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How To Write Satire

[ 34 ] July 18, 2008 |

Tom Tomorrow explains.

Those are Some Fabulous Chairs…

[ 13 ] July 18, 2008 |

The term “Chair Farce” is typically used in the derogatory by non-Air Force members of the uniformed military. It appears, however, that Air Force brass is trying to give the term some more substance:

The Air Force’s top leadership sought for three years to spend counterterrorism funds on “comfort capsules” to be installed on military planes that ferry senior officers and civilian leaders around the world, with at least four top generals involved in design details such as the color of the capsules’ carpet and leather chairs, according to internal e-mails and budget documents…

Air Force officials say the government needs the new capsules to ensure that leaders can talk, work and rest comfortably in the air. But the top brass’s preoccupation with creating new luxury in wartime has alienated lower-ranking Air Force officers familiar with the effort, as well as congressional staff members and a nonprofit group that calls the program a waste of money.

Air Force documents spell out how each of the capsules is to be “aesthetically pleasing and furnished to reflect the rank of the senior leaders using the capsule,” with beds, a couch, a table, a 37-inch flat-screen monitor with stereo speakers, and a full-length mirror.

The price tag? The total is a bit unclear, since the money is being taken from various different sources of counter-terrorism funding, and because the project requirements are in flux. We do know, however, that changing the color of the leather upholstery cost roughly $68000. The program has earned significant attention from the top echelons of the USAF:

Although the program’s estimated $20 million cost is nearly equivalent to what the Pentagon spends in about 20 minutes, the e-mails show that small details have so far received the attention of many high-ranking officers, including [Gen. Robert H.] McMahon; Gen. Arthur J. Lichte, the current Air Mobility commander; and Brig. Gen. Kenneth D. Merchant, the mobility command’s logistics director.

The leather and carpet color choices were made by [Gen. Duncan J.] McNabb, according to several of the e-mails exchanged by lower-ranking officers, although a spokesman for the general said those selections were McMahon’s responsibility. The e-mails state that McMahon ordered that the seats be re-covered, and one e-mail complains that the contractor “would not swap out the brown seat belts for replacement blue seat belts.” The changes delayed the project by months and added to its cost.

McMahon said he does not recall intervening on the leather color change, but said he was sure it was unrelated to the Air Force’s color. He said that it was probably because blue would not show dirt as much as tan or brown would.

What’s the Matter with the Bears?

[ 26 ] July 17, 2008 |

Juneau’s black bears — obviously incensed by my crude loathing for needlessly large vehicular codpieces — are striking back against the innocent:

Ann Boochever had an unwelcome remodel of the interior of her hybrid car Saturday when a black bear got stuck inside.

Boochever said she and her husband, Scott Miller, were sitting in the house Saturday when they heard the horn of their 2006 Toyota Prius.

Looking out the window, they saw the car’s glass was all steamed up and the car was rocking.

“When I say the car was rocking, it was just rocking,” Boochever said.

Running outside, they saw a large black bear was trapped in the car, Boochever said.

After calling authorities, Boochever said her husband opened the rear hatchback and the bear made its getaway.

Boochever said she thinks the bear got in through a back door that may not have been closed all the way and then latched shut after it got in.

Now long gone, the bear’s presence will be felt for a while.

The interior of the car was trashed: Panels had been ripped open, the dashboard scarred, and a pile of scat left on the driver’s seat.

I can’t understand why the bears would begin trashing hybrids. Clearly, they’ve been persuaded by right wing demagogues and an uninquisitive media to act against their own better interests. Because when the world’s grotesque appetite for carbon-rich fuel drains the supply of oil, gas, and coal, don’t think we won’t start harvesting bears for their luscious, energy-rich fat.

Nixon’s Piano

[ 0 ] July 17, 2008 |

Jesse and David say most of what needs to be said about Bruce Bartlett’s op-ed, but it’s worth saying more about one specific point. The central problem with Bartlett’s argument is its triviality and irrelevance: it’s indisputable that in the immediate wake of the Civil War and for several decades afterward the Republican Party was better on civil rights, but since this this is widely known and says nothing about contemporary politics, who cares? Presumably recognizing that persuading African-Americans to vote for people who have been dead for decades and wouldn’t be Republicans if they were alive is not a viable approach for the GOP, Bartlett tries a more recent example and the tendentiousness becomes embarrassing:

Richard Nixon is said to have developed a “Southern strategy” of using racial code words like “law and order” to gain votes in the South. Yet he did more to desegregate southern schools than any president in history.

