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Another Downside of the Surge

[ 0 ] April 23, 2007 |

Sam Dagher at the CSM has a good article on the potential detrimental effect of having large numbers of US troops in close quarters with Iraqi civilians. Invariably, in a counter-insurgency conflict, civilians are going to be killed by US forces. This is particularly true of a country like Iraq, in which the general populace tends to be quite heavily armed. The Surge exacerbates the regular problem of US-caused civilian deaths by putting troops who are less well trained and less well equipped than they should be in extremely dangerous situations. While it’s true that the Surge could reduce civilian deaths in Baghdad by making it more difficult for sectarian militias to operate, it’s not a 1-1 swap; every person killed by the US causes more damage than each person saved by US forces. Moreover, since much of Baghdad seemed to rely on the sectarian militias for defense, even their suppression is double-edged.

Oh, and the insurgents are very, very desperate. If they weren’t, a suicide bomber wouldn’t have just killed nine Americans and wounded twenty more in Diyala province.



[ 0 ] April 23, 2007 |

Just my imagination, or are there a lot of people dying lately?

The Best and the Brightest is an outstanding book; I haven’t yet read War in a Time of Peace, but I have it and I’ll probably dig in eventually. His baseball work was full of factual errors, but always included a powerful, well related narrative. Halberstam spoke at the University of Kentucky in the autumn of last year. It wasn’t the best performance, either substantively or in delivery, and it seemed as if he was ailing, although that hardly has any relevance for how he died. Nevertheless, he was one of the most important journalists of the last forty years, and his Vietnam work continues to hold up well.


Spitball, or High Fastball?

[ 0 ] April 23, 2007 |

Interesting; I’ve always thought of Bernie Shaw’s death penalty question to Mike Dukakis as more of a high fastball than a spitball. Dukakis could (and did) strike out on the question, but he also could have hit it out of the park, all while staying true to his anti-death penalty principles. Everyone in the audience and at home understood that Shaw had stepped outside the bounds of polite discourse, but Dukakis failed to recognize this in time, and answered it as a straight policy question. He could have followed Shaw out of bounds and given an answer that acknowledged that the question was emotionally exploititive, while at the same time pointing out that making an important policy decision based on such an appeal is a very bad idea. Dukakis could have said something like this:

Sure, I’d like to take the guy apart myself. But that’s why we don’t let victims serve on juries, or as judges. And if we can’t come up with a justification for a punishment beyond raw anger, then we need to seriously consider why we have it on our books

Indeed, that’s pretty much the answer I expected Dukakis to give, and I remember being immensely pleased when he flubbed it (the message of the Republican Party was then and is now particularly appealing to fourteen year old boys; why anyone else supports the Republicans is a mystery to me). On the other hand, Paul is right to call out Bernie on his pretension to Murrow status. Murrow is relevant because he made a contribution on questions of genuine policy import, not pointless sideshows like the death penalty.

Cross-posted to TAPPED.

Worst American Birthdays, vol. XIII

[ 0 ] April 23, 2007 |

James Buchanan, arguably the worst chief executive in American history, was born on this date in 1791. The only president to hail from Pennsylvania, Buchanan stood for nearly everything the state’s Quaker founders detested, including the institution of slavery, which he sought to extend before watching inertly as it cleaved the nation in two.

A lawyer by training, Buchanan ascended into political life as a young man and migrated from the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to the US Congress, in both of whose chambers “Old Buck” resided during the 1820s and 1830s. When not enrolled as a legislator, Buchanan was employed as a diplomat, serving the Tennessee imperialist James K. Polk as Secretary of State during the most priapic era of Manifest Destiny, 1845-1949 1849 (oops). Two years before his election to high office, Buchanan gave even more ballast to his imperialist credentials by helping draft the disastrous Ostend Manifesto (1854), which essentially demanded that Spain agree to the sale of Cuba to the United States. The manifesto, composed in Belgium, advised President Franklin Pierce that if Spain proved “dead to the voice of her own interest, and actuated by stubborn pride and a false sense of honor, should refuse to sell Cuba to the United States,” the United States would be obliged to act strongly in the name of “self-preservation.” Insisting that Cuba’s domestic troubles might spill into the southern United States, Buchanan and his fellows advised that the US could rightfully dislodge the island from Spanish rule. They likened it to a desperate individual “tearing down the burning house of his neighbor if there were no other means of preventing the flames from destroying his own home.”

