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[ 0 ] October 6, 2009 |

Proof that pretty much no amount of dishonesty can get your Respectable Pundit pass revoked as long as you’re a right-winger. Although it is at least a sign of progress that TNR would publish the definitive takedown.

the latest exhibit.


A ha! The People Are On To You, David Cameron!

[ 0 ] October 6, 2009 |

You’re damned fortunate that they’re dead tired of the Labour Government.

I have had the misfortune of experiencing the first couple weeks of teaching term, which means I’ve been working more than the standard five hours per week that we expect as academics. On top of these torturous demands on my valuable time, I have received considerable reward and pleasure in my role as accidental head of department, as we adjust to the wholesale restructuring that my institution of higher learning has implemented over the summer. Blogging has been an optional extra the past week or so.

It’s party conference season here in the UK. While I normally only pay passing attention to these, this year does matter, as it’s the last year before the next general election, due no later than early June. Two weeks ago were the Lib Dems, last week the rotting corpse of Labour, and this week, the New Conservatives.

Or not? As I suspected, the attraction to the Conservatives appears to have a lot more to do with dissatisfaction with Brown and the Labour Government than it does with what the Tories have to offer. Indeed, only 28% believe that the Tories have really changed and / or modernized under David Cameron. This explains why Cameron’s brand identity is stronger than his party.

They key point is in this (muddled and error-prone) paragraph:

Only 19 per cent are satisfied with the Labour Government, down from 25 per cent last December. By contrast, 42 per cent are now dissatisfied with Labour and would rather have a Conservative government, up from 35 per cent. In the middle are 31 per cent (up from 25 per cent) who are dissatisfied with Labour and would rather have a Tory government but do not want a Tory government. So, while 73 per cent are dissatisfied with Labour, 50 per cent would still prefer a Labour Government and 42 per cent a Tory one. This suggests that many Liberal Democrats and supporters of other parties would still prefer Labour to the Tories.

When interpreted correctly with my corrections, this would appear to afford an opening for Labour to, while not win, at least not be wiped off the electoral map. They should play the “wasted vote” card with Lib Dem supporters in marginal seats, and attempt to assuage the concerns of the nationalists (Plaid Cymru, the SNP), though I would not hold out much hope for this. Even so, while 42% is roughly the natural ceiling for Conservative support over the past couple of generations, 42% will readily translate into a stable parliamentary majority.

Positive for Labour is that they are favored to the Tories on a number of issues, such as spreading the inevitable budget cuts fairly and protecting “front line” government services from these cuts. However, Brown trails Cameron on the same measures.

If only Labour had ditched Brown for Alan Johnson, it would have definitely, rather than possibly, fought off doom.

Jonah Goldberg and the Case of the Haphazard Harking

[ 0 ] October 5, 2009 |

Steven Hayward’s Washington Post article on the brain death of the conservative intellectual movement damns the nearly-departed with the faintest of all possible praise:

The bestseller list used to be crowded with the likes of [Milton] Friedman’s Free to Choose, George Gilder’s Wealth and Poverty, Paul Johnson’s Modern Times, Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, Charles Murray’s Losing Ground and The Bell Curve, and Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man . . . About the only recent successful title that harkens back to the older intellectual style is Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism, which argues that modern liberalism has much more in common with European fascism than conservatism has ever had.

Considering the heft Hayward requires of the phrase “harkens back,” I thought it would be instructive to figure out exactly what it means. To the OED!

b. hark back. Of hounds: To return along the course taken, when the scent has been lost, till it is found again; hence fig. to retrace one’s course or steps; to return, revert; to return to some earlier point in a narrative, discussion, or argument.

Significantly, both to my mind and Hayward’s argument, the OED says nothing of what happens after the hounds recapture the scent. Hayward believes that Goldberg harked back his hounds until they caught the “very serious, thoughtful” scent of a Bloom or Fukuyama, then had his hounds track it till they produced an argumentative quarry “that has never been [treed] in such detail or with such care.”

The only non-fantastical element to that is the part where Goldberg takes credit for the labor of his dogs, because in truth, even if Goldberg did hark back his hounds to an intellectually serious scent, he chose not to trust the tug of their leashes and instead struck out in some random direction. How do I know?