It’s true that, because the late 60s was the high water mark of strong anti-desegregation opinions in the federal courts (led by the precedents created by the Warren Court that Nixon campaigned against) and there were a lot of holdover pro-civil rights lawyers in the DOJ, that a significant amount of desegregation took place in Nixon’s initial years in office. To claim that Nixon was responsible for this desegregation, however, requires evidence that he supported these policies and attempted to continue them. Needless to say, nothing of the sort is true. (As the fact that he appointed William Rehnquist and unsuccessfully nominated two Southern judges with segregationist histories to the Supreme Court indicates.)

As Rick Perlstein notes in Nixonland, the Nixon administration broke with previous administrations and started filing briefs against desegregation plans. Nixon’s reaction to the Swann decision (p. 604) lays out the basic strategy: talk about how the Courts have tied your hands in public, peel off Southern Democrats, and then appoint reactionary judges who will stop applying Brown aggressively.

And, of course, when Nixon got his appointments on the Supreme Court, this is what happened. In two landmark decisions with Nixon’s appointees providing 4 of the 5 votes, the Supreme Court effectively held that school systems could be separate and unequal as long as this was accomplished through tax policy and and the arbitrary drawing of district boundaries rather than through direct pupil assignment. To give Nixon credit for the desegregation policies he opposed is grossly ahistorical nonsense.

Ambiguity Is Not the Problem

[ 52 ] July 17, 2008 |

Dahlia Lithwick on the new War Powers Commission and the new FISA revisions:

Our war-powers problems lie not so much in the failure of checks and balances, but in the fact that Congress is invariably comfortable opposing wars only in hindsight. This might explain the fact that Congress’ popularity ratings dipped into the single digits last week. It doesn’t change the fact that you can’t amend a statute that tried to get Congress to consult, with another statute that tries to get Congress to consult more. In a statement last week, even Warren Christopher conceded that “it comes down to questions of congressional will … to resist funding or to limit it. …. [T]here is nothing we can do by statute that will change that.”

This leads to the second mistaken premise behind the War Powers Commission: Baker and Christopher’s bipartisan belief that the core failure of the War Powers Act lies in its poorly drafted, ambiguous language. Consider last week’s Senate vote to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act—the 1978 wiretapping law that made one guilty of a felony if one “engages in electronic surveillance under color of law except as authorized by statute.” That language is perfectly clear and unambiguous. Indeed, it’s so clear and unambiguous that last week a federal judge had no trouble determining that President Bush had violated it.

And yet last week the Senate voted to clarify FISA again. So, now the same electronic surveillance that was illegal when the president did it six years ago will be really, really illegal. Except when it’s not. The hope appears to be that this time, the president will abide by the law because it’s clearly written. But the problem with FISA was never that it was poorly or ambiguously drafted. The problem was with an overreaching executive that disregards crystal-clear, and also ambiguous, laws in about equal measure. I am hardly holding up the War Powers Act as a model of perfect clarity. But it already had consultation and reporting provisions, and yet nobody saw fit to consult or report. So, let’s stop blaming ambiguous torture, wiretapping, and war-declaring laws for our current situation. Let’s call executive overreaching what it is.

And needless to say, the circumstances of the passage of the new FISA legislation and the fact that Congress gave away the show makes is pretty clear that tougher oversight to ensure that the White House is hewing to the new, looser guidelines is unlikely to be forthcoming.

Posner and Vermeule make a similar point in their recent book, arguing all-too-convincingly that attempts to strengthen congressional power versus the executive when anything that can be defined as war powers are concerned are highly unlikely to work. Since their normative claim that this is a good thing is far less persuasive, it’s a depressing read.

"Party of Civil Rights"

[ 30 ] July 16, 2008 |

The problems with Bruce Bartlett’s pseudo-historical WSJ piece are almost too numerous to contemplate. For starters, it’s laughable for him to suggest — as he evidently does in the subtitle to his book — that the varieties of racism that guided segments of the Democratic party during the pre-civil rights era have somehow been “buried,” unless by “buried” one means “discussed prominently and uncontroversially by every credible political and social historian since the Great Depression.” But perhaps that’s a distinction without a difference, so I won’t belabor the point.

