the wake of the Bush administration, that these mean nothing, but that’s not quite right. The Bushies thought a LOT about international organizations and international law, if only so that they could be evaded. Many of the arguments for the invasion of Iraq were presented in terms that the international community wouldn’t reject on face, and those argument affected how the United States actually behaved in Iraq. The United States did not, after all, simply declare that the Arabs needed punishment and proceed to carpet bomb Baghdad. Such an action would have disrupted the constellation of relationships that the US maintains in the international system, and that thus provide a real structural constraint on the behavior of the US. Put another way, an ideal type realist would be indifferent to signing the Kyoto Treaty; signature or no, the realist would simply ignore its provisions. The United States, even under the Bush administration, still feels bound by “squishy” structural factors, many of which we had a hand in creating.

Another response is that given by Kenneth Waltz:

To say that militarily strong states are feeble because they cannot easily bring order to minor states is like saying that a pneumatic hammer is weak because it is not suitable for drilling decayed teeth.

This is to say that unipolarity (and great power status more generally) should not be read to mean omnipotence. The United States can simultaneously enjoy unipolarity and suffer from an inability to do everything it wants, because military power simply cannot accomplish certain tasks. Thus, certain structural constraints exist, even for unipolar states. This leaves a space for domestic politics, because obviously there was disagreement in the United States in 2003 as what precisely a pneumatic hammer could do, but I suspect that structural constraints are never wholly obvious to policymakers. It also leaves a space for “squishy” structuralism, as the development of ideas such as nationalism serve as an explanation for why Britain could undertake an extended occupation of much of the known world in the 19th and 20th centuries, but the United States cannot do the same today.

One final thought, regarding Matt Yglesias “are we doomed” question; realists would almost certainly answer in the affirmative. Realists have almost invariably argued that unipolarity cannot endure, using history as their laboratory. There is much disagreement about what we mean by “endure”- twenty years, fifty years, 100 years, whatever- but the consensus is that unipolarity is not a stable distribution of power. Whether contemporaries interpret US decline as the result of a strategy of primacy, engagement, or isolation is largely irrelevant to the decline, although the decisions of policymakers may be able to slow, hasten, or cushion that decline. Even allowing this last, however, it’s unclear that contemporaries will interpret such actions in the same way as future historians.