Wednesday, November 29, 2006

"Where's The Reset Button On This War [Game]"?

Although I don't claim to have originated the idea, I have shared the perspective that some of the biggest proponents of the Iraq war seem to be confused about what a war entails, and appear to believe that if things go wrong they can press a "reset" button and start over, as if they were playing a video game. And now comes Thomas Friedman,
On Feb. 12, 2003, before the war, I wrote a column offering what I called my “pottery store” rule for Iraq: “You break it, you own it.” It was not an argument against the war, but rather a cautionary note about the need to do it with allies, because transforming Iraq would be such a huge undertaking. (Colin Powell later picked up on this and used the phrase to try to get President Bush to act with more caution, but Mr. Bush did not heed Mr. Powell’s advice.)

But my Pottery Barn rule was wrong, because Iraq was already pretty broken before we got there — broken, it seems, by 1,000 years of Arab-Muslim authoritarianism, three brutal decades of Sunni Baathist rule, and a crippling decade of U.N. sanctions. It was held together only by Saddam’s iron fist. Had we properly occupied the country, and begun political therapy, it is possible an American iron fist could have held Iraq together long enough to put it on a new course. But instead we created a vacuum by not deploying enough troops.
Oh, right. Try that at Pottery Barn. "I bought this vase three years ago and I've been using it the whole time, but it's leaking and I think that's because it was broken when I bought it. Can I get a refund?" You know what? It makes sense to be a more careful consumer, making sure that you know that you are buying exactly what you intend to buy, particularly when there's a huge sign over the cash register that reads "All Sales Final! Absolutely No Returns!" What's really going on here? Friedman doesn't want to take responsibility for his role in cheerleading the botched adventure in Iraq, so he's scrambling to somehow make its failure somebody else's - anybody else's - fault.

Friedman describes us as having two choices - Ten Months or Ten Years - pull out, or press the reset button:
Given this, we need to face our real choices in Iraq, which are: 10 months or 10 years. Either we just get out of Iraq in a phased withdrawal over 10 months, and try to stabilize it some other way, or we accept the fact that the only way it will not be a failed state is if we start over and rebuild it from the ground up, which would take 10 years. This would require reinvading Iraq, with at least 150,000 more troops, crushing the Sunni and Shiite militias, controlling borders, and building Iraq’s institutions and political culture from scratch.
I don't actually believe that Friedman is seriously endorsing restarting the war. I think he's trying to put the alternatives in sufficiently stark terms (with his "plan for victory" sufficiently unrealistic) to force the choice of withdrawal. But whatever he thinks, he obviously anticipates that many of his readers will believe that we can still push the reset button.

Tort Reformers Focusing On The... Big Problems?

According to a letter from Sherman Joyce, President of the "American Tort Reform Association",
Our efforts to reform the tort system address the greatest abuses, such as allowing lawsuits that do not require proof of actual injury or loss, denying the right of defendants to appeal judgments against them, and permitting pseudo-experts to peddle "junk" science in courtrooms.
The "greatest abuses".... Okay, I'll bite.
  • In what percentage of cases do tort plaintiffs proceed and prevail in cases "that do not require proof of actual injury or loss"? Here they are referencing cases which involve, for example, toxic exposure, where the victim may require medical monitoring and have legitimate fear of developing an illness. Their problem with medical monitoring, in their own words, does not appear to be its present implementation, but a hypothetical future where "Widespread acceptance of medical monitoring would expose all businesses to unprecedented liability and costs." The good old dependable "slippery slope" fallacy.

  • In what percentage of cases are defendants denied "the right ... to appeal judgments against them"? The only reference I can find to this on ATRA's website is its suggestion that "billion-dollar verdicts are no longer uncommon" (er, they're not?) and that some defendants facing multi-billion dollar verdicts can't afford to post appeal bonds. This happened twenty or so years ago in Pennzoil v Texaco, and since in the high profile case of... of... of... Well, don't go looking for help on ATRA's site, because apparently they don't know of another example, either.

  • In what percentage of cases are tort plaintiffs and defendants free to present the testimony of "pseudo-experts" who "peddle 'junk' science in courtrooms"? (Does this actually mean something other than "It's horrible that tort plaintiffs are permitted to present expert witnesses who differ in opinion from those who serve the defense"?) Funny... this crucial issue doesn't seem to merit mention on ATRA's "issues" page.
This is how they put their best foot forward? Well, I suppose if the mainstream media is willing to print their nonsense, it works for them.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

What's Wrong With These Pictures?