I was one of those hounds. I answered Goldberg’s infamous plea for a Herbert Spencer scholar, the result of which was an email exchange that, sadly, lives on the dead drive of a desktop currently being used as furniture, but the gist of which went something like this:

Goldberg: I believe Spencer said this.

SEK: That’s a common misconception. He actually said this.

Goldberg: But some people who aren’t Spencerians said he said that.

SEK: They did. But it’s a nineteenth-century caricature based on a misunderstanding that’s been thoroughly discredited by 110 years of scholarship by people whose work is based on reading Spencer instead of repeating rumors about him.

Goldberg: You are not providing me with the citations I need to substantiate those rumors. Please don’t write back.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying, as Scott noted, that if Liberal Fascism: Two Words Next To Each Other is what your leading lights produce when they hark back to your intellectual tradition, not only do you need brighter bulbs–you might want to have the whole house rewired.

Points That Really Should be Obvious

[ 0 ] October 5, 2009 |


“…any political movement that places The Bell Curve among its most important intellectual accomplishments can expect to have very few people of color in it.”

Remember the great permanent Republican majority talk in 2000? Grimly entertaining memories…

Olympics in Brazil

[ 0 ] October 5, 2009 |

Mr. Trend has an outstanding post that explains what the selection of Rio means in the wider arc of Brazilian history.

With all due respect, however, it’s obvious that Trend discounts the fact that a ACORN Chicago Olympics would have at last clarified the vast scope of Bill Ayers’ influence in Obamerica. When we measure the dubious value of Brazilian national pride and economic development against the undiluted joy that seven years of wingnut journamalism would have given us, I don’t see how anyone could score the IOC’d decision as a net positive for humankind.

Proudly Joining Woody Allen

[ 0 ] October 5, 2009 |

Guy whose primary work in film involved casting soft-porn flicks calls rape of 13-year-old “a little thing” in rising to the defense of Roman Polanski. Further commentary is presumably rendered superfluous.

Economic Regulation at the Court

[ 0 ] October 5, 2009 |

Adam Liptak notes that this term’s docket has a large number of cases about economic regulation:

By the time the justices left for their summer break in June, a majority of the cases they had agreed to hear — 24 of 45 — concerned business issues, according to a tally by the National Chamber Litigation Center of the United States Chamber of Commerce. The corresponding numbers last year were 16 of 42.

The nature of the cases has changed, too. In recent terms, the business docket was studded with cases about employment discrimination, federal pre-emption of injury suits and the environment. With the exception of a single employment case, all of those categories are missing.

In their stead, important questions about bankruptcy, corporate compensation, patents, antitrust and government oversight of the financial system will confront the justices.

Free Enterprise Fund v. Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, No. 08-861, for instance, concerns an issue that has engaged the court since the New Deal: at what point does the lack of presidential control over independent agencies violate separation-of-powers principles?


In Jones v. Harris Associates, No. 08-586, the Supreme Court will decide what role the courts should play in regulating the compensation paid to investment advisers for mutual funds. In affirming dismissal of the case, a unanimous three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, in Chicago, said the issue was a variation on the much-discussed question of whether the markets could be trusted to set executive compensation.

There are other examples. While these cases tend to attract a lot less attention than “social issue” cases, they’re very important, especially in this political and economic context. I agree that this increases the potential for confrontations between the Court and the political branches. They’ll also give us a good idea about whether Sotomayor is less pro-business than the other more liberal members of the current Court.

2009 Baseball Challenge Final Standings

[ 0 ] October 5, 2009 |

M. Ricci has won the 2009 LGM Baseball Challenge Tourney decisively, taking both segments. Congratulations are due; also, M. Ricci should contact me regarding prize info. E-mail available on the profile on the left sidebar.

