Friday, September 29, 2006

Peter MacKay: Whiny Asshat

Peter MacKay reacted with "volcanic fury" when Belinda Stronach revealed she was defecting to the Liberal cabinet, a new book claims.

During talks that lasted into the early hours of the morning, MacKay begged Stronach not to leave him, warning her defection would "destroy the Conservative Party."
Petey, of course, meant it would destroy the Conservative party of his heart.

Seriously, what a pantywaist. Belinda, by Don Martin's account, at least tried to deal with it maturely:
"Maybe I was naïve in some ways," she told the author. "I still think it's possible to see someone in an opposite party. Clearly he didn't agree. I would've liked another day to talk him through it."...

The biography says MacKay proceeded to treat Stronach to "snide comments, nasty e-mails and furious glares across the Commons aisle."...As she cast a key budget vote that kept the Liberals in power, the book says, MacKay "deliberately and defiantly" waved his tie, which she had given him just a few weeks earlier.
Ah yes, nothing says "fuck you, bitch!" like prominently displaying your ex's generosity.

This isn't the first report I've heard of MacKay being an ass about Belinda, but it is the most authoritative. Seriously, dude, get over it. Man up.

What I find truly amusing is the above-cited reference to destroying "the Conservative Party". This might be the only time in history that I had more confidence in Stephen Harper's leadership than Peter MacKay. Never, for a second, did I believe that Belinda's departure would be a long-term blow to the Conservatives, for the very same reason Belinda left the party - she wasn't in the end, a very good Conservative, nor was she comfortable in the Party.

I'll say one last thing: This whiny toad of a man is now our foreign minister. God help us when Condi has to break any bad news. There aren't enough potato patches in the world...

From the mailbag

Adam sends this video. And Youtube continues to earn it's keep.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Santayana is overrated

After all, it's not like there's any relevance to this, from Thucydides:
To fit in with the change of events, words, too, had to change their usual meanings. What used to be described as a thoughtless act of aggression was now regarded as the courage one would expect to find in a party member; to think of the future and wait was merely another way of saying one was a coward; any idea of moderation was just an attempt to disguise one's unmanly character; ability to understand a question from all sides meant that one was totally unfitted for action. Fanatical enthusiasm was the mark of a real man, and to plot against an enemy behind his back was perfectly legitimate self-defence .
via Henry at Crooked Timber, who follows with:
One of the most deeply weird features of modern political discourse is how some conservative supporters of the Iraq war and associated numbskulls such as Dan Simmons cite Thucydides in support of their claims that we're engaged in an epochal clash of civilizations where moderation amounts to appeasement of an enemy that will enslave us all if we don't decimate em....I simply don't see how one can read Thucydides without coming away with some quite emphatic lessons about the long term costs of imperial arrogance towards one's political allies, how unnecessary military adventures turn into disasters... Not to mention Thucydides' depiction of the dangers of cheap jingoism and pro-war demagoguery at home...
I heartily agree. One of my very first posts at this blog was about how idiotic Nick Kristof's reading of the Peloponnesian War was. One of the things that mystifies me is the fetishization of Athens in the conflict. First of all, let's be clear: Athens bears less resemblance to modern democracies than the Confederate States of America. There's less difference between Athens and Sparta of 400BC than, in many ways, China and America today. To say - using modern standards like "freedom" and "democracy" that Athens is clearly the good guy is silly. Furthermore, it's a mystery to me how you can read what Athens actually did and have any respect for their moral authority - or competence - whatsoever. Not only was Pericles about as two-faced a ruler as any you'll find today, but he came up with a pretty legendarily bad war-fighting strategy.

Pericles' brain dropping was simple - surround Athens and its port with walls, guaranteeing Athens' access to grain shipments from abroad while protecting the city from the Spartans, who in a show of incredibly bad form kept invading the Athenian countryside every spring. The Periclean strategy effectively saw Athens as an island, impervious to invasion, whose invincible fleet would both keep the colonies in line and protect the economic lifeline of the Empire. It was, in short, almost the exact same strategy the British pursued two thousand years later. But while the British came to depend on the Americans during their fight with the Germans, the Athenians had the misfortune of having alienated the wealthy power across the sea - the Persians eventually backed the Spartans, who finally built a navy skilled enough to destroy Athens'. Oops.

What was really lacking in Pericles' plan was some way of winning the war against Sparta. Pericles had a plan for survival, he did not have a plan for victory. I'm not sure that Athens could have successfully invaded Sparta or anything like that - though Athenian armies did occasionally surprise the Spartans - but Athens had no compulsive power over Sparta throughout the war. Sparta was more-or-less autarkic, so Athens couldn't choke off their economy, couldn't do much against their shipping, and the only attempt to do so - the campaign in Syracuse - turned out to be a disaster. Not all of this was Pericles' fault - he died early in the war - but Athens never came up with a way to force a change in Sparta's demands, and was unwilling to accede. So war kept going until Athens was destroyed.

Lesson? If you lack the ability to compel your enemies to stop fighting, you better be willing to negotiate with them. Not that that's relevant today, either.

No filibuster

Apparently, of the 44 Democratic Senators (and one independent, Jeffords), fewer than 41 were willing to filibuster an obscene assault on the Constitution.

Disgusting. For that, they want your vote, America.

Hillary Clinton speaks

To the Senate, about Bush's torture bill. Atrios has the full text:
As David Hackett Fischer describes in his Pulitzer Prize winning book, "Washington's Crossing," thousands of American prisoners of war were "treated with extreme cruelty by British captors." There are accounts of injured soldiers who surrendered being murdered instead of quartered. Countless Americans dying in prison hulks in New York harbor. Starvation and other acts of inhumanity perpetrated against Americans confined to churches in New York City.

The light of our ideals shone dimly in those early dark days, years from an end to the conflict, years before our improbable triumph and the birth of our democracy. General Washington wasn't that far from where the Continental Congress had met and signed the Declaration of Independence. But it's easy to imagine how far that must have seemed. General Washington announced a decision unique in human history, sending the following order for handling prisoners: "Treat them with humanity, and let them have no reason to complain of our Copying the brutal example of the British Army in their Treatment of our unfortunate brethren."
It's obvious, but worth repeating: in a time when America actually was in existential danger, when America's enemies actually were trying to erase their way of life, when America's enemies actually did hate them for the freedoms they wanted, American soldiers still obeyed the rule of law.

What's the excuse today?

So America tortures in the open now. Jefferson would be so proud.

Bush's I-wanna-torture-you-can't-stop-me bill looks like it's going to pass, unless the Democrats filibuster it (har.)

Look, I'm not naive. America has, well before the war on terror, played fast and loose with human rights. These are the kinds of things global powers do. But beginning with Bush, America has actively disdained the idea of universal human rights. And now, America is explicitly abandoning the idea that all people have inalienable civil rights. Enemy combatants - including US citizens, on US soil - will have the right to a fair trial before a jury of their peers only if the President says they can.