Compare and Contrast: See one woman who was deemed "too fat" by the industry "experts" in a modeling contest, and another who appears (at least) borderline anorexic who was deemed "sensational". (Viewers of the competition, to their credit, differed in their assessment.)

Monday, November 27, 2006

Saturday, November 25, 2006

"The Democrats Is Stupid"

Before I saw that it is being more or less shredded all over the blogosphere, that's the headline I thought might better fit The Struggle Within, Thomas Edsall's latest New York Times editorial. The most common criticisms of the piece seem to be that Edsall believes that the Democrats can only succeed while catering to a fickle group of swing voters who could as easily vote Republican in the next election, whereas the Democrats have tried to build a more stable foundation for a "progressive" platform. I think this is a bit of a mushy criticism, as the term "progressive" often seems to be no better defined than the term "libertarian" - I would challenge anybody to fill a room with a random selection of self-described progressives (or libertarians) and try to come to a consensus as to the meaning of the term.

It doesn't mean much to say that the nation has embraced a progressive agenda if there is no agreement as to what that means. In fact that seems as misguided as the position of Karl Rove's adherents, often derided alongside Edsall's editorial, that the nation had embraced moderate conservativism - if the last year has demonstrated anything, it is that this nation's factions of self-described conservatives have a lot less in common than they (and Karl Rove) had previously assumed - and perhaps that a good number of them are more thoughtful (and more progressive) than many self-described progressives had previously assumed.

But enough of that - on to my problems with Edsall's piece. I don't disagree with the thesis that sometimes it is necessary for a political party to make a break - perhaps a painful break - with some of its historical positions and historical groups of supporters in order to obtian or maintain a mandate to govern. But I disagree with pretty much every specific issue raised by Edsall as something the Democrats should abandon.
Many Democratic constituencies — organized labor, minority advocacy organizations, reproductive- and sexual-rights proponents — are reliving battles of a decade or more ago, not the more subtle disputes of today. Public sector unions, for example, at a time of wide distrust of government, are consistently pressing to enlarge the state. For these players, adapting to a re-emergent center will be costly.
As his first and last example is the labor union, perhaps that's a place to begin. The problems that can be created by unions are anything but secret, and to say that today's unions are not thriving would be an understatement. Edsall presumably focuses on public sector unions because of the current weakness of private sector unions. Edsall doesn't state what he wants the Democratic Party to do, but he seems to be suggesting that they can only maintain relevance by ensuring that private sector unions languish as they do their best to undermine public sector unions. I don't think that's either true or that it would be wise policy.

In a sense, the Democratic Party may have an "Only Nixon could go to China" moment with unions - an opportunity to review labor laws in association with union leaders to determine how to make unions more relevant to today's business environment. In terms of public sector unions, Edsall is probably most concerned about the possibility of the expansion of union rights to the TSA, but that's really not where the largest problems lie - and I am skeptical that all the sound and fury of Fox News and right-wing radio would make a reform which let TSA agents unionize would be anything more than a political blip. The biggest problems with public unions lie at the state and local level, where the cost of union benefits (particularly health care) threatens the financial stability of many governmental units. There's also a peculiar aspect to public sector unions in that, as management almost always gives itself better benefits than are awarded to union members by contract, there can be a disincentive for governmental units to truly negotiate for the best labor deals. These problems will not be easy to address, but it nonetheless seems feasible that a Democratic agenda which includes modest labor law reform and steps toward national health care could be deemed acceptable by public sector unions, the leaders of which seem to recognize that the status quo cannot be sustained indefinitely (even if they do their jobs by stretching things out as long as they possibly can). Even if these issues are not tackled directly, health care reforms could provide significant indirect benefits to state and local governments by diminishing or even removing an increasingly contentious issue from labor negotiations.

Similarly, as we move past the era of traditional affirmative action programs, it will be necessary for the political parties to address issues of race relations and integration. It is silly to suggest that the Democrats should walk away from these issues, when they would be much better served by maintaining a dialog with minority organizations such as the NAACP, developing new strategies to advance racial equality. I don't hear Edsall complaining about the elements of "No Child Left Behind" which aim to diminish racial inequality, so it seems safe to assume that he knows it is possible to work toward a more equal society without the use of racial preferences.