The Manifesto was a disaster for slavery’s advocates, who were ever more desperately arguing that the extension of the Peculiar Institution was the only means of preserving it where it already existed. The document fueled Northern suspicions that elements of the “Slave Power” were mobilizing to thwart the ambitions of free white landowners. Such concerns were further fueled by the insistence of Southern Democrats — and even many Whigs — that the Missouri Compromise and the Compromise of 1850 had unlawfully restrained slavery’s growth into the Western territories. On the great moral and political questions of the day, Buchanan was unmistakably supportive of the Southern cause.

When Buchanan was elected to the White House in 1856, only five of the sixteen so-called “Free States” endorsed his ticket, while the slaveholding regions of the country voiced unanimous approval. As President, Buchanan returned the favor. He heartily congratulated the Supreme Court on its notorious Dred Scott decision, which was issued mere days after his inauguration; he supported the admission of Kansas (where the Civil War had already commenced) as a slave state; and when the first, petulant wave of Southern secession occurred in late 1860, Buchanan blamed the “intemperate interference of the Northern people” for the troubles. While Buchanan had six years earlier recommended an imperial war against Cuba in the name of “self-preservation,” he could not bring himself to lift a finger in the cause of preserving the Union. Instead, he insisted that the President could do nothing to scold a recalcitrant state like South Carolina. Moreover, he urged Congress — whose lower house was run by a free-soil Republican majority — to succumb to the demands of man-stealers and lawbreakers. By forever securing white rights to human property, Buchanan believed that a Constitutional amendment would “restore peace and harmony to this distracted country.”

Buchanan then did practically nothing until he left office in March 1861.


[ 0 ] April 23, 2007 |

1931-2007. He got drunk and fell off a bridge once. Then he presided over the final wreckage of his country. If anyone ever wants evidence of what the two worst economic models of the 20th century — Soviet communism and Washington neoliberalism — can do for a nation, go ask a Russian.

What It Means to be A "Pro-Life" Republican

[ 0 ] April 23, 2007 |

The federal GOP’s social and economic model Mississippi, as some of you know, is one of the more than 20 states with latent abortion bans that would come into effect if Roe v. Wade was overturned. (Although, of course, as Ben Wittes points out, going from abortion being legal in all 50 states to being banned in 15-25 states and more heavily regulated in many of the other states would actually be better for reproductive freedom because…I’m not going to lie to you Marge. Well, goodbye!) And should the Court decline to overturn Roe explicitly, it has also been at the forefront of legislation instituting arbitrary regulations used to harass abortion clinics until they close. Via Barbara O’Brien, however, after fetuses become children are born the state’s interest in them seems to wane somewhat. How did the “pro-life” Mississippi GOP respond to increases in infant mortality? I think you can guess:

In 2004, Gov. Haley Barbour came to office promising not to raise taxes and to cut Medicaid. Face-to-face meetings were required for annual re-enrollment in Medicaid and CHIP, the children’s health insurance program; locations and hours for enrollment changed, and documentation requirements became more stringent.

As a result, the number of non-elderly people, mainly children, covered by the Medicaid and CHIP programs declined by 54,000 in the 2005 and 2006 fiscal years. According to the Mississippi Health Advocacy Program in Jackson, some eligible pregnant women were deterred by the new procedures from enrolling.

One former Medicaid official, Maria Morris, who resigned last year as head of an office that informed the public about eligibility, said that under the Barbour administration, her program was severely curtailed.

“The philosophy was to reduce the rolls and our activities were contrary to that policy,” she said.

Mississippi’s Medicaid director, Dr. Robert L. Robinson, said in a written response that suggesting any correlation between the decline in Medicaid enrollment and infant mortality was “pure conjecture.”

Dr. Robinson said that the new procedures eliminated unqualified recipients. With 95 enrollment sites available, he said, no one should have had difficulty signing up.

As to Ms. Morris’s charge that information efforts had been curbed, Dr. Robinson said that because of the frequent turnover of Medicaid directors — he is the sixth since 2000 — “our unified outreach program was interrupted.” He said it has now resumed.

The state Health Department has cut back its system of clinics, in part because of budget shortfalls and a shortage of nurses. Some clinics that used to be open several days a week are now open once a week and some offer no prenatal care.

The department has also suffered management turmoil and reductions in field staff, problems so severe that the state Legislature recently voted to replace the director.