A while back, I wrote that too many people refuse to believe in any kind of Imperialism that doesn't manifest itself as jackbooted thugs serving Emperor Palpatine or Darth Vader. Similarly, I think too many people believe that authoritarian states only exist outside of the law. Anyone who's read The Gulag Archipelago knows that nothing could be further from the truth - Stalin enacted all kinds of glorious protections for the accused, and the Communist countries of the world have always been good at writing floridly about all the wonders their constitutions provide. It is, of course, all a lie.

Dictatorships don't come to democratic countries outside of constitutional processes - instead, they abuse the constitution until it becomes meaningless. Mussolini was appointed by the King, Hitler won an election and was named Chancellor, etc. And yes, he was given his emergency powers by an elected assembly of the German parliament, with the support of religious conservatives.

I've said over and over, Nazi comparisons are tiresome and inaccurate. But there are few examples that so embody the hollowness of optimism in legalistic pretense. The point is that the law is no protection if the power of the law - and the power to escape the law - is put in the hands of one man. That's what this law has done, and it makes me incredibly sad to see America come to this place. America is not a fascist state, and Bush is not Hitler. He doesn't (yet) have the power to shut down political parties, smash presses, and I still have some - maybe too much - hope in the power of Congress, the Supreme Court, and the coming elections.

But that, in some ways, is the point - in another age, it would be inconceivable that an American President would push things so far, that he would be so beyond reason, that he would be so in love with his own power and sadism, that we had to rely on the specter of impeachment or the Bench to stop him. It's a frightening world, more so than I ever expected.

There was a time when Americans said that liberty was worth dying for, and that nothing - no threat from abroad or within - could justify taking liberty away from a free people. They said that free men and women wouldn't allow their liberties to be taken by a conqueror or an elected tyrant. I wonder what happened to those people.

Even the Clerics are losing control in Iraq

...and the Americans think they can keep control?
BAGHDAD, Sept. 27 — The radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr has lost control of portions of his Mahdi Army militia that are splintering off into freelance death squads and criminal gangs, a senior coalition intelligence official said Wednesday....

But as Mr. Sadr has taken a more active role in the government, as many as a third of his militiamen have grown frustrated with the constraints of compromise and have broken off, often selling their services to the highest bidders, said the official, who spoke to reporters in Baghdad on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to speak publicly on intelligence issues.
Okay, this is getting truly insane. We've long since past the point of asking if America will leave Iraq, and we're rapidly approaching the answer to when - "soon." The only question left is "in what way - driving out in Abrams and Bradleys armored vehicles, or running out on foot?"

It's worth repeating that the Americans did a lot, in the first year of the occupation, to drive moderate Shia in to the arms of the Sadrists by refusing to talk with Sistani, and postponing the elections for as long as possible. Exactly how many times does Jay Garner have to say he was fired for proposing early elections for Americans to understand how bad they look?

Woodward's hawking a new book

Except this time, I might actually read it:
According to Woodward, insurgent attacks against coalition troops occur, on average, every 15 minutes, a shocking fact the administration has kept secret. "It’s getting to the point now where there are eight-, nine-hundred attacks a week. That's more than 100 a day. That is four an hour attacking our forces," says Woodward.

The situation is getting much worse, says Woodward, despite what the White House and the Pentagon are saying in public. "The truth is that the assessment by intelligence experts is that next year, 2007, is going to get worse and, in public, you have the president and you have the Pentagon [saying], 'Oh, no, things are going to get better,'" he tells Wallace. "Now there’s public, and then there’s private. But what did they do with the private? They stamp it secret. No one is supposed to know," says Woodward.
And it looks like the man who gives Realism a bad name is popping up his head again:
Woodward also reports that the president and vice president often meet with Henry Kissinger, who was President Richard Nixon’s secretary of state, as an adviser. Says Woodward, "Now what’s Kissinger’s advice? In Iraq, he declared very simply, ‘Victory is the only meaningful exit strategy.'" Woodward adds. "This is so fascinating. Kissinger’s fighting the Vietnam War again because, in his view, the problem in Vietnam was we lost our will."
I hope they correct that before his book goes to print, because Woodward's wrong: Kissinger isn't fighting the Vietnam War again, he's losing the Vietnam war again. And he's backing an increasingly authoritarian, paranoid President with a history of drug abuse and a fetish for shredding the Constitution. Just like old times for ol' Hank, I'm sure.

At least we now know that Kissinger, like so many psychopaths, subscribes to the Green Lantern theory of international politics. Oh, and once again, in case you began to doubt it for even a minute, Bush is insane:
President Bush is absolutely certain that he has the U.S. and Iraq on the right course, says Woodward. So certain is the president on this matter, Woodward says, that when Mr. Bush had key Republicans to the White House to discuss Iraq, he told them, "I will not withdraw, even if Laura and Barney are the only ones supporting me."
It's interesting to me that Woodward's finally come around. After writing two books that were so generous and loving to the Bush Administration that they should have been confined to the gay marriages Bush won't allow, Woodward has finally seen the light. Just a hunch: seeing himself on the same side as Henry Kissinger was just a bit too much for Woody. Bob wouldn't be the first guy to wake up one morning, realize who he'd spent the night with, and run screaming for the door.

Now, cue all the right-wingers who ignore the past five years of his writing and defense of the White House to declare Woodward an enemy combatant.

A personal request

Something some readers might not know about me: The other half of my degree - the non-Political Science half - is in Mass Communications. Specifically, I spent most of my M.Comm time at University studying the economics of mass media, and the structure of the communications industry. I did almost no theoretical work, because I find Communications theory to be about as boring as any discipline invented by man. (Marshall McLuhan? Gag me with a spoon.)

Yet, whenever I write about the evils of current copyright law, inevitably someone assumes I'm just some ignorant guy in his basement who wants shit for free and doesn't understand how things work. It doesn't occur to people that a) I understand the costs of producing media quite well, thank you, or b) that I generally know what I'm talking about. I think I have a pretty consistent history on this blog of admitting a) when I don't know something, or b) when I turn out wrong.

Please, I welcome disagreement. I welcome debate. I don't assume everyone has a detailed knowledge of my academic history, but that's not required to address my arguments on their merits.

That is all.

The film industry hates you, and everyone you know, and they hope you die in a fire

Seriously. Movie labels - what dicks.
The key issue is pricing. Apple wanted all movies to sell for $9.99, just as it pressed for all music singles to be sold for 99 cents. The studios would not stand for that, though, because they sell DVDs for a lot more than that... So Jobs compromised just a bit...

The studios still hate that, because they think digital movie downloads should be priced higher than physical DVDs, even though there are no physical production, distribution or inventory costs. They should cost more, the reasoning goes, because of the added convenience to consumers.
The cost of downloaded movies, while not exactly zero, is pretty damn close. In any case, it's orders of magnitude lower than DVDs, which themselves have production costs lower than VHS. (The "cost" for the bandwidth and server space for a DVD-quality movie is, for the movie label, on the order of pennies, not dollars.)

Despite this - and despite the fact that the labels stand to capture more profits, per-film-sold, through downloads - they still want to rob you blind. Nice. Just to be clear, a new release DVD usually runs about $25, and the film studios want to charge you more than that - so you could be paying more than triple what Jobs is suggesting for a movie, when the product costs are less than 5% of the physical variety. These people have no shame.