In terms of "reproductive- and sexual-rights proponents", I assume he's speaking not of the right of access to contraception, but to abortion rights, gay marriage and civil unions. I don't believe that the Democratic Party would do itself any favors by abandoning its overall stance in favor of reproductive rights, and I suspect that the backlash against gay marriage and civil unions has peaked. I don't expect the Democratic Party to take any strident positions on either issues. If recent elections are any indication, Edsall's fears are misplaced - the Democrats tiptoe very carefully around these issues without any apparent fear that their refusal to endorse stronger abortion rights or gay marriage will hurt them at the ballot box.

And next comes "They is stupid":
An army of conservative media is determined to recreate the political climate so advantageous to the G.O.P. in 1994. At the same time, very liberal senior House Democrats now have vastly enhanced power to add inflammatory provisions to bills moving through their committees (think Rangel and the draft).

Nancy Pelosi and her closest advisers in the House are more likely to support such radioactive amendments than to serve as guard dogs protecting a slender Democratic majority.
Well, if they truly are stupid, and they truly demonstrate themselves unfit to govern, the Democratic Party deserves to lose the next election regardless of whether they're catering to the left, right or center. I just don't see this happening. On the whole, I'm left wondering if Edsall's critics are correct - that his biggest concern is not with the future of the country, but with trying to breathe life back into the thesis he outlined in his latest book, Building Red America. Perhaps rather than lecturing the Democrats about what should no longer be important to them, he should consider lecturing Republicans on those issues they had deemed unimportant but which cost them the election.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

If Only Iraq Were Like Vietnam....

Some interesting comments from Condoleezza Rice,
Rice's remarks came in response to an American questioner who drew a parallel between "our recent misadventures in Iraq and the tragedy of the Vietnam War some 30 years ago."

The Bush administration rejects any such comparison, but Rice said Iraq could learn something from Vietnam's example. The country has thrived since making tough choices about its internal divisions and economy and is now Southeast Asia's fastest-growing economy.

"The Iraqis, if they do make good decisions, like Vietnam has made good decisions, if they will take tough decisions," and the world supports them, "they can and will have a better chance," Rice said.
Oh, yes... those tough choices it made. After the Americans left (call it "Victory With Honor" or "defeat", as you prefer) the North Vietnamese took absolute control of the entire nation and set about rounding up and punishing anybody who had collaborated with the enemy. Those who were fortunate enough to survive their reeducation (which included such tasks as using rudimentary tools to clear mine fields) and their families were excluded from employment and educational opportunity. Many fled the nation, at great risk to themselves. After some ill-considered military incursions by Cambodia, Vietnam conquered and occupied that nation, not withdrawing until reductions in Soviet subsidies left continued occupation unaffordable.

I don't wish to understate the progress Vietnam has made in the past two decades, but it is still a communist, totalitarian nation, and its unity results in no small part from the fact that at the end of the war the North could impose its will through a large, war-hardened army. It is not at all clear that Rice is suggesting that the parallel would include the ethnic conflicts of Iraq, with the Vietnamese of the north and south somehow analogized to Sunni and Shiite factions in Iraq. But it would be a poor analogy.

Rice seems to imagine that the people on the streets in Iraq could look at Vietnam, understand its resentments toward colonial occupation, the two French Wars, and what it calls the American War, and understand that their nation can bypass the decades of recriminatio, retaliation, internal oppression, and warfare with and occupation of neighboring nations, if only they lay down their arms and embrace... er, an iron-fisted, totalitarian government that moderates its actions in order to attract foreign investment and tourism? When Rice praises Vietnam for meeting "international norms" and urges nations like Burma/Myanmar and North Korea to follow its lead, is she limiting her comments to economic norms?

I suspect this betrays the root of the neo-con dream, as intimated by Krauthammer a few days ago, that everything could be perfect (or close enough to perfect) in Iraq had only we imposed a corrupt, self-serving, but capitalist thug (Ahmed Chalabi) as leader, permitted him to demonstrate unbridled violence against any sign of dissent or disorder (e.g., "shooting looters"), and doing him the favor of crushing any coherent military force which might oppose him. Perhaps, like Krauthammer, she doesn't think that Iraqis (or Vietnamese) are sufficiently prepared for democracy, but as long as they are stable and can be profitably engaged in commerce, the rest is just talk.

Friday, November 17, 2006

A Michigan "What If"?