The piece contains the predictable, and highly deceptive, claim that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 Act passed as a result of “Republican” support. This argument only works by avoiding any discussion of the actual Congressional vote on the bill, which reveals a sectional rather than a party divide
over the question of black civil rights.

House bill:
Southern Democrats: 7-87
Southern Republicans: 0-10
Northern Democrats: 145-9
Northern Republicans: 138-24

Senate bill:
Southern Democrats: 1-20
Southern Republicans: 0-1
Northern Democrats: 45-1
Northern Republicans: 27-5

Bartlett’s great howler, of course, rests in the condescending argument that black voters should entertain the thought of voting for McCain as a gesture of appreciation for Calvin Coolidge’s opposition to lynching. The notion that political parties retain some kind of essential, stable (and nationally uniform) character over time — and that these hypothetical lineages should have any determining effect on contemporary voter preference — is dishonest and idiotic. If party histories carried the effects Bartlett believes they should, Sun Belt blacks, at least, would abstain from voting altogether. Which is of course precisely what Sun Belt Republicans — hailing from states like, say, Arizona — would have preferred in the first place.

It’s Better than Our Reasons for Invading Iraq…

[ 0 ] July 16, 2008 |

Via AG.

Prisoner Exchange

[ 0 ] July 16, 2008 |

Having been in Israel while the possibility of exchanging Samir Kuntar for the bodies of two IDF soldiers was being widely discussed, I had considered writing a post about the issues surrounding the transfer. Fortunately, Publius, Hilzoy, and the commenters at Obsidian Wings have made such a post unnecessary.

No, Not Really

[ 21 ] July 16, 2008 |


John McCain’s Don Rickles routines — “Thanks for the question, you little jerk” — can fall flat. But he seems like a guy who can be teased harmlessly.


In his 1992 Senate bid, McCain was joined on the campaign trail by his wife, Cindy, as well as campaign aide Doug Cole and consultant Wes Gullett. At one point, Cindy playfully twirled McCain’s hair and said, “You’re getting a little thin up there.” McCain’s face reddened, and he responded, “At least I don’t plaster on the makeup like a trollop, you cunt.” McCain’s excuse was that it had been a long day.

"Pro Life": It Means More Unwanted Pregnancies

[ 14 ] July 16, 2008 |

The Bush administration signs on to the idea that it’s an act of High Principle to get paid when you’re not willing to do your job, and it’s desirable for people to use their state-granted gatekeeping authority to obstruct women’s access to health care. Indeed, these things need to be protected by law, even if this involves ludicrously redefining various forms of birth control as “abortion.”

History’s Greatest Monsters

[ 6 ] July 16, 2008 |

Shorter Verbatim Some Clown At Chicago Boyz: “I suspect Obama will he a horrible president, somewhere on a continuum between Jimmy Carter and Robert Mugabe.”

In fairness, this guy is a bit of a wet, thinking that there’s merely a continuum between Mugabe and History’s Greatest Monster…

(Via Edroso.)

Failed Imperialists

[ 36 ] July 16, 2008 |

Atrios makes a point:

From the perspective of US as imperial power the “‘single-minded’ focus on Iraq” has also been an utter disaster. For those who think that one way or another the US should be throwing its weight around everywhere (by invading random countries, by various forms of economic imperialism, or by controlling and using the power of international institutions), Bush has pretty much set that agenda back substantially. That these people have been and continue to be his biggest supporters is a testament to the fact that their egos are more important than their dreams. But that’s no surprise either.

Indeed; to the extent that the United States must devote years, billions upon billions of dollars, and hundreds of thousands of troops to “winning” in Iraq, the very purpose of the invasion is undermined. It does no good to “throw some little country against the wall” if in doing so our own capacity to act is severely wounded; other little countries that might have been intimidated take note of the fact that we are incapable of acting. This was, of course, why Don Rumsfeld bitterly resisted proposals to go into Iraq with substantially more troops, why he resisted the idea of increasing troop levels, and why he resisted the shift to counter-insurgency; he understood that such moves undermined the purpose of the invasion in the first place. To the extent that the war has been about the extension of American imperium, it has failed disastrously.