1 Free Leonard, M. Ricci 4213 9420
2 O’Quendo’s Irish Rovers, J. Murray 4180 8132
3 Headless Thompson Gunners, S. Hickey 4080 8717
4 Glen Ellyn Stein Hoisters, T. Mohr 3856 8103
5 LawDawg, D. Howard 3813 8853
6 kodos423, k. crockett 3777 7829
7 Split Lip Rayfield, P. McLeod 3613 7583
8 Fanged Monkey, J. M 3577 7562
9 Theibault Moor Orioles, J. Theibault 3546 7771
10 Minneapolis Homebrewers, J. Kenny 3534 7137
11 Spikes’ Polish Warriors, B. Thomas 3533 7752
12 Cincinnati Bearded Ducks, R. Farley 3466 6776
13 NW USA All-Stars, N. Beaudrotq 3455 7374
14 Iowa City Spacemen, J. Austen 3437 7493
15 Austin Electric Chairs, E. Loomis 3410 7939
16 Ducking Minerva, M. Power 3403 6976
17 Smith, P. Smith 3329 7490
18 gj manatees, b. junge 3317 7312
19 TooMuchCoffee, P. Daley 3268 6929
20 Anarchist Sucklings, m. christman 3264 6955
21 Tizzod, T. Bennington 3245 6320
22 Unfounded Rumors, E. Udall 3205 7337
23 Evan, E. Robertson 3165 6633
24 SemiCanadianTough, K. Houghton 3111 6194
25 Amsterdam Rugmakers, D. Sparks 3090 7223

Sunday Book Review: By His Own Rules

[ 2 ] October 5, 2009 |

Bradley Graham’s extensive biography of Donald Rumsfeld runs 682 pages. About half of that length concerns Rumsfeld’s second tenure as Secretary of Defense. It’s this section that will be of greatest interest to most readers, but the rest of Rumsfeld’s career is also worth examining. Rumsfeld grew up in a middle class household, the son of an office manager who had held his position during the Great Depression. The Rumsfelds were by no means wealthy, but neither were they impoverished. Donald distinguished himself in high school both academically and athletically, winning a scholarship to Princeton (he also received NROTC support). Rumsfeld served as a pilot in the Navy (how many major conservative politicians have served as pilots?), then found his way into politics. In 1962, at the age of 30, he won election to the House of Representatives in a conservative Illinois district. He didn’t dominate the House by any means, but there’s no question that he punched above his weight. His record was moderate, and he demonstrated progressive views on issues of race. In 1968, ambitious for the Presidency, he left Congress and went to work in the Nixon administration.

Rumsfeld worked in the Nixon and then the Ford administration, eventually becoming the youngest ever Secretary of Defense. In 1977, he was still relatively young, and liked to consider himself a future contender for the GOP presidential nomination. However, Rumsfeld was not, at this point, a wealthy man. He decided to go into private industry, where he was able to make a considerable amount of money. There’s no question that Rumsfeld was talented, but his ability in private industry manifested mainly in his capacity for navigating governmental rules and regulations, and in using them to his company’s advantage. He also displayed a deft touch in intra-company battles. However, while private industry made him rich, it also left him out of the Reagan administration. He launched a brief, hopeless campaign for the 1988 GOP nomination, then found himself out of public service for another 13 years. When Rumsfeld was made SecDef again in 2001, he was the oldest person to hold the position.

Rumsfeld’s second tour as Secretary of Defense proved… eventful. He strongly believed in military transformation, the idea that the military services were organized and supplied along Cold War lines, and that a leaner, meaner, more lethal American military was both possible and necessary. The early portion of his tenure was rocky, and many thought it possible that he’d fall victim to an early reorganization. Then 9/11 happened, and everything changed.

Graham account is extremely detailed, contains interview with just about all of the principles (including Rumsfeld), and while not sympathetic to its subject is certainly fair. Here are some questions that it helped illuminate for me:

1. What was Rumsfeld’s role in pushing for the war in Iraq?
Graham makes the argument that Rumsfeld was more of a realist than a neocon, albeit with a certain form of appreciation for democracy. Rumsfeld was comfortable enough with the exercise of American power that he didn’t have any interest in pushing back against neoconservatives, either during the appointment process in 2001 or during the run up to war in 2002 and 2003. Rumsfeld was a war advocate, but not an advocate in the same terms as Paul Wolfowitz. The internal administration debate on the war included both Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz as players; strangely enough, this made it seem as if a diverse set of opinions all favored the war.