This is the fundamental problem with copyright today - in place after place, it isn't serving it's explicit purpose. The whole point of intellectual property is to encourage invention and innovation, and here we've got a classic example of copyright-holders doing their level best to hurt a business innovation by pricing it out of the market. If movie execs were capable of anything resembling collective action, we'd actually be in trouble. As it is, we'll just be paying too much for movies.

Anyway, once Jobs gets this going - and I have no doubt he will, despite movie label's truculence - it will be just another blow against the movie theater industry. Good riddance.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

One Degree

"Further global warming of 1 °C defines a critical threshold. Beyond that we will likely see changes that make Earth a different planet than the one we know."...

Earth is already as warm as at any time in the last 10,000 years, and is within 1 °C of being its hottest for a million years, says Hansen's team. Another decade of business-as-usual carbon emissions will probably make it too late to prevent the ecosystems of the north from triggering runaway climate change, the study concludes.
The linked article is actually a rather long - and depressing - summary of all the climate announcements lately. Not happy reading, by any stretch.

Leopards don't change their spots

So the two biggest terrorist attacks on the US, ever, were the September 11th, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, and the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995. They were executed, respectively, by the one of the worst forms of religious conservatives (violent Salafi Muslims) and a paranoid far-right conspiracy nut who quoted lovingly from the racist screed, The Turner Diaries. So who is the CIA worried about in the wake of Iraq?
Anti-US and anti-globalization sentiment is on the rise and fueling other radical ideologies. This could prompt some leftist, nationalist, or separatist groups to adopt terrorist methods to attack US interests. The radicalization process is occurring more quickly, more widely, and more anonymously in the Internet age, raising the likelihood of surprise attacks by unknown groups whose members and supporters may be difficult to pinpoint.
Glenn Greenwald is worried that this means the Bush Administration will now use its terror powers against it's political enemies. Two things: 1) Don't kid yourself. Bush has been abusing the civil rights of various groups for years, if he's been breathing oxygen. This is just a certainty. The question is whether he'll start dragging them off to be tortured in the middle of the night. 2) No, I don't think so (yet.) Rather, the throwaway line about the "left" and "anti-globalization" is probably nothing more than the US intelligence and law enforcement's institutional memory getting in the way of rational thought.

These institutions spent decades disrupting and destroying every organized group across the world that organized against American gun-to-the-temple capitalism. Whether they were unions, churches, or national governments, the CIA, FBI, Department of Defense, and every other constituent of the American security apparatus - the same people who wrote this NIE - were there to do their damndest to make sure it never got anywhere. The old saying that, back in the day, the bullets went from right to left, isn't a joke.

So if you ask them, on any given day, who the threat to American power is, the default setting is "Communists!" It really doesn't matter that the threat of Third World Socialism was probably never serious, or that the threat of Second World Socialism was vastly overstated for the last decade of it's existence. These losers still jump at dark people shadows.

Update: This should be the silver bullet for the idiotic idea that somehow, the CIA or the FBI or - for God's sake! - the Pentagon are part of the reality-based community. You know, the left.

I want America to lose in Iraq

Matthew Yglesias:
I'm not going to deny that David Ignatius makes a legitimate point or two here, but what's the deal with "Some extreme war critics are so angry at Bush they seem almost eager for America to lose, to prove a political point." That's a serious charge. Does Ignatius have evidence for it? No. Does he cite any examples? No. Does he name any names? No. I find it extremely frustrating that you're allowed to toss off this kind of liberal-bashing without providing any backing.
Well, let me volunteer one name and example: Me. I want America to lose in Iraq, as quickly as possible.

I've said before, over and over (ad nauseam for my readers, I'm sure) that the only option left for America is withdrawal from Iraq. Bush says this would be perceived as a victory for the jihadists and a defeat for the Americans. And - in this one instance - George W. Bush is probably right. What's more, withdrawal won't merely be perceived as a defeat for the United States, it will actually be a defeat for the United States. A large, oil-producing country will all but certainly be convulsed in a bloody civil war. That's a defeat for the US, right there. Even worse, the likely victors from that civil war are likely to align with Iran, a country the United States has made in to an adversary. Defeat two. Finally, unless the central government of Iraq is much more powerful than I believe is likely, you've got the prospect of terrorists launching attacks against Turkey, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. Defeat three.

I don't want all or any of these things to happen, but at this point, the United States can do nothing to avoid its eventual departure from Iraq. The only thing it can do by staying - and this has been true for years now - is get more US troops killed, and far, far more Iraqis killed. So yes, America needs to leave Iraq, be defeated in the region, and as soon as possible.

Am I trying to prove a political point, as David Ignatius argues? Well, the biggest point I can make is that the only way for America to have not been defeated in Iraq was not to go to war in Iraq. (Alternate thesis: war by competents would have made "not-defeat" less unlikely, but it's a thin reed.) As that Matthew Broderick movie taught us, in some games the only way to win is not to play at all.

Threefer from Kevin Drum

Last one first: Three separate Iraqi polls show that no less than 56% of Iraqis, and as much as 80%, want the Americans to leave, immediately. The only major exception is the Kurds, for obvious and understandable reasons - approx. 6% of Kurds want the US gone now, while 60% say either wait until the violence stops, or wait until the government asks them to leave. Unsaid is which government the Kurds are referring to - Iraq, or Kurdistan. Especially weird, however, is that 34% of Kurds have no answer. That just puzzles me.

It seems the groundwork could be laid for an American withdrawal north to Kurdistan, except that the only thing Iraqi Sunni and Shia agree on at this point is that there can be no independent Kurdistan. Hell, Iran, Turkey, and Syria all agree too, so any attempt to keep a permanent American force in the region is doomed.

Fortunately, the US Congress looks to be passing a law banning permanent bases in Iraq. Given Bush's long record of respect for the statutes passed by the Congress of the United States, I'm sure this will solve everything.

What should Democrats do at this point to win in Iraq? The Drumstir sez:
First, that perhaps we should have kept our focus on Afghanistan and stayed out of Iraq altogether. Then, once we were there, liberal thinkers suggested more troops, dialogue with Iran, a multilateral council to accelerate regional investment in Iraq's progress, a variety of counterinsurgency strategies, a variety of partition plans, more serious engagement in Israeli-Palestinian talks (Tony Blair practically begged for this), and on and on. Every single one of these suggestions was ignored.

Would they have made any difference? Who knows. But to blame Democrats now for not being aggressive enough in trying to trisect this angle is like blaming Gerald Ford for losing Vietnam. George Bush fought this war precisely the way he wanted, with precisely the troops he wanted, and with every single penny he asked for. He has kept Don Rumsfeld in charge despite abundant evidence that he doesn't know how to win a war like this. He has mocked liberals and the media at every turn when they suggested we might need a different approach. The result has been a disaster with no evident solution left.

It's one thing to ask for "debate," but it's quite another to ask for a pony that doesn't exist anymore and to blame Democrats when they're unable to produce yet another one after three years of trying. That makes no sense.