Oleta Fitzgerald, southern regional director for the Children’s Defense Fund, said: “When you see drops in the welfare rolls, when you see drops in Medicaid and children’s insurance, you see a recipe for disaster. Somebody’s not eating, somebody’s not going to the doctor and unborn children suffer.”

Providing further evidence for Barney Frank’s dictum that for Republicans life begins at conception and ends at birth.

(Also at TAPPED.)


[ 0 ] April 22, 2007 |

Ugh. At least it could have been a quick execution, not an ugly 2 overtime job. It would have been a temporary stay with a hearing in front of Scalia on Tuesday anyway; Kiprusoff really deserves a better team in front of him (and coaching staff) than this.

The only good thing is that if Vancouver wins tomorrow I’ll put up a rare 8-0 in my first round predictions, which is better than certain English professors or New Republic writers I could name…


[ 0 ] April 22, 2007 |

Oh, yeah.. And the final out was deeply satisfying.

Strawberry Days

[ 0 ] April 22, 2007 |

We were fortunate to have Dave Neiwert in Juneau last week. The students in my US 1919-1950 course were reading Strawberry Days, Dave’s latest book about the enduring damage caused by the World War II internment, and my university was able to find enough change buried in the library couch cushions to bring him to campus for a couple of days. For those who haven’t read it, Strawberry Days details the effects of racism and bad public policy on a community of Japanese-American truck farmers in Bellevue, Washington. This was an agricultural community that had tactfully avoided competing with larger white producers when its members arrived in the US during the early 20th century. They cleared the deforested land — a difficult process that took considerable amounts of time for stump removal — and then developed an agricultural niche for themselves by developing a market for fresh vegetables that white farmers had neither the patience nor the interest in growing.

Meantime, of course, racist fables about the “Yellow Peril” offered the pretext for restrictions on “alien” land ownership (at the state level) and for exclusionary immigration laws (at the national level) during the years leading up to the start of World War II. As these policies reveal, white hostility toward the Nikkei blended cultural and economic themes that are difficult to disentangle. Already racially despised, Bellevue’s farmers also inhabited land that was increasingly coveted by white farmers and real estate developers. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the logic of internment added a third dimension to the anti-Japanese narrative — the unsustantiated fears of a “fifth column” on the West Coast of North America. Internment satisfied all three fears and desires simultaneously.

Neiwert’s book does an outstanding job of showing how these various tendencies worked themselves out in the lives of Bellevue’s Nikkei community, whose hold on the land was severed by the internment. It also includes a sharp epilogue that reminds us why the internment continues to matter, six decades after the fact. In a media culture that still reserves a place for prehensile, race-baiting shitheads like Michelle Malkin and Lou Dobbs, who peddle grotesque myths about terrorism and immigration, stories like those in Strawberry Days are more important than ever. To my knowledge, Neiwert’s is the first post-9/11 study of internment to make that argument so explicitly. But as he points out in the final chapter, the contemporary relevance of the internment was evident to the Nisei the same day that the 2001 attacks took place. As one of his interviewees explains, “There are things [occurring] that are really distrubing today that in some ways echo what had happened to us. I felt that it was our responsibility to speak out . . . .”


On a completely unrelated note, Dave’s book got me thinking about how cool it would be now to develop a course based entirely on books written by people who blog. I’m not sure what the theme of the course would be, but we could read a little Berube, some Duck of Minerva, some Eric Muller, maybe some Drezner, and who knows what else.

But I promise nothing by this guy or him. And if You-Know-Who wrote anything but crappy law review articles defending Bush v. Gore, she’d probably write something like this.

And no, I wouldn’t assign that book either, though its thesis appears more plausible than Reynolds’.

. . . it may be 700 pages, but Perlstein’s book on Goldwater is in, too. (As luck would have it, I think I’m teaching the US since 1950 next spring….)

And these guys have always seemed pleasant; I don’t teach philosophy, but blood and organ donation is pretty cool. The Republican war on science . . . not so much — but an important subject nonetheless.

. . . and (thanks to Ralph Luker in comments), I see that Juneau could get very crowded next year….