What if a school bus driver got tired of the kids in her bus, pulled over on the inside shoulder of I-94 without turning on her overhead red flashing lights or extending her stop sign, told the kids to "get off and cross the road", then sat on the shoulder blocking oncoming traffic from seeing the children. The kids, intimidated by the many lanes of high speed traffic, wait for a while before one finally tries to cross. Would the school district or bus driver have any potential liability if that child was struck by a car - the driver of which could not see the child prior to impact because his line of sight was blocked by the school bus? According to the Michigan Supreme Court... absolutely not.

The school district would enjoy governmental immunity. Although there is a motor vehicle exception to governmental immunity, the exception would not apply because there was no direct physical contact between the bus and the vehicle that hit the child, nor was there direct contact between the child and the bus.

The bus driver would be deemed grossly negligent for such an act - that's obvious - and normally an act of gross negligence would prevent a claim of governmental immunity. But it wouldn't be "the one most immediate, efficient, and direct cause preceding" the child's injury. The child's "decision to cross the street at the moment when she did" would be "the immediate, efficient, and direct cause of her injury." Thus the school bus driver would also be immune from liability.

Note, the school bus driver in the actual case did not stop on the highway - she stopped at an intersection and, with her overhead lights off, told a child to get off the bus and cross the road. The dissenting judge in the Court of Appeals, after expressly reciting the rule that the facts in a summary disposition case are to be taken in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, observed that there was "testimony indicat[ing] that [the child] failed to immediately heed this instruction". This appears to reference testimony from a witness who was not even at the scene, and was applied to somehow free the court to ignore witness testimony that the child immediately crossed. The I-94 scenario is not an exaggeration - this decision would grant immunity given those facts.

Just ask the folks at "Overlawyered" where you are unlikely to read about this case - as long as the atrocity favors the defendant, atrocious outcomes in tort cases are fine. Right? (Helfer v Center Line Public Schools - Court of Appeals Decision; Supreme Court Reversal)

Thursday, November 16, 2006

David Brooks Asks: What's The Matter With Kansas... And Iowa... and Texas?

A few movie reviews of Borat:
So, what does all of this have to do with David Brooks, you ask? Behind the firewall, after taking digs at American Idol, The Daily Show and "culture-war comedians [like Bill Maher] whose jokes heap scorn on the sorts of people who are guaranteed not to be in the audience", Mr. Brooks has this to say:
And so we enter the era of mass condescension. Thanks to the creativity of our cultural entrepreneurs, we enter a time when we can gather in large groups and look down at our mental, social and spiritual inferiors.

* * *

But, of course, the crowning glory of the current moment is the “Borat” movie, an explosively funny rube-baiting session orchestrated by a hilarious bully.

The genius of Sacha Baron Cohen’s performance is his sycophantic reverence for his audience, his refusal to challenge the sacred cows of the educated bourgeoisie. During the movie, Borat ridicules Pentecostals, gun owners, car dealers, hicks, humorless feminists, the Southern gentry, Southern frat boys, and rodeo cowboys. A safer list it is impossible to imagine.

* * *

The more tolerant the simpletons try to be toward Borat, the more he drags them into the realm of anti-Semitism and vileness. The more hospitable they try to be, the dumber they appear for not understanding the situation.
Brooks extrapolates,
Finally, there’s blue America snobbery, as people on the coasts try to fathom those who would vote for George W. Bush. The only logical explanation is that they are racist, anti-Semitic idiots who can be blamelessly ridiculed.
Perhaps I should admit that I didn't find the little bit of Cohen's "Da Ali G Show" that I saw to be funny, and I have no intention of seeing Borat. Even if I accept the critical position that the film is hilarious, the tactics used to obtain releases were at times reprehensible.

Yet from what I have read, if Brooks has in fact seen the movie, it's hard to know what to make of his column. First, he describes the movie as "hilarious" - is this entire column an exercise in self-flaggelation for his lauging - sneering, even - at Red State Americans? (Brooks has no problem with sneering - as the column shows, he happily sneers at Blue State Americans. He has a long history of sneering at intellectuals. And within that column he implicitly sneers at dumb jocks who grow up to vote Republican, whom he fancies himself as leading around by the nose - in his own words, his brand of former high school nerd has "learned to speak slowly so the jocks will understand them."