2. Did Rumsfeld’s administrative style make the war in Iraq worse?
Unquestionably. Rumsfeld was dismissive of both internal and external criticism, and spent little time in reflection. He contempt for the media helped make long term involvement a harder sell, even as the media fell over itself for his affection. Rumsfeld argues that he never turned down a request for additional troops or resources, but the reason he never had to turn down such a request is that his generals and deputies were terrified of him. DoD became dysfunctional under his watch, which meant that the war became even more dysfunctional than it needed to be. Moreover, Rumsfeld’s bureaucratic empire building meant that other bureaucracies couldn’t or wouldn’t pick up the slack.

3. Did Rumsfeld’s substantive focus make the war in Iraq worse?
Unquestionably. Rumsfeld remained focused like a laser on the idea of a light, intervention capable US military, the concept of which ran directly counter to the necessities of the war in Iraq. In a different administration his zest for an early drawdown of troops might have actually come off to his credit. In reality, however, he helped commit the US military to a project that could not be accomplished with available resources, then worked to constrain what resources existed. He was utterly uninterested in the COIN turn; indeed, he was deeply reluctant to admit that Iraq (then Afghanistan) could be characterized as an insurgency. Eventually, Graham argues, he simply lost interest in Iraq, preferring to focus on “transformation” goals that were increasingly anachronistic.

4. Did Rumsfeld’s administrative style and substantive focus make the war in Afghanistan worse?
Yes. Rumsfeld had little interest in the war in Afghanistan, seeing it as a sideshow. He devoted his attention to Iraq and to transformation, leaving the Afghan mission under-resourced and under-appreciated. Afghanistan did not, in Rumsfeld’s view, present a good case for the kind of war that Rumsfeld wanted to wage, even though the initial invasion and early occupation would represent a best case scenario for execution of a swift campaign of conquest and regime change. Rumsfeld also had contempt for most US allies, and devoted minimal attention to the development of a coalition to support either US operations or the Karzai government. Finally, Rumsfeld was uninterested in either nation or state building; these are difficult tasks in the best of times, and Rumsfeld’s hostility towards the notion of using American soldiers to construct Afghan institutions made the mission extremely difficult.

5. Would he have made a good peacetime Secretary of Defense?
Maybe. It’s odd, but the very characteristics that made a terrible wartime SecDef might hae made him a capable peacetime SecDef. Rumseld had no fear of the uniformed military, and was willing to cashier commanders who didn’t share his vision of warfare. He seemed to have been genuinely interested in a more efficient DoD, if not a smaller one. He was unimpressed with bureaucratic dogma from either the uniformed or the civilian sections of DoD. Moreover, he had the bureaucratic expertise to pursue the ends that he wanted. Of course, it’s not all about Rumsfeld; Graham reminds us that Rumsfeld was under fire from Congress, from industry groups, and (quietly) from the services prior to 9/11. In the absence of the attacks, Bush may not have been willing to stand with Rumsfeld, and he could have been either removed or left without substantial power. However, one of George W. Bush’s key characteristics is loyalty, and Rumsfeld had the support of the Vice President. Dubya might have been willing to stick with Rummy through a series of destructive battles with the bureaucracy, and there are plenty of reasons to believe that those battles would have left DoD in a healthier long term position. The problems that Rumsfeld identified were genuine; excessive deference to the uniformed military, Cold War mindset in procurement and doctrine, utterly broken system of procurement, and so forth. We’ll never know if Rummy could have punched his way through the system, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility. Had things been different, Rumsfeld might have gone down as a revolutionary SecDef.