Americans (and Canadians) are the most fortunate people on the planet

Two LGM posts in a row - I need to do my own work, but I'm lazy. Rob puts up this rather mind-blowing statistic:
The supposed "dovishness" of France is a topic I invariably mention in lecture, usually while citing the following statistic:

French military deaths, August 1914-November 1918: 1,375,800

US military deaths, April 1775-present: 1,012,000
The number of Canadian dead in all of WWI and WWII is a bit over 100,000. I'd have to check my numbers, but I think there are single weeks where the Soviets lost more souls fighting the Nazis.

We have to fight the Islamonazis in Dieppe...

World War II comparisons have, officially, jumped the shark. Via Rob at LGM, Bob Bergen of the CDFAI writes (PDF):
The left wing in Canada has been doing its level best to equate Canadian foreign and defence policy under Prime Minister Stephen Harper with American President George Bush for some time now. But a new study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) making headlines across Canada has broken shameless new ground implying that Canadian troops in Afghanistan are little more cannon fodder.
I haven't commented on the CCPA's report, largely because Skippy did a far better job than I could hope to here. But the short version is that the CCPA isn't looking at a number of factors, and their drawing much larger conclusions than their research can bear.

None of this is to say that our troops aren't, in fact, being used as cannon fodder - only that it hasn't been proved yet. When the Canadians are fighting in large numbers with the British and Americans, I always get nervous. Why, you ask? Well, Back to Bob Bergen here, who wins the award for most useless argument-by-analogy of the year:
Just one historical will demonstrate what is wrong with such an analysis. On August 19, 1942, 4,963 Canadians were sent to attack the beach at Dieppe, France, in the first major Canadian action of the Second World War. Of them, 907 were killed and 1,946 remained hostage. To compare that death rate on the very worst day of the war to American casualties or to calculate that, based on that experience, Canada would lose an extrapolated number of soldiers over the wars duration if the rate were to remain unchanged would be pure folly.
Because if you really want to demonstrate how Canadian troops aren't being used as cannon fodder, and want to put people's minds at ease, you bring up Dieppe. Good work, everybody, we can all go home.

Except for this: Bergen's argument is wrong, even in it's own terms. Nobody in August of 1942 (except maybe the Soviets) looked at the numbers from Dieppe and said "well, that worked out swimmingly, let's make sure to do it all exactly the same way when Operation Overlord kicks off." Canadian casualties were rightly seen as far too high, even if the mission had succeeded, and the Allies changed their plans. They retrained their troops, and made sure they were better equipped. They worked harder to coordinate artillery firing with targets on the beach. In short, the Allies did a number of things in planning and training for the next attack on the Continent exactly because they were worried about what would happen if casualties stayed the same.

Far from "sheer folly", I imagine some allied planner was worried about exactly what would happen if Canadian casualties were going to be the norm for the invasion of Europe. He would have been wrong in the factual sense, but he would have been right to worry about exactly that. Indeed, worrying about it probably kept it from happening.

Is this relevant to Canada in Afghanistan? Apart from any ideas of Canadians being used as cannon fodder, there's a simple question to ask, and it's the same one Allied planners answered in the negative after Dieppe: Is this sustainable? If we can continue our mission in Afghanistan with these levels of casualties and reach our objectives (what are they again?) then arguably the CCPA report is irrelevant. However - and details aside, this is an argument the CCPA report can contribute to - if we're on the wrong path in Afghanistan, or if our casualties are unsustainable, then we really need to start talking about different methods.

A patriotic side note: In Guns of Normandy, a fantastic book about Canadian artillery in WWII, the author recounts how, in the weeks after D-Day, the Canadian Army made rapid progress in France after an initial delay when the Canadians - unlike the other Allied armies - went up against the fanatical Waffen SS. (British and American histories tend to discount the Canadians as slow-movers, neglecting the fact that the Canadians were going up against far more determined enemies. John Keegan, on the other hand, has been clear, loud, and repetitive in his praise for the Canadians, so I think we win.) During the effort to destroy the German 7th Army in Falaise, the Canadians had laid down such massive artillery barrages that captured Germans demanded to see this automatic artillery they were certain the Canadians must have.

Anyway, after the 7th was driven out of Falaise (with 50-60,000 Germans captured, wounded or killed) the Canadians headed back to Dieppe with a purpose - the liberation of the northern French ports. The word must have gotten out to the Germans, because hours before the Canadian Army was about to arrive, the German soldiers abandoned their positions and retreated. On September 1, 1944, the Canadian Army re-entered Dieppe.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Who said it, cont.

Who said this?
As far as [X] being a great military strategist, he is neither a strategist, nor is he schooled in the operational arts, nor is he a tactician, nor is he a general, nor is he a soldier. Other than that, he's a great military man. I want you to know that.
And about whom? No cheating!

I only mention it because the generals who testified yesterday reminded me of it with their line-by-line destruction of Rumsfeld.

Answer here.

The funniest thing I've read in a long time

The Editors. Go read. Now. NOW.

This isn't a dilemma, actually

Laura Rozen, at Tapped, writes:
A contact familiar with the April NIE on terrorism says that buried in the discussion of the report so far is this dilemma: “The report notes that ‘victory’ in Iraq would be a blow to the jihadists, and that failure (especially if it led to the establishment of an al-Qaeda sanctuary or if veteran foreign jihadists dispersed out of Iraq to engage in terrorism in other parts of the world) would also be very bad. Thus, the report highlights the essential dilemma Iraq poses for the war on terror: staying fuels the al-Qaeda-inspired movement, creating a net increase in the terrorist threat; while leaving Iraq in chaos would also worsen the threat. The Democrats tend to focus on the first part of the dilemma; the administration focuses on the second part. They are both right (and wrong) -- and the debate would be greatly served by focusing on the dilemma itself.”
This is only a "dilemma" if you accept that both sides have an equal chance of coming true. That is, for this to be a dilemma victory or defeat in Iraq would both need to be equally likely. Regular readers will not be surprised to learn that I don't believe this is the case. Because "victory" in Iraq is almost out of the question at this point, the only relevant issue is what use does keeping Americans in Iraq serve? The answer, according to the NIE, is creating more terrorists with a side helping of American dead.

Leaving Iraq probably will be a disaster. But it's the only option left.

Realism in the US

Nick Gvosdev has two excellent posts at his blog: One, mocking the arrogance of the statement that America is the "sole superpower":
We are facing insurgencies in two Third World states; we aren't fighting land wars with major powers.... Yes, the situation in Iraq has worsened. It is not because another great power has intervened a la the PRC in Korea.
An invincible superpower should, as Gvosdev has said before, be able to field more troops than Mussolini did in the mid-1930s.

The second one is more interesting, as it links to this article in the National Journal article about realists in the US today. Not only is it a good distillation of the basics of realism - who are the major realist thinkers, what do they believe, why - but it also makes a number of important points. In no particular order:

-Realism does have a predictive value that the liberal theories of international relations have not yet demonstrated. Realists were generally the academics making the argument that Iraq was not in America's best interests, that the consequences would be more terrorism and a stronger Iran, and the sectarian violence would overwhelm the US Army. You didn't have to be a realist to make those arguments, but they are arguments based in realist theory. (This isn't to say the realists get everything right, but they do pretty well for a social science.)