But among his examples from Borat - the frat boys. News accounts indicate that the frat boys demonstrated misogyny and lamented the end of slavery. What problem does Brooks have with ridiculing bigots who favor enslaving African Americans? What's elitist about outing that form of bigotry, and looking down on it? (Oh sure, they're pulling the Mel Gibson "I was drunk so what I said doesn't really count" defense - which is an excuse I categorically reject. Alcohol lowers your inhibitions so you are less guarded about saying what you actually believe.) The feminists... He's speaking of the group of educated women who appear in the film in a New York art gallery? (How dare liberal Blue Staters sneer at those... liberal Blue Staters....) The rodeo cowboy - this is the person who was wistful for the day when Americans could get away with killing gay people? Again, Brooks has a problem with making this brand of bigot look like an idiot?

Perhaps he believes that he's allowed to laugh at the victims of Cohen's "hilarious" bullying because he believes himself to have unique insight, such that he and he alone recognizes that the victims (other than, perhaps, those New York feminists) don't represent Red America. Ah yes, David... You are so much better than everybody else. And if anybody is positioned to tell us we're in "The Heyday of Snobbery", surely it's you.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Can Money Really Burn A Hole In Your Pocket?

If your pocket is full of 50 euro notes, maybe so....

Trade Deficits and Health Care

In an unsigned editorial the New York Times opines,
The Democrats need to take a more pragmatic view of the lopsided trade situation. The surest way to make American businesses more competitive — and workers more secure — is to resolve the nation’s health care mess. And the government needs to update and strengthen the safety net for workers who are hurt by global competition.
One of the joys of the unsigned editorial is that the author can express half-baked ideas with absolute certainty. But what do those suggestions mean? How do you "strengthen the safety net for workers who are hurt by global competition"? Train experienced workers to gain entry level jobs at a fraction of their former salary? Extend unemployment benefits?

As for national health care, the last time the Democratic Party made that a priority it was, to put it mildly, unsuccessful. The problems of establishing universal health care have been discussed and debated countless times. It may well be that "resolving the nation's health care mess" will help keep U.S. plants open, help keep existing jobs in the U.S., and help attract new jobs which might otherwise have been created in foreign nations. But what solution do you choose? And how do you implement it?

I suspect that if the author had any solid ideas, they would have been shared - perhaps under a byline. As it stands, as is quite typical of unsigned editorials, it attempts to define the way the world should be then leave it to others to figure out how to make it happen.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

"Call Me A Democrat"

Apparently the benefits of retaining seniority exceed the allure of claiming to be an independent. It's probably the best political decision for everyone involved... politically speaking.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Krauthammer on Lieberman

Charles Krauthammer attempts to understate the relevance of this week's election, perhaps unaware of the implication of his own claims:
The Republicans had control but by very small majorities. In 2000 the presidential election was settled by a ridiculously small margin. And the Senate ended up deadlocked 50-50. All the changes since then have been minor. Until now.

* * *

The result is that both parties have moved to the right. The Republicans have shed the last vestiges of their centrist past, the Rockefeller Republicans. And the Democrats have widened their tent to bring in a new crop of blue-dog conservatives.
Unless he presupposes that the center has shifted along with the Republican party, assuming Krauthammer correct, a nation that was formerly split about 50:50 will continue to vote with a belief set that is now better aligned with the Democratic Party. This inference is also manifest in Krauthammer's claims about Joe Lieberman:
To muddy even more the supposed ideological significance of this election, consider who is the biggest winner of the night: Joe Lieberman. Just a few months ago he was scorned by his party and left for dead. Now he returns to the Senate as the Democrats' 51st seat -- and holder of the balance of power.
The same, of course, can be said for any senator among the 51 who comprise the Democratic majority. Lieberman's not even the only independent who will caucus with the Democrats. Apparently, among the 51, Krauthammer believes Lieberman to have the least loyalty to the Democratic Party and the greatest desire to demand tribute for his fickle commitment - is that truly what he believes? Further,
Lieberman won with a platform that did not trim or hedge about seeking victory in Iraq. And he did it despite having a Republican in the race who siphoned off 10 percent of the pro-war vote. All this in Connecticut, a very blue state.
Sure. And in a "red" state the Republican might have even been backed by his own party, which skews the significance of the outcome. But let's play it Krauthammer's way.