Kennedy’s As-Applied Maze

[ 0 ] April 22, 2007 |

Not surprisingly–given that it’s charged with the task of defending a law that is indefensible under current doctrine–there are many bad elements to Kennedy’s opinion besides its egregious sexism and acceptance of straightforward factual errors. Another weakness is the bizarre illogic of Kennedy’s claim that an “as-applied” challenge to the statute would still be viable. Ginsburg’s dissent identifies the obvious problem:

If there is anything at all redemptive to be said of today’s opinion, it is that the Court is not willing to foreclose entirely a constitutional challenge to the Act… But the Court offers no clue on what a “proper” lawsuit might look like. Nor does the Court explain why the injunctions ordered by the District Courts should not remain in place, trimmed only to exclude instances in which another procedure would safeguard a woman’s health at least equally well. Surely the Court cannot mean that no suit may be brought until a woman’s health is immediately jeopardized by the ban on intact D&E. A woman “suffer[ing] from medical complications,” ante, at 38, needs access to the medical procedure at once and cannot wait for the judicial process to unfold.

The Court appears, then, to contemplate another lawsuit by the initiators of the instant actions. In such a second round, the Court suggests, the challengers could succeed upon demonstrating that “in discrete and well-defined instances a particular condition has or is likely to occur in which the procedure prohibited by the Act must be used.” One may anticipate that such a preenforcement challenge will be mounted swiftly, to ward off serious, sometimes irremediable harm, to women whose health would be endangered by the intact D&E prohibition.


The Court’s allowance only of an “as-applied challenge in a discrete case,” jeopardizes women’s health and places doctors in an untenable position. Even if courts were able to carve-out exceptions through piecemeal litigation for “discrete and well-defined instances,” women whose circumstances have not been anticipated by prior litigation could well be left unprotected. In treating those women, physicians would risk criminal prosecution, conviction, and imprisonment if they exercise their best judgment as to the safest medical procedure for their patients. The Court is thus gravely mistaken to conclude that narrow as-applied challenges are “the proper manner to protect the health of the woman.”

Ginsburg is obviously correct. Clearly, Kennedy cannot be claiming that an “as-applied” challenge would have to start when a doctor is about to begin the surgery and defines a “discrete” circumstance; the judicial process cannot operate that quickly. If the “as-applied” challenge doesn’t mean that, then this litigation would seem as good as any unless the point is to claim that in any situation short of a woman who immediately needs the surgery the suit is insufficiently “well defined” and “discrete.” The correct application of Casey is to tell Congress to come back if it actually obtains serious evidence that the procedure is never necessary, not to put a (nearly impossible) burden of proof on doctors. Waiting for an “as-applied” challenge makes sense in a case where the status quo can be frozen through a stay, but biology makes it completely inappropriate for the abortion context.

Like David Garrow I would like to see doctors perform the procedure when it better protects a woman’s health and go to court to defend their rights. But I can also understand a doctor’s reluctance to do so. First, the doctor would have to hope for a favorable application of a doctrine that is a complete shambles and reflects unremitting hostility towards women and doctors who perform abortions, and can easily be interpreted to make any plausible challenge inadequate. And in addition, doctors may also be aware that a highly politicized Department of Justice will be in charge of enforcing the law. As long as this case remains good law, a chilling effect is inevitable unless doctors are saints.

Sunday Deposed Monarch Blogging: House Husainid

[ 0 ] April 22, 2007 |

In the wake of the Reconquista, Muslims and Jews fleeing Spain found their way in numbers to what would become modern Tunisia. A struggle for control between Spain and Turkey ended when the Ottoman Empire assumed control of the territory in 1574. Various appointees of the Sultan and his court dueled for power until 1705, when Hussein ibn Ali, the descendant of a Cretan tax collector, assumed power and the title of Bey. Although Tunisia remained nominally loyal to the Sultan, the Bey of Tunis was almost completely autonomous, to the degree that he had the capacity to conduct an independent foreign policy. The Bey regularly made treaties with European powers, including various agreements to regulate piracy. In spite of serving as the home to many pirates, Tunis largely avoided the First and Second Barbary Wars.

Beginning in 1837, a series of reformers came to the throne. Bey Ahmad Pasha abolished slavery in 1846, and reformed the civil service. Bey Muhammed Pasha created a constitution in 1855 that (theoretically, at least) limited the powers of the monarch. By 1870 Tunisia was independent for all intents and purposes, and had a constitutional form of government. Unfortunately, Tunisia also had enormous debts, and Britain and France took control of the economy. On the flimsy pretext of a Tunisian attack on Algeria, France invaded in 1881 and transformed Tunisia into a protectorate. Unlike in neighboring Algeria, the French did not consider Tunisia a part of metropolitan France, and the colonial experience was relatively benevolent. French investment significantly improved infrastructure in Tunisia, and continued government reform.