-America's long-term plans in the Middle East almost certainly lie with a withdrawal from Iraq and an "over the horizon" presence that doesn't rely on an armed presence in the Muslim world.

-However, America's global plans still - counter to realist thinking - embrace what the article calls the "primacy path", or what Gwynne Dyer has called the plan for America to run the world, forever. Realists see this as foolhardy:
In Washington, he told me, there is close to a bipartisan consensus on "the primacy path" for 21st-century America -- the notion "that the U.S. should be the world's manager of security issues." What's missing, he said, from this rote formulation of U.S. responsibilities -- Madeleine Albright, a secretary of State in the Clinton administration, once called the U.S. "the indispensable nation" -- is an understanding that no great power will ever be perceived by lesser ones as a disinterested "manager" of global affairs. And so, "the harder we push, the harder they push back. The trick should be to make the United States less present in the lives of other countries," Posen said.
The whole article is excellent, briefly distilling everything I learned about realism during one summer course at University. But for you, it's free. No fair!

What part of Matthew 25:40 didn't you understand?

Too early in the morning for this:
I was interested to find that the Rev. Louis Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition is so in favor of torture he told McCain that the senator either supports the torture bill or he can forget about the evangelical Christian vote. I'd like to see an evangelical vote on that one.
Yes, I'm relatively certain Jesus would have tortured the shit out of the Romans. I'm pretty sure it's there in the Bible. For example:
But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; (Luke 6:28-31)
Oops. That didn't say what I thought it would. "Pray for them that despitefully use you"? Does anyone else think Jesus would be a member of the ACLU? But I'm certain we can at least expect Jesus to get a good hate on for the Romans:
The centurion said in reply, "Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed. For I too am a person subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me. And I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes; and to another, 'Come here,' and he comes; and to my slave, 'Do this,' and he does it." When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, "Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith." (Matthew 8:8-10)
So Jesus praised a member of the military that would eventually torture and kill him. That wasn't what I was looking for, either. I'm sure this next one will be it. Let's look at what one of the Apostles said:
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:19-20)
Hmm. No luck there. You'd think that the overwhelming message of Christ's gospel is one of mercy, forgiveness, and love instead of hate. Indeed, Jesus' message is that love, forgiveness, and mercy are more powerful than hate.

But don't worry - I'm sure all the pro-torture Christians that the "Reverend" Sheldon represents needn't worry - after all, it's not like the Bible is explicit that you have to follow Jesus to get in to heaven, right?
"I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on, you know him, and have seen him." (John 14:6-7)
Well, okay, but maybe St. Peter will make an exception - after all, it's not like everyone reads every part of the Bible, right?
If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin; but as it is they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me also hates my Father. (John 15:22-23)
Hm. If I were a Christian who supported Bush at this point, I'm pretty sure I'd be worried - like Hugo Chavez - about getting too familiar with the smell of burning sulphur in the near future.

Actually, I'm being kinder to these people than they deserve. When Jesus spoke of turning the other cheek, he was talking about a person who had already been struck and seen their attacker - that is, forgiving the unmistakably guilty. The people who support Bush's doctrine of torture support the unlimited power of the executive, without any meaningful Congressional or Judicial oversight. This means they not only support the torture of the guilty - enough, by their own Book, to condemn them for eternity - but flowing from logical consequences, they support the torture of the innocent. If you need a refresher course on how unlimited state power leads to human rights abuse, just read a damn history book, okay?

As for these people - these alleged "Christians" who worship cruelty and hate - I feel bad for having used the Gospels against them. Not for their sake, but for the sake of the Word. To bring Jesus in to an argument about torture, terrorism, Bush, or any of the insane machinations of this White House pollutes the message of a Father's love. These people are beneath Jesus' dignity, and beyond his help. They are so deep in the hole that the light can't reach them anymore*.

Tragically for them, they're destined to go deeper still, and they don't even realize it.

*Christ would disagree with me on that point, but he always was an optimist, after all.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Who said it?

I am a West Point graduate, the son and son-in-law of veteran career soldiers, a two-time combat veteran with extensive service in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Iraq, and a life-long Republican. Bottom line, our nation is in peril, our Department of Defense's leadership is extraordinarily bad, and our Congress is only today, more than five years into this war, beginning to exercise its oversight responsibilities.
Answer here:

Maj. Gen. John Batiste, US Army (retired), my new hero. Full transcript and video here.

Update: Oh, it gets better. From later in the speech:
What do we do now? We are where we are, plagued by the mistakes of the past. Thankfully, we are Americans and with the right leadership, we can do anything. First, the American people need to take charge through their elected officials. Secretary Rumsfeld and the Administration are fighting a war in secret that threatens our democratic values. This needs to stop right now, today. Second, we must replace Secretary Rumsfeld and his entire inner circle.
Interestingly, Batiste seems to be calling for a true war mobilization, with rationing and a major increase in ground forces. Seeing as I oppose the war in the first place, it's not a path I approve of. But it at least has the virtue of honesty and coherency, a nice contrast with Bush's record of incoherent mendacity.

Security Moms longer dumb as a box of hammers, apparently.

You know the type - American women who would otherwise have voted Democratic, but apparently voted for Bush in 2002 and 2004 because of his commitment to putting young men and women in dangerous places with lots of well-armed brown people. Because they were "worried about terrorism."

I missed this a few weeks ago, but apparently these legendarily-stupid women are turning around.

Now, if we can just move the even-more-legendarily-stupid men, we might just survive.

Your data doesn't say what you think it does

via The Prairie Wrangler, the CD Howe institute has released a report (PDF link here) claiming that Canada has among the highest tax rates on investment in the world.

First off, this is a red herring. Of course Canada has among the highest rates of taxation in the world. The Canadian government does a lot of things, and the biggest-ticket items - health insurance, national defense, regional development - are things that the Canadian people overwhelmingly want the government to do. Indeed, Canadians regularly say they want more spending on defense and health care, as well as a bunch of other stuff besides. So the fact that Canadians pay higher taxes than Botswana doesn't tell us much, except possibly that Botswanans are poorly-served by their government.

Secondly, the CD Howe Institute doesn't even get the conclusions to it's own data right. Canadians have one of the highest standards of living in the world, and our taxes are already lower than Germany or the United States according to the CDHI's own data. In fact, if you look at the G8 nations, Canada's taxes on investment are decidedly moderate - not as high as some, lower than others. A fair description would be that Canada's investment taxes are on the high end of the range for the most developed countries, though by no means the highest.

What headline do you think the CDHI picked for it's news release?
The 2006 Tax Competitiveness Report scores 81 developed and developing countries according to their tax treatment of business investment, and finds that highly taxed Canada ranks a disappointing 8th...
but of course, to make this press release truly absurd, you need to read the rest of the sentence:
- the investment-hostile Republic of Congo ranks first.
Well, thank God for the Howe. How else would Canadians know how lucky they are not to live in the Congo?
Republic of Congo Per Capita GDP: $1,300
Canada Per Capita GDP: $34,000
Maybe something like that?

