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Democracy Isn’t Worth It If Senators Can’t Be Good Buddies

[ 9 ] March 16, 2010 |

Shorter Bobo: Having the Senate run like every pretty much every other democratic legislature in the world would be like genocide.    Now, when pro-apartheid southern Senators ran everything and everyone went out for drinks in a nice bipartisan fashion, those were the days!

…see also Chait, Benen, and (without endorsing his evaluation of the bill on the merits) Taibbi. And Yglesias.

…And Klein. Given the extent to which Republicans in and out of the media have pretended that using reconciliation for Bush’s upper-class tax cuts was different because the legislation was “bipartisan,” this point is especially important:

Nor has reconciliation been limited to bills with “significant bipartisan support.” To use Brooks’s example of the tax cuts, the 2003 tax cuts passed the Senate 50-50, with Dick Cheney casting the tie-breaking vote. Two Democrats joined with the Republicans in that effort. Georgia’s Zell Miller, who would endorse George W. Bush in 2004 and effectively leave the Democratic Party, and Nebraska’s Ben Nelson. So I’d say that’s one Democrat. One Democrat alongside 49 Republicans. That’s not significant bipartisan support.


Cultural Differences, Academic Edition

[ 14 ] March 16, 2010 |

at least this time I’m not discussing sleeping with students.

I’ve been remiss in keeping up with LGM responsibilities as a lot is happening in a short period of time, including a couple conference papers I’m presenting in April (WPSA and MPSA) that are in various states of incompletion.  There’s also the catching up on grading thing, which leads to this brief observation (and serves as a low cost way of getting used to our new neighborhood).

One of the many differences between British and American academic culture is the oversight.  In the US, the professor (or TA) grades, and that’s it.  Here, every class is “second marked”, where every “first” (e.g. an A), every fail, and a sample of the grade brackets in between, are given to a colleague to check your marks.  This works well for classes with TAs: my first and second year classes are marked first by my TAs, then I do the second marking; if it’s a new TA who has never graded before, I do second mark every piece of work for the first assignment and we have a meeting about her or his work.

However, there’s a gulf in experience between a first-year TA, and me, but the culture requires that all of my work is checked as well when I’m the primary marker.  Then, for every class aside from first year classes, a sample is ultimately sent to the “external examiner” — again, all firsts, fails, and a sample of the intermediaries — to serve as a tertiary layer of “quality assurance”.  This extends to the final exams I write: the questions for a final exam to be taken at the end of a year long class, in late May, must be submitted to the faculty office in late Autumn, then it’s sent to the external examiner who comments . . .

A seldom commented upon aspect of these relationships is that they can be quite cozy.  My existing external does take his job quite seriously, thus he has a raft of comments about how we can improve many aspects of our instruction which he makes public at our departmental “panel” meetings every June.  However, the norm is cozy, which makes one wonder that for all this work and effort, is this really quality assurance, or is it ass covering?  There are benefits to these arrangements, such as the annual panel for the MA in International Relations that I have inexplicably been teaching on for six years now, where my seminar on methods, research design, and professionalization receives an annual laudatory paragraph from the external.  Not bad for a guy who didn’t so much as offer a sub-field in IR in grad school.

That said, having grown up and been trained in the US culture, I find all this oversight suggestive of a broader untrusting culture in general, and it belies exposes the complete lack of autonomy we have as academics in Britain specifically.

Out-crazying Nixon

[ 5 ] March 16, 2010 |

Kathy Olmsted has a fine list of standout moments in the clinical history of Richard Nixon’s presidency. Though we could toss a dart at the White House transcripts or select random audio excerpts and strike paydirt, it occurred to me that a few of Nixon’s recorded conversations take place with people who are considerably more insane than he is and who, against all possible odds, make Nixon appear grounded by comparison.

For example, there’s this exchange with Ronald Reagan from October 26, 1971, the day after the United Nations General Assembly had voted to admit and seat the People’s Republic of China as the legitimate representative of the Chinese nation. Before the vote, Nixon had badgered George H.W. Bush — the US ambassador to the UN — to make sure the US position prevailed, but he’d fallen a handful of votes shy of denying the PRC’s admission. At the time, of course, Nixon was laying the groundwork for an eventual visit to China, and so while he complained to Kissinger that “the United States is getting kicked around by a bunch of goddamned Africans and cannibals and such,” he was also wary of the pressure he was receiving from the conservative right to make aggressive use of the issue against both China and the UN itself. A few hours after the vote, Nixon’s wariness was rewarded as he received a call from Gov. Reagan that caused him some audible discomfort.

REAGAN: I know it is not easy to give a suggestion or advice to the president of the United States, but I just feel that — I feel so strongly that we can’t — and in view of ’72 we can’t just sit and take this and continue as if nothing had happened, and I had a suggestion for an action that I’d like to be so presumptuous as to suggest. My every instinct says get the hell out of that kangaroo court, and let it, uh…

NIXON: [Laughs] Yeah.

REAGAN: …sink. But I know that’s very, that would be extremely difficult, and not the thing to do. But it has occurred to me that the United States — I just, the people, I just know are — first of all, they don’t like the UN to begin with. It seems to me, if you brought Mr. Bush back to Washington, to let them sweat for about 24 hours, as to what you were thinking of, and then if you went on television to the people of the United States and said that Mr. Bush was going back to the UN, to participate in debate and express our views and so forth, but he would not participate in any votes — that the United States would not vote and would not be bound by the votes of the UN, because it is a debating society. You don’t have to say that, but it is a debating society, and — and so we’d be there, our presence would be there. But we would just not participate in their votes. I think it would put those bums in the perspective they belong.

