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Mad Masses

[ 4 ] March 19, 2010 |

My colleague Siva Vaidhyanathan, author of The Googlization of Everything forwarded me this interesting piece from Slate, in which ad critic Seth Stevenson tries out a Google service that allows you to run your own commercial on national TV for as little as $100.


Voldemorts of the World, Beware

[ 5 ] March 19, 2010 |

Scientists have created the first invisibility cloak.

Voice of America has more. I can’t wait to see what the folks at Danger Room will have to say.


[ 19 ] March 19, 2010 |


A retired Marine general told senators Thursday that the Dutch army failed to protect the city of Srebrenica during the Bosnian war partly because of the presence of gay soldiers in its armed forces.

John J. Sheehan, a former NATO commander who retired in 1997, made his comments during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which bans gay people from openly serving in uniform.

Jon Western points out that we actually know exactly what went wrong at Srebrenica, and it didn’t have a lot to do with sexual orientation. Erik Voeten points out that the Dutch contingent in Afghanistan is doing much better – same integrated military, different political context.

The retired Dutch general who Sheehan named as his source was quoted this morning as saying Sheehan’s claim was complete nonsense.”


Is Criticism of the Court Politically Damaging?

[ 5 ] March 19, 2010 |

Dahlia Lithwick has an excellent response to claims (from both predictable and normally more astute quarters) that Obama is likely to pay some kind of political price for attacking the Court over Citizens United. It’s particularly strange to invoke FDR in an argument like this; while it’s true that the Court-packing plan itself failed, it was followed by 1)one of the most productive legislative periods in history that 2)the Supreme Court stopped interfering with.   I’m not really seeing the big political price there.    And, indeed, assumptions that criticisms of the Court will harm presidential authority pretty much stand history on its head: the Court’s most prominent White House critics include presidents like Jefferson and Lincoln and Reagan.

This isn’t to say that a President couldn’t incur political courts from attacking the Court.   But these costs certainly wouldn’t come in a case — like this one — where public opinion is overwhelmingly on the president’s side.

Will the Supreme Court Strike Down Health Care Reform?

[ 9 ] March 19, 2010 |

In short, I think it’s highly unlikely.   The big difference between Citizens United and a potential commerce clause challenge is that the Court had a steady trend of being more aggressive in applying First Amendment libertarianism to campaign finance, while its commerce clause jurisprudence hasn’t been trending in this direction, stopping with striking down a silly, redundant gun law and a little-used remedy in fairly important legislation it otherwise left intact.    It’s not, exactly, that the Court wouldn’t contradict what it said in Raich. Rather, it’s that a Court that would strike down health care reform would have continued to strike down more and more important legislation.

[ 11 ] March 19, 2010 |

Friday Daddy Blogging… Elisha and Miriam

How to Run a Maritime Militia

[ 14 ] March 18, 2010 |

The UNSC-mandated Monitoring Group on Somalia presented its report to the Security Council Tuesday. The part of the report detailing corruption in the distribution of humanitarian aid is getting all the press, but for my money the most interesting part of the report is the discussion of piracy, which has morphed into a multi-million dollar business replete with investors and an informal business model. It’s all outlined on p. 99 of the report, but I’ve reproduced it below the fold for inquiring minds.

Read more…

Remembering Alex Chilton

[ 7 ] March 18, 2010 |

Scott already covered the awful news, but if anyone is worth a follow-up post, it’s Alex Chilton.  Like most of my contemporaries, I came to admire Alex Chilton through his professional admirers; and like everyone who came of age before the Internet, what I knew about him consisted of a host of believable rumors. I’ve never tried to verify those rumors, though, because it was their believability that mattered more than their truth. For example, Alex Chilton indirectly named one of the most important albums of the 1990s via the resilience of a particular lyrical gesture: the sincerely feigned grand statement. On “September Gurls,” he sings:

Read more…

Petraeus Betrayal!!!!

[ 4 ] March 18, 2010 |

I eagerly await Congressional condemnation of Abe Foxman.