It would be nice if the people who think tax cuts solve everything (this category does not include Prairie Wrangler, btw) would ever think about how silly they look before they say silly things.

When people other than me are right, I get frustrated

Robert at LGM reads the same news I did, except he wrote an interesting, intelligent blog post about it. Wonder why he gets more traffic than I do?
When facing a profound disadvantage in one area or another of military capability, states often fall victim to the temptation to narrow the inequality through mirroring procurement decisions. For example, the US and the USSR most often responded to each others developments in military science by creating capabilities that mirrored their opponent....

There is certainly a sociological imperative to engage in this kind of behavior, as possession of the most modern types of weapons conveys, both internationally and domestically, prestige and a sense of what might be termed "modern state-hood".

China's defense procurement, by and large, does not seem driven by this logic. Instead, China seems to be actively thinking about and planning for a war with the United States over Taiwan, a project which, among other things, must be regarded as quite sensible from the Chinese point of view. Instead of trying to equal US naval capabilities, the PLAN is working hard to develop the means to kill US carriers, thus largely nullifying the US naval advantage. In response to "network-centric" warfare that relies heavily on satellite communications, the Chinese are thinking about how to break the US system, rather than how to replicate it.
I would add that this is why I'm not concerned about Chinese military adventurism beyond the immediate Taiwanese question (and less concerned there than some.) China is building a modern military with a specific objective - "re"taking Taiwan. This will not, for a variety of reasons, be the same military that can invade Korea, Japan, or march south to Singapore. It will by necessity be a military that can repulse American attacks, but there is no sign of Chinese carriers bombing Pearl Harbor. Not just "no sign in the near or mid-future", no sign at all.

Now, after China were to theoretically retake Taiwan, there would be opportunities to build a larger Navy and Air Force with more offensive capability. But that's literally so far in the future it is barely worth thinking about. Especially when America is already losing two wars while spending a half trillion dollars a year.

What is the appropriate reaction?

You've got to admire the Canadian right. No matter what else happens, it seems that George W. Bush cannot be blamed. Why admire this? Because there's no risk to Canadians criticizing Bush, only an ephemeral chance that it will impact their own political fortunes, and yet Conservative still seem to have a hard time actually doing it. At least when the Republicans do it, you know they're partially motivated by their own defense. When the Canadian right embarasses itself to defend Bush, what's the motive?

Example: Rondi Adamson in the Star:
At worst, Arar's story might suggest the RCMP were incompetent, ignoring procedures, and that Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli should step down.

But it's a significant stretch to suggest Arar's story means Canada has gotten too cozy with the United States when it comes to fighting terrorism. This would imply that Arar was smeared and handed over to American authorities because Ottawa was desperately trying to please George Bush.
I agree with Adamson that this clearly shows the RCMP were incompetent, but this is where she loses me:
Which is not to excuse incompetence. But I suspect the latter is at the root of this. I don't blame the American authorities. They were provided with intelligence (that turned out to be faulty) and reacted accordingly. This falls on Canada and Arar will have to be compensated — even though no compensation can give him back what was taken.
Wow. Nice. Apparently, in Adamson's world, when a man is stopped at the airport, has Canadian citizenship, but is connected to Al Qaeda with only the sketchiest possible intelligence - intelligence that the Americans didn't even try and verify - it's "reacting accordingly" to send the (innocent!) man to a third-world dictatorship without so much as a regular trial, have him tortured for months on end until he confesses to a crime he didn't commit.

I'd hate to see what Adamson thinks is "reacting unaccordingly".

Yes, the RCMP fucked up. But it was the Bush Administration that sent Arar to Syria to be tortured. The tragedy of the Arar story is not that he was inconvenienced by an airport security guard who thought he was funny-looking. The tragedy is he was tortured. Unless, of course, you're Rondi Adamson, in which case it's "reacting accordingly."

The discomfort of American Jews

Ezra and Matt both have interesting accounts of their visits to Synagogues which ended up being explicitly Zionist and made them both, to say the least, uncomfortable. I have nothing in particular to add, but they're both interesting. Ezra:
The "partisanization" of Judaism, however, doesn't strike me as a particularly unique phenomenon. I assume the complaints of Matt and myself are fairly close echoes of those voiced by liberal Christians whose congregations have become wings of the Republican Party. The difference, as my girlfriend pointed out, is that the average few miles in DC, or Kansas, or California, will contain a multitude of churches, while the religious "market" supports fewer Jewish options. So there isn't an obvious place for many Jews -- myself included -- to turn.
If you stopped by an Italian-American organization you would, of course, see Italian flags. Similarly, an Irish-American organization would feature Irish flags. But here's the rub -- Americans Jews aren't Israeli-Americans. I mean, some of us are. My one friend actually was born in Israel and he and his family moved here when he was young. But that's not typical.

Most American Jews -- and specifically American reform Jews -- aren't in any sense offshoots of modern Israeli society in general or of modern Labor Zionism in particular. Indeed, it's rather the reverse. Diaspora reform Judaism and Ashkenazi Jewish culture in North America represents an alternative conception of modern Jewish identity. An alternative conception that is, in many ways, directly antagonistic to the model represented by traditional Zionism and the kibbutz.
This really is an interesting point: American Jews are more numerous than Israel-resident Jews, and I can only assume that American Jewry is both older than Israel and older than modern Zionism. (Wikipedia says the first major wave of Jewish immigration to the US came from Germany in the 1840s. Any better sources?) The idea of the American Jewish community in any way taking a back seat to Israeli Jews is odd to me. But I'm not Jewish, so what do I know?

Listening to the Generals

The reason why there are not fewer troops there, but are more -- you're right, it's gone from 135,000 to about 147,000, I think, or 140,000 something troops is because George Casey felt he needed them to help the Iraqis achieve their objective.

And that's the way I will continue to conduct the war. I'll listen to generals. Maybe it's not the politically expedient thing to do, is to increase troops coming into an election, but we just can't -- you can't make decisions based upon politics about how to win a war.... And I'm going to tell you I've got great confidence in General John Abizaid and General George Casey. These are extraordinary men who understand the difficulties of the task, and understand there is a delicate relationship between self-sufficiency on the Iraqis' part, and U.S. presence.

-George W. Bush, September 15 2006
You know what's coming:
WASHINGTON — The Army's top officer withheld a required 2008 budget plan from Pentagon leaders last month after protesting to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld that the service could not maintain its current level of activity in Iraq plus its other global commitments without billions in additional funding.

The decision by Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army's chief of staff, is believed to be unprecedented and signals a widespread belief within the Army that in the absence of significant troop withdrawals from Iraq, funding assumptions must be completely reworked, say current and former Pentagon officials....

Schoomaker failed to submit the budget plan by an Aug. 15 deadline. The protest followed a series of cuts in the service's funding requests by both the White House and Congress over the last four months.