NIXON: [pauses, laughs] It sure would! Uh….

REAGAN: I think it would make a hell of a campaign issue. Because I am positive that the people of the United States are thoroughly disgusted, and I think that this would put any candidate from the other side — the constant question to him would come, in the midst of the campaign, “What would you do now?” And if he was stupid enough to open his mouth and say, “Oh, hell, you know — we’d go back to operating just as usual,” I think he’d be hung out to dry.

The audio of that conversation is interesting and certainly worth a listen if you happen to be a connoisseur of such things.  Nixon is clearly not impressed by the advice, and spends a good bit of time trying to change the subject, as if he’s perhaps speaking with an unhinged missionary or a jabbering incontinent on a Greyhound bus; at the same time, though he recognizes Reagan’s ascendant wingnuttery and encourages him to complain publicly about the UN’s “moral bankruptcy” and its diminishing support among Americans.  He also tries to reassure Reagan that he hates the United Nations as much as anyone and that he wouldn’t be attending any of the dinners being given in recognition of UN Week.  Reagan, for his part, vows to find out if UN Week is still going on and — if so — withdraw the proclamation he’d signed to create it.

Three weeks later, Nixon described Reagan as “shallow” in a long and hilarious conversation with Kissinger.

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LGM Tourney Challenge Brackets Now Available

[ 4 ] March 15, 2010 |

Brackets for the LGM Tourney Challenge Group at ESPN are now available!

League: Lawyers, Guns and Money
Password: zevon

Like Your Great-Grandmother, We’re Now on Facebook

[ 2 ] March 15, 2010 |

Because a webpage isn’t even really a webpage if there isn’t a webpage about the webpage… Includes actual new content!

What if Iran Got the Bomb Redux

[ 6 ] March 15, 2010 |

Y’know, the idea that there are meaningful similarities between the rhetoric used to describe the Chinese nuclear program in the 1960s and the Iranian nuclear program of the last decade is kind of interesting… or at least it was six months ago, when I wrote about it at Foreign Policy. Just sayin’.

I Do Not Think That Word Means What You Think It Means.

[ 11 ] March 15, 2010 |

I’ve been thinking this weekend about Gary Solis’ WAPO op-ed of Friday about CIA drone pilots being unlawful combatants – unlike drone pilots serving in the US armed forces who may arguably be violating the laws of war but at least have the right under international law to engage in combat:

In terms of international armed conflict, those CIA agents are, unlike their military counterparts but like the fighters they target, unlawful combatants. No less than their insurgent targets, they are fighters without uniforms or insignia, directly participating in hostilities, employing armed force contrary to the laws and customs of war. Even if they are sitting in Langley, the CIA pilots are civilians violating the requirement of distinction, a core concept of armed conflict, as they directly participate in hostilities.

Moreover, CIA civilian personnel who repeatedly and directly participate in hostilities may have what recent guidance from the International Committee of the Red Cross terms “a continuous combat function.” That status, the ICRC guidance says, makes them legitimate targets whenever and wherever they may be found, including Langley.

I agree with his first point, but I think he is misreading the meaning of “continuous combat function.” And in so doing Solis makes a common conceptual error: conflating the lawfulness of combatancy with the legitimacy of targets.
Read more…

Unexceptional American Exceptionalism?

[ 6 ] March 15, 2010 |

On American Exceptionalism:

Contrarianism I Can Believe In

[ 32 ] March 15, 2010 |

To join Rob in betraying this site’s long-standing trend of disagreement with Will Saletan, allow me to endorse pretty much all of this, in particular the idea that at some point there’s not much point to be a legislator if you’re not going to pass important legislation.

Meanwhile, I don’t have time to give this hand-waving on behalf of Dennis Kucinich the detailed critique it doesn’t really merit anyway, but to raise the most obvious points: 1)if there’s an argument to be made on behalf of the proposition that the inclusion of a public option that you concede to be so watered-down as to be trivial should be a deal-breaker, at some point you should probably make it, 2)voting against legislation that improves on the status quo doesn’t count as standing on principle unless there’s some reason to believe that voting the legislation down would do something to accomplish something better, which pretty clearly isn’t the case here, and 3)I’d love to see a list of those states that are allegedly on the verge of passing single payer.

The “Some Legislator Somewhere” Gambit

[ 9 ] March 15, 2010 |

You may be wondering where the “Obama is coming for your salt!” idea comes from.    (Other than pure derangement, I mean.)   Apparently, it’s a product of one of the oldest gambits in the hack’s playbook: “forgetting” that in the American system of government any individual legislator can introduce legislation, and then citing isolated proposals with no support as representative of something.  

Falling for some rube-running by a local Fox affiliate, Col. Mustard lets us in on the great salt-banning conspiracy.   Let us examine an exhaustive list of the powerful figures behind this inexorable legislative freight train:

…a Democratic New York Assemblyman

But don’t kid yourself: the fact that one assemblyman proposed an idiotic law that has as much chance of passing as Rush Limbaugh has of being the Green Party’s candidate for president in 2012 means that the federal government is about to ban salt. It’s a very slippery slope! Why, we don’t even have Obamacare yet, and I hear rumors that there’s an large, well-funded movement dedicated to having government bureaucrats force women to carry pregnancies to term…

“Joey, Have You Ever Been in a Turkish Prison?”

[ 5 ] March 14, 2010 |

Peter Graves has passed. Sad day…

Sunday Geek Blogging

[ 4 ] March 14, 2010 |

Happy Pi Day!