In 2000, Lieberman won reelection 63 - 34 against his Republican opponent. If it is reasonable to infer that the overwhelming majority of the 24% of Connecticut residents who did not vote Republican in 2006 chose Lieberman over Lamont, then almost half of the voters who chose Lieberman were Republican. If in fact, as he suggests, Lieberman is the big winner, Krauthammer should perhaps be acknowledging that a Democratic Party that shifts slightly to the right could dominate a Republican Party that has shifted even further to the Right.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

And About Those New Democratic Senators

I've seen a lot of scorn heaped upon Rahm Emanuel for his suggestion that the House keep its left wing in check during the next two years, and govern as centrist. (I'm lazy today - I haven't taken the time to look at his actual words, but that's how they seem to be presented). But I happen to think that he's right.

Those who see the new additions to the Democratic ranks, particularly in the Senate, as a source of possible discord and turmoil in the party? I hope that turns out to be wishful thinking. Because I see a real opportunity here for the Democratic Party to emulate Tony Blair's reshaping of the British Labor Party - ideally without also making the same mistakes as Blair - and shaking off some of the cobwebs that have a lot of voters still thinking of the Dems as a party of big, intrusive government, high taxes, welfare, and of having an anti-military attitude and being "weak on defense". I would like to see some of the paleoconservative principles which have been so clearly rejected by the Bush Administration brought into the Democratic Party, such that it becomes seen as the party of smaller government, responsible spending, personal responsibility (of a meaningful sort - a more libertarian approach to most Americans and, for those who need assistance, what Bush described as a "hand up, not a handout" before he decided he no longer needed to preface the word "conservative" with "compassionate"), and jobs.

This, of course, assumes the introduction of genuineness into the system - that the new majority party has sufficient members who are truly interested in bettering America as opposed to amassing wealth and power. On that front, though, it's hard to imagine that the Dems could be worse than the Republicans. At least, not for a few years. (Yes, I'm feeling cynical.)

The "Myth" Of Karl Rove

I've read a number of comments where people suggest that the outcome of the midterm election reveals that Karl Rove's plans and abilities were overrated. It's possible to take another interpretation - that his tactics were (and remain) extremely effective, but that he pushed too hard. If history is a guide, we can expect even more Rovian tactics in future elections, and anybody who wishes to win (locally or nationally) would be wise not to underestimate their effectiveness. Had the Republican Party not become overconfident after 9/11, and taken a more cautious approach to pushing the country to the right, I believe that they would still control the Senate, and quite possibly the House.

I do suspect that people tended to give Karl Rove too much credit for past election victories, but I think it's unquestionable that many are attributing to him too much fault for this loss.

Taking A Moment To Be A Bit Unfair....

Professor Bernstein, who spent a year collecting a paycheck from the University of Michigan Law School, bleats about UM's reaction to the Michigan proposal banning affirmative action:
President Coleman, in the midst of lengthy remarks expressing her dedication to "diversity," added, "Of course the University of Michigan will comply with the laws of the state." Her devotion to a cause she believes just is admirable, but I think it would have been appropriate for her to recognize, even if briefly, that out of a student body of 40,000, and an alumni body of hundred thousands, there are many thousands of people of good will who disagree. The actual remarks, however, suggest that the only good member of the Michigan community is someone who supports "diversity" policies.
It does? Well, it's pretty clear that Prof. Bernstein isn't in favor of "diversity" policies, but he's not really part of the Michigan community.

I'm assuming that he didn't have access to UM Law's admissions records, but still I have to ask: Was his experience with UM Law's minority students really so bad? (And where can I read him lament that his children will have an advantage getting into Yale, as the children of an alumnus?)

Affirmative action, at least as presently defined, has to end sometime - that is, at some point you have to recognize that it has passed its point of effectiveness or, if it is effective, that it is no longer necessary. I personally believe that many (perhaps most) affirmative action programs are deeply flawed as administered. Funny, though, I can't recall the last time I saw an opponent of affirmative action make a cogent case against the need for affirmative action, or even the manner of its administration. I can't recall the last time I heard an opponent argue for reform and improvement as opposed to abolition. To the extent that a plausible case can be made that affirmative action is no longer helping to achieve progress for targeted groups, I don't recall hearing that argued, either.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


With all of the accusations of unethical conduct circulating around "robocalls" - automated phone calls which play recorded messages to prospective voters - perhaps a good first step would be a simple change in how the sponsorship information is announced. If the sponsorship is announced up-front, it seems less likely that the candidate (or organizations supporting the candidate) will try to engage in dirty tricks. I believe this would simply involve applying existing FCC regulations to political calls - you know, the same laws which apply to everybody else. (Or do they apply, in which case these shenanigans are even more shameful.)