According to a senior Army official involved in budget talks, Schoomaker is now seeking $138.8 billion in 2008, nearly $25 billion above budget limits originally set by Rumsfeld. The Army's budget this year is $98.2 billion, making Schoomaker's request a 41% increase over current levels.
One of the less-reported stories from 2000 (possibly because it doesn't fit in to the "media screwed over Gore" narrative that we love so much) is how how the military command deliberately portrayed the readiness of the Army as worse than it was. Bush said many times on the campaign trail that under Clinton the military had been over-used and underfunded, and that "help was on the way." Little noted was that it was a lie the Pentagon commanders deliberately pushed. Readiness, according to the Pentagon's long-standing formulation, meant that the military had to be ready to fight "two and a half wars" at once - two Persian Gulf-style wars, plus a small brushfire somewhere else. Not only is this ridiculous, it was deliberately used to smear Clinton and Gore.

More substantially, the US military has never been short of money, at least since Lincoln won the War Against Treason in Defence of Slavery. (Credit: Scott Lemieux.) If the Pentagon needed more training, more spare parts, new vehicles, etc. it simply needed to ask for, and insist on proper funding. But the Pentagon has been just as complicit as Congress in prioritizing big-budget defense appropriations like, say, the F-22 or the B-2 while letting body armor and new rifles fall by the wayside.

Your Liberal Media

Agh. Via Atrios, Newsweek's international covers:

Something's wrong here.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Maybe it's time to start panicking

The Nation:
The Nation has learned that the Bush Administration and the Pentagon have issued orders for a major "strike group" of ships, including the nuclear aircraft carrier Eisenhower as well as a cruiser, destroyer, frigate, submarine escort and supply ship, to head for the Persian Gulf, just off Iran's western coast. This information follows a report in the current issue of Time magazine, both online and in print, that a group of ships capable of mining harbors has received orders to be ready to sail for the Persian Gulf by October 1...

Colonel Gardiner, who has taught military strategy at the National War College, says that the carrier deployment and a scheduled Persian Gulf arrival date of October 21 is "very important evidence" of war planning. He says, "I know that some naval forces have already received 'prepare to deploy orders' [PTDOs], which have set the date for being ready to go as October 1. Given that it would take about from October 2 to October 21 to get those forces to the Gulf region, that looks about like the date" of any possible military action against Iran. (A PTDO means that all crews should be at their stations, and ships and planes should be ready to go, by a certain date--in this case, reportedly, October 1.) Gardiner notes, "You cannot issue a PTDO and then stay ready for very long. It's a very significant order, and it's not done as a training exercise." This point was also made in the Time article....

"I think the plan's been picked: bomb the nuclear sites in Iran," says Gardiner. "It's a terrible idea, it's against US law and it's against international law, but I think they've decided to do it." Gardiner says that while the United States has the capability to hit those sites with its cruise missiles, "the Iranians have many more options than we do: They can activate Hezbollah; they can organize riots all over the Islamic world, including Pakistan, which could bring down the Musharraf government, putting nuclear weapons into terrorist hands; they can encourage the Shia militias in Iraq to attack US troops; they can blow up oil pipelines and shut the Persian Gulf." Most of the major oil-producing states in the Middle East have substantial Shiite populations, which has long been a concern of their own Sunni leaders and of Washington policy-makers, given the sometimes close connection of Shiite populations to Iran's religious rulers.
And if that weren't enough, there's this to worry about:
Of course, Gardiner agrees, recent ship movements and other signs of military preparedness could be simply a bluff designed to show toughness in the bargaining with Iran over its nuclear program. But with the Iranian coast reportedly armed to the teeth with Chinese Silkworm antiship missiles, and possibly even more sophisticated Russian antiship weapons, against which the Navy has little reliable defenses, it seems unlikely the Navy would risk high-value assets like aircraft carriers or cruisers with such a tactic. Nor has bluffing been a Bush MO to date.
I have to say, I'm a bit skeptical. During the Gulf War, the navy was extremely concerned about their carriers, to the point of frustrating Schwarzkopf with their timidity. Now the Iranian missile threat is real enough, so I'm kind of puzzled why the Navy would order the Eisenhower in to the Gulf, rather than keeping it out in the Arabian Sea. It's also weird because, given the bases in Iraq, America doesn't need a whole lot of cover in Iran's west. Assuming the Nation's info is accurate, it seems that the Navy isn't as worried about the missile threat as I am. Take that as you will -- either well-earned confidence, or hubris. I'd be surprised if the Iranians managed to sink a ship (though ask the British what it's like to be surprised like that) but a ship can be damaged and rendered inoperative short of sinking it. I don't want to be a sailor in the Ike battle group if the Iranians get a lucky shot off.

A Convenient Lie

In comments, Kursk writes about Vic Toews' hatred for Charter Rights:
You do know that this is a common place way of conducting a trial in Quebec...It's based on the Napleonic code of reverse burden of proof.
This is one of those things that gets said, and everyone says "yeah, I heard that too."

It's false. Simply false.

The Quebec (provincial) Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms says the following:
33. Every accused person is presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law.
Moreover, it's silly to think this could be true, at least since the Canadian Charter was brought in. Whether Quebec signs or not, the Constitution is in force, and the Supreme Court has the right to strike down any aspect of Quebec law. More importantly, criminal law is within federal jurisdiction, so any criminal conviction would by definition be under the Charter. If Canadian citizens were being presumed guilty, it would be flatly unconstitutional, and would be struck down.

It's not even clear to me that this is true of Civil Code legal systems in general - Wikipedia says this is a common misperception about the Civil Code.

Now, having shown himself to be ignorant of basic matters of Canadian law, it might be gratuitous to keep the spotlight on Kursk, but here's the rest of his comment:
And really,if you have been convicted of previous violent crimes,and are therefore a violent recidivist,what problem do you have in making this person prove to the courts why he does not belong in jail?

It has been the lefts soft approach on crime that has led to this..too many people walking the streets that should be in jail,but are free to roam and cause mayhem because of lax and short sentences.
Right... because the courts never make mistakes, the innocent are never convicted, and the constitution says clearly that Canadian citizens lose their inherent rights after the third criminal conviction. I'm sure it must, or else Kursk here would just look like an idiot.

But he's right about one thing - it's all the left's fault that criminals are on the loose. I know - living in Canada's biggest city - that I can't step out my door without being mugged or raped. I live in constant terror of being shot or stabbed.

Look, Canada has real problems, and some of them even involve violent criminals. But if we actually want to "get tough" (as if prison is currently a spa) then simply increase the sentences. I don't think it will work, but that at least would be logical. This - undermining basic constitutional rights for an election campaign - is just stupid. And did I mention the constitution?


Ezra has a post about a New Republic article that seems to be behind their paywall:
In late 2000, even as the result of the presidential election was still being contested in court, George W. Bush's chief pollster Matt Dowd was writing a memo for Rove that would reach a surprising conclusion. Based on a detailed examination of poll data from the previous two decades, Dowd's memo argued that the percentage of swing voters had shrunk to a tiny fraction of the electorate. Most self-described "independent" voters "are independent in name only," Dowd told me in an interview describing his memo. "Seventy-five percent of independents vote straight ticket" for one party or the other. Once such independents are reclassified as Democrats or Republicans, a key trend emerges: Between 1980 and 2000, the percentage of true swing voters fell from a very substantial 24 percent of the electorate to just 6 percent. In other words, the center was literally disappearing. Which meant that, instead of having every incentive to govern as "a uniter, not a divider," Bush now had every reason to govern via polarization.