Nationalist sentiment grew in response to French control, and in 1942 Bey Muhammed VII al-Munsif led a revolt against local French authorities. Arriving Free French forces declared the Bey a Vichy collaborator, and put his brother, Muhammed VIII, on the throne. World War II weakened French control, however, and resistance increased in the 1950s. Muhammed VIII avoided directly challenging the French, but facilitated a program of passive resistance against France. In 1956 Tunisia again achieved independence, and Muhammed VIII became King. Habib Bourguiba, leader of the ruling nationalist party, soon concluded that Muhammed VIII was a threat, and decided to end the monarchy. He placed the King under house arrest in 1957, and ended the monarchy. King Muhammed VIII died in Tunis in 1962.

I have had considerable difficulty assessing the state of the Husainid dynasty since the end of the monarchy. They do not appear to have played a meaningful role in Tunisian politics, and no sizeable pro-monarchist party seems to exist. If anyone has further information on the Husainids or their current place in Tunisian society, I’d be happy to hear about it. The current head of the family is listed as Prince Muhammed Bey, although the tendency of the family to name large numbers of its male members “Muhammed” makes it diffcult to assess when he was born or where he lives. Again, any further information is quite welcome. The Husainid dynasty operates by the succession principle of male primogeniture, meaning that the oldest male member of the family assumes power upon the death of the Head.

Trivia: George Washington’s cousin served as an advisor to a monarch of what dynasty?

Appeasing the Unappeasable

[ 0 ] April 22, 2007 |

I don’t really agree with the take of Garance and Ezra on Maureen Dowd’s abjectly horrible column yesterday. The error they’re making, I think, it to assume that these charges have some sort of objective merit to someone, or that there’s some way of avoiding having junior high narratives being developed about you. Consider what similar advice given to Al Gore would look like (and there are many people who blamed Gore for running a horrible, horrible campaign and not adapting to the media.) He wouldn’t be able to wear “earth tone” suits, or casual jackets, or Armani suits, or work clothes…actually, I’m not sure what he could wear. He couldn’t discuss past political achievements because the media would distort them and make them look arrogant. He can’t pass on things a newspaper told him about his friend’s novel because it might not turn out to be fully true. He can’t pay a feminist consultant. And on and on and on. And if he had done all of these things, Dowd, Rich, Connolly, et al. still would have just made stuff up out of whole cloth, as they in fact did. And it’s the same thing with Kerry. If he engages in his actual hobbies, he’s an upper class twit. If he does anything else, he’s a phony. If he talks about NASCAR, Dowd will make him into a phony by lying about what he said. I assume the unwinnable choices and double standards facing Clinton are clear enough that going into detail would be belaboring the obvious.

In other words, I see no benefit to Edwards trying to appease this crowd. If he got a cheap- looking haircut, he would be attacked for that. If he tried to quietly get a mid-price haircut, he would be attacked as a flip-flopper who would really prefer to get expensive haircuts but is being a pandering phony. And then they will attack his suits, and his house, and his teeth, and his previous job, and his decision to betray his wife by staying in the race although she has cancer etc. etc. etc. Precisely because these narratives are 100% vacuous bullshit, there’s no way of avoiding them. If you want to read political significance into ordinary personality traits, a Dowd or a Givhan or anyone else who’s won a Pulitzer for degrading our political discourse will find something. The best strategy is to ignore them, and if they must be engaged the goal should be to point out that they’re clowns who have no business working on major newspapers. Maureen Dowd will be spending the next two years engaging in catty, sometimes dishonest gossip about Democratic candidates, and this will be true no matter what they do. Trying to change your behavior to accommodate this is an inherently futile enterprise.

UPDATE: Since a couple of commenters seem to have misunderstood me, I should clarify that by “ignore” I mean that Democratic candidates should not attempt to change their campaigns in response to these silly narratives; as the Gore campaign demonstrates, this just makes things worse. If the response is to undermine the idiots who make these arguments, I repeat that I support this entirely. See also Matt on how these personality tautologies are part of a larger trap that inexorably tilts towards right-wing outcomes.

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