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Vanity, Thy Name Is.... Frum?

Also from the Vanity Fair article comes this David Frum quote,
"I always believed as a speechwriter that if you could persuade the president to commit himself to certain words, he would feel himself committed to the ideas that underlay those words. And the big shock to me has been that although the president said the words, he just did not absorb the ideas. And that is the root of, maybe, everything."
Funny, wasn't it Mr. Frum who used to brag about coining the term "Axis of Hatred", which ultimately became "Axis of Evil"? How did Bush not internalize that one? But really, c'mon.

Perhaps the next time he applies for a job, Mr. Frum should pay a bit more attention to the job title and job description.

If They Agree With Me, They Must Be Competent

In the Vanity Fair article on the neo-cons, which today seems to be a leading topic for discussion on political blogs, the neo-con cheerleaders of the Iraq war are wringing their hands at what has happened in Iraq, and blaming everybody except themselves for the Bush Administrations failures. Ken "Cakewalk" Adelman is shocked that those he had thought were competent proved incompetent:
"I just presumed that what I considered to be the most competent national-security team since Truman was indeed going to be competent. They turned out to be among the most incompetent teams in the post-war era. Not only did each of them, individually, have enormous flaws, but together they were deadly, dysfunctional."
This was a state secret before the war? I thought it was pretty obvious that the "team" at issue was limited in its competence, and was eager to shut out anybody who dared to suggest that they were about to head down a disastrous road. I suspect that Adelman viewed the pro-war leaders of the Bush Administration as competent because they found both a warm reception for his ideas and, ultimately, agreement with those ideas. And now the fact that it was anything but a "cakewalk" has Adelman declaring the Bush Administration incompetent... for implicitly agreeing with him.

Similarly, Richard Perle declines to accept any flaw in his ideology, or any responsibility for the implementation of a war he doggedly advocated:
"Huge mistakes were made, and I want to be very clear on this: They were not made by neoconservatives, who had almost no voice in what happened, and certainly almost no voice in what happened after the downfall of the regime in Baghdad. I'm getting damn tired of being described as an architect of the war. I was in favor of bringing down Saddam. Nobody said, 'Go design the campaign to do that.' I had no responsibility for that."
Ah yes, how clearly I recall him denouncing the Bush Administration's post-war plans, immediately after the invasion, as a recipe for disaster. Why, here he is, speaking of how Iraq could not possibly be occupied and transformed with such low numbers of troops:
Forget the 250,000 figure, Perle said: "The Army guys don't know anything. They said we needed 500,000 troops in 1991 [for the Gulf War]. Did we need that many to win? No."

What's the Perle Plan? I asked.

"Forty thousand troops." he said.

To take Baghdad? Nah, he replied. To take control of the north and the south, particularly the north, where the oil fields are. Cut off Saddam's oil, make him a pauper, that should do the trick.

"We don't need anyone else," he said, in a distinctly imperial fashion.
Er... Oops? Can you even begin to imagine the scope of the catastrophe had Perle's war plan in fact been followed? That is, had the "Army guys" who "don't know anything" not worked so hard, even against their career interests, to ensure that Perle's plan was not followed?

Adelman's awakening is something else:
And if he, too, had his time over, Adelman says, "I would write an article that would be skeptical over whether there would be a performance that would be good enough to implement our policy. The policy can be absolutely right, and noble, beneficial, but if you can't execute it, it's useless, just useless. I guess that's what I would have said: that Bush's arguments are absolutely right, but you know what, you just have to put them in the drawer marked can't do. And that's very different from let's go."
The best analogy I have heard for these guys, which I first heard before the invasion even occurred, depicts them as having the mindset that wars are like video games, and when things go wrong you can just press the "reset" button and make your mistakes go away. Adelman seems to fall into that category, and Perle seems to have learned everything he knows about warfare from a "Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers" episode. It took Adelman this many years to realize what many others saw as obvious at the outset, and the neo-cons were more than happy to pour scorn and derision on these skeptics. And now we are assured, their ideology remains perfect - they are but victims.

How fortunuate - even as I type this, my wife is making soup. When it is done, I shall shed some bitter tears into my bowl for those poor, misunderstood neo-cons.