A final, larger question involves Rumsfeld’s legacy as Secretary of Defense. Such lists can be pointless, but I think it’s difficult to argue that the Rumsfeld is anything but the worst Secretary of Defense in US history. McNamara is the obvious comparison, and there certainly are some interesting parallels. McNamara helped involve the United States in an ill-conceived war, and managed the war poorly. McNamara’s efforts to reform the Department of Defense largely failed, although it can’t quite be said that the reform effort had the opposite of its intended effect. In Rumsfeld’s case, the direction that the US military has gone since his tenure began is the precise opposite of what he wanted; an organization focused on COIN, on long-term occupations, and on state building is the last thing that he wanted. Moreover, he played a key role in the decisions that forced the US military to engage in this transformation. He allowed the United States to be humiliated through his insufficient attention to detainee policy, an inattention that can be characterized as either egregious oversight or intentional ignorance. Finally Rumsfeld helped slow the federal government’s response to Katrina through being slow on the trigger to allow the use of even non-military DoD assets.

Rumsfeld is, for the moment, held in contempt across the political spectrum. Everyone to the left of Dick Cheney (and many to his right) views Rumsfeld’s tenure as disastrous. By his own metrics, he failed at almost everything that he set out to do in 2001. Without 9/11, Rumsfeld would likely be judged to have led an honorable enough (as honorable as any long-term GOP operative) career as politician, businessman, and bureaucrat. 9/11 gave him the opportunity to fail on an epic scale, and he met the challenge.

Failure for thee, but not for me.

[ 0 ] October 4, 2009 |

Remember when An American Carol inspired conservatives to shout that its inevitable success would prove that Americans wanted patriotic films that mock liberals more than dour, realistic films about the realities on the ground in Iraq? I certainly do. “[I]t’ll change everything,” said one of its stars, Kelsey Grammer. Reiterating a prediction she made two weeks earlier, someone named Erin saidAn American Carol will be a success at the box office, because the American people are sick of the Damons and Afflecks.”

And succeed it did: after a concerted effort by the conservative media to let the market’s invisible hand work its magic, An American Carol took it in $3,656,000 in its first weekend, and was declared a success because it barely grossed more than Religulous despite being screened in a mere 1,137 more theaters nationwide. Using the same standards by which An American Carol was deemed a success, John Nolte gloats that Americans voted with their wallets and declared Michael Moore’s new film a failure:

[T]he biggest disappointment of the weekend is Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story (Overture). After a $57K per theatre average on 4 screens last weekend, the picture broke to a wider 962 locations with terrible results. The “documentary” only sold an estimated $1.3M in tickets to start the weekend, and it will finish at about $3.9M for a PTA of less than $4,000. That soft opening will almost certainly make Capitalism Moore’s weakest-grossing movie since 2002’s Bowling for Columbine ($21.5M domestic gross).

Did I say the same standards? Because this chart I carved by hand from the finest quality HTML (and Blogger promptly rejected) would seem to indicate otherwise:

I suppose numbers also have a liberal bias?

"For the Money" is, in Fact, a Motive

[ 0 ] October 3, 2009 |

I understand that you have to put the best face on things, but still…

According to documents filed in Stamford Superior Court in 2007, he made an annual salary of $214,000, but that salary, along with assets and debts, came up in a dispute over the amount of alimony he was paying to his ex-wife, Patty Montet, who lives with their two children.

Mr. Halderman’s lawyer, Gerald L. Shargel, said his client denied wrongdoing.

“He pled not guilty, and he stands by that plea,” Mr. Shargel said after the arraignment in a telephone interview. “My position is that, even upon a superficial glance, there is another side of this story and I’m working on it.”

He said that the prosecutor’s remarks in court about Mr. Halderman’s debts showed that “they’re obviously searching for a motive.”

He added, “If that were a motive, you’d have to supply new jails.”

No, they’re not “searching for a motive.” They have, in fact, found a motive, and it is, by and large, a pretty compelling one.

"Just saw the cover for her book, I’m super excited."*

[ 0 ] October 3, 2009 |

All the talk about how Sarah Palin’s magnum opus opera mictilis is already a bestseller flubs the basic math behind its “unprecedented sales.” Palin’s target audience already has a Bible, meaning Going Rogue will be the first book they’ve bought since 2007. If liberals want to wage ideological war via the bestseller list, we need to stop dividing our loyalties and only purchase one new book every two years. Our minds might atrophy, sure, but no one ever said talking points were cheap.

*What? Can you think of a better way to tell the world that you judge books by their covers than a comma splice? Didn’t think so.