The Cheney-Kristol Axis

[ 2 ] March 18, 2010 |

“Mad” Matt Duss has exactly the kind of Nation article that I most enjoy; one that quotes me at length:

Given Liz’s status as a conservative scion, it’s fitting that she has joined forces with another of Washington’s most famous nepotism cases, Bill Kristol, the neocon deck’s ace of spades. “In the modern configuration of the conservative media machine,” wrote University of Kentucky political scientist Robert Farley on the blog Lawyers, Guns and Money, “Kristol occupies an unparalleled central position of power.” Farley has compared Kristol to a business that is too big to fail. “Relationships are the currency of conservative punditry, and that currency is essentially secured by Kristol.” No matter how wrong Kristol continues to be about everything, his reputation can never be allowed to sink.

The rest of the article is also worth reading…

Was The New Deal A Disastrous Sellout?

[ 41 ] March 18, 2010 |

In comments, McManus points us to what he considers a good progressive argument against passing the health care reform bill.   The argument, I think, can be fairly distilled into this point:

The Senate bill further entrenches the private health insurance system. It continues the terrible pattern of privatizing our social safety net in such a way that business skims 20% off the top.

This kind of heighten-the-contradictions argument has a certain power — if you can construct a plausible scenario under which an actual president, an actual majority of the House of Representatives, and an actual 60th most liberal member of the Senate would vote to create either a single-payer system or even a Swiss-like system of very tightly regulated non-profit private insurance. The argument not only fails but is deeply irresponsible because such a scenario is in fact wildly implausible, and while we would be playing Vladimir and Estragon a great deal of preventable suffering and death would occur. The simple fact is that high-veto-point American political institutions protect the status quo in general and powerful vested interests in particular. It’s not just that times when even significant incremental change is possible are rare — the American welfare state was basically constructed in two 2- or 3-year periods following historically unusual landslides in all three branches. It’s that even in those periods, reform involved compromises as bad or worse than what’s being contemplated in the current legislation.

Let’s take the New Deal. The parts of the New Deal that didn’t involve the creation of corporate cartels — the enduring parts — were not only incremental reforms but were all deeply compromised with interests much more morally odious than insurance companies: Southern segregationists. Social security and unemployment benefits both, through discriminatory labor definitions and by allowing for discretion in local enforcement, gave many more benefits to whites even though they would have gotten proportionately less in a fairly constructed and administered system. The New Deal not only further entrenched but disproportionately benefited the apartheid power. And yet not only FDR (who, in truth, was even more tepid on civil rights than was politically necessary) but most of his African-American supporters understood that the programs were a good deal on balance: it wasn’t a choice between a discriminatory welfare state and a non-discriminatory one; it was a discriminatory one or nothing. And they were right.

The fact is, compromises with venality and/or evil are almost always necessary in the American political system; it’s virtually impossible to accomplish anything without buying off powerful interests. Getting anything like universal health coverage is going to require giving protection money to insurance interests. This is nothing to be happy about, but arguments that fail to recognize this aren’t going to be very useful.

Not Exactly the War of the Roses…

[ 23 ] March 18, 2010 |

Fred Barnes is a terribly stupid man. In asserting that “Obamacare” will create a bitterly contentious political environment for decades to come, Barnes writes:

We only have to look at Great Britain to get a glimpse of the future. The National Health Service—socialized medicine—was created in 1946 and touted as the envy of the world. It’s been a contentious issue ever since. Its cost and coverage are perennial subjects of debate. The press, especially England’s most popular newspaper, The Daily Mail, feasts on reports of long waiting periods, dirty hospitals, botched care and denied access to treatments.

A Conservative member of the European Parliament, Daniel Hannan, last year in an interview on Fox News denounced the NHS as a “60-year mistake,” declaring he “wouldn’t wish it on anybody.” As prime minister, Margaret Thatcher bravely cut NHS spending in the 1980s, but current Tory leaders regard criticism of the NHS as too risky. “The Conservative Party stands four square behind the NHS,” its leader, David Cameron, said in response to Mr. Hannan.

So, to be clear, the debate over the NHS is so bitterly contentious, and so fractious, that the leader of the Conservative Party is unwilling to come out against it? The NHS is so unpopular that the Tories are afraid to publicly oppose it? The only voice that Barnes is able to muster in opposition to the NHS is a Conservative MEP? Does Barnes understand, I wonder, that an MEP is not an MP?