This ran counter to Rove's previous thinking. In 2000, he had dismissed the tactic of running on divisive issues like patriotism, crime, and welfare as "an old paradigm." And Bush had followed his advice by explicitly reaching out to the center-left. For instance, during the campaign, he held a press conference with a dozen gay Republicans and sharply criticized the GOP Congress for a plan to save money by slowing distribution of tax credits for the working poor. But Dowd's memo changed all that.
I've always thought the idea about the "independent voter" has been the most ridiculous concept in American politics. Repeated articles have shown that the most flexible voters are also the least informed, the least rational, and the most likely to be susceptible to negative advertising. We disdain partisans in modern politics, but the reality is we'd be in better hands with a government of partisans than one of "independents". These people don't know what they want, nor how to get it.

I keep reading Democracy

With better results this time. G. John Ikenberry (whose name sounds like it should be a down-home folk song) argues that America is in a "security trap" because it has failed to properly build a role in the international order. Instead, the US - before, and probably after, Bush - has insisted on a unilateral excercise of power without any meaningful constraints on US actions since the fall of the Berlin Wall. So far, so good. But what is this "security trap", you ask? Ikenberry explains:
Because of this, the Bush Administration has run into trouble–as I would put it, the United States has gotten caught in a "security trap." When America tries to solve the nation’s security problems by exercising its power or using force, it tends to produce resistance and backlash that leaves the country bereft of authority, isolated, and ultimately more insecure than it was before it acted.
No no no no no. America has never gotten "in to trouble" because of a use of military force in a legitimate security matter. The Persian Gulf war was a legitimate military matter, and the US solved it using US force. Controversial? No. The Balkans were not a conventional military problem, but the international community accepted that peacekeeping was no longer working, so NATO was allowed to bring Serbia to the table first at Dayton, then later with Kosovo. The attacks of Sept. 11 made the invasion of Afghanistan entirely uncontroversial at the time, to say the least.

(This isn't to say that even the "uncontroversial" examples I cited above were without dissent, only that on balance the international community accepted them at the time, or very shortly after the fact.)

America gets in to problems not when it uses it's power for security problems, but when it uses its power for non-security problems. I want to put this very clearly for Sensible Liberals out there: the price of oil, and the volume of oil available for purchase, is not a military matter. It is a matter for the marketplace to decide, and the Carter Doctrine is therefore a prescription for the illegitimate use of American force. Far, far too many Americans confuse their national interest (which the price of oil arguably is) with a military matter (which it absolutely is not.) Countries all over the world have learned to pursue their national interest without brute displays of power. I'm sure America can learn.

How much easier would American lives be today if there had never been a permanent American presence in Saudi Arabia?

Worse still, the American military demands the widest possible spectrum of violence to prosecute Washington's demands - keeping America out of both the ICC and the land mines treaty. So not only does Washington demand the right to settle non-military matters with military force, they give the military the cover to do so without the restrictions that the rest of the liberal world agrees to. This is why America has gotten in to a security trap - because Washington has insisted on using power for illegitimate ends, and has done so condoning illegitimate means.

Vic Toews is a neanderthal

...who couldn't start a fire if you gave him two stones, kindling, and a can of gasoline. None of that is news, however. What's news is that he also hates the Canadian constitution:
OTTAWA -- The federal government is preparing three-strikes legislation that would make it easier to label criminals as dangerous offenders after a third serious conviction.

Unlike California's famous three-strikes-you're-out law, the proposed federal bill will not trigger an automatic life sentence for repeat offenders. What it will do is reverse the burden of proof in dangerous-offender hearings for people already found guilty of three violent crimes.

That means that once someone has been convicted a third time they will be considered guilty until proven innocent of being a dangerous offender.
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms:
11. Any person charged with an offence has the right... d) to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal
Obviously, there's a difference between sentencing and criminal guilt, but even in sentencing the presumption of innocence stands.

If any kind of sense prevails at the Supreme Court, this law will be struck down. I think the Tories know that, and I think they know it will be a hard on to pass in any case. Frankly, I don't think they expect it to pass this parliament. They're setting up an issue to run an election campaign on next time.

Keep your heads up, everyone.

Reason #1,356 why I can never be a (International Relations) liberal

I've mentioned before that I do not, naturally, find myself comfortable in the same club as Henry Kissinger. Yet the sometimes incredibly frustrating thinking of American liberals drives me to shrill, unholy realism. The latest example comes from the Journal Democracy, where Naazneen Barma and Ely Ratner write that China poses a unique and novel ideological challenge to America's liberal hegemony. But this is a rather long post, so I've hidden the rest of it here.

To break down their argument:
  • "The rise of China presents the West, for the first time since the fall of the Berlin Wall, with a formidable ideological challenge to that paradigm."
  • "The "China model" powerfully combines two components: illiberal capitalism, the practice and promotion of a governance strategy where markets are free but politics are not;..."
  • "...and illiberal sovereignty, an approach to international relations that emphasizes the inviolability of national borders in the face of international intervention."
First of all, if there is a "China model", then there's a "Korean model", a "Taiwan model", a "Japan model" and a "Singapore model" too. Not to mention a "Spanish model", a "Brazilian model", an "Argentinian model" as well. All of these countries combined illiberal capitalism and a demand for inviolable national sovereignty throughout their history as well. In Taiwan, Japan and South Korea, it turned out that illiberal capitalism was unsustainable - increasing wealth led for demands of political change. You would think at the very least, having raised the Asian tigers as examples of countries where growth produced democratic regimes, you would then have to explain why the same doesn't apply to China. Barma and Ratner concede that some China moderates make this argument - that economic growth will make China a more friendly nation - and effectively ignore it for the rest of their article.

This is an important point: Barma and Ratner are arguing that China poses a present and future ideological rival to the United States, but nowhere do they state or argue that China's current authoritarian government is sustainable over the long term. The most they say is that
Although Western analysts often have claimed to see the buds of freedom–such as in the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising, the spread of Internet usage since the mid-1990s, and the recent uptick in rural social protests–the regime’s grip on power has yet to crack, and liberty has yet to blossom. Underpinning its state-controlled capitalist experiment, the Chinese Communist Party has constructed a new rationale for totalitarian political rule that no longer relies on Marxist economic ideology.
Okay, here it's important to use proper words. The first important point is that calling the surge in rural protests an "uptick" is like calling the 2004 Asian tsunami "kind of a big wave." From the Rand Corporation:
The Ministry of Public Security (MPS) reports that the number of mass incidents (e.g. various forms of protest) has skyrocketed from about 8,700 in 1993, to 32,000 in 1999, to about 50,000 in 2002, and surpassing 58,000 in 2003 (See table in Appendix). Especially noteworthy has been the steady rate of increase: protest incidents have apparently increased every year since 1993 (although 2001 data are unavailable), and in no year did they increase by less than 9 percent.
Nobody thinks that the current levels of protests threaten the regime, but we aren't seeing the protests level off, or even slow down. We're seeing exponential growth in protests, doubling in volume in less than a decade. For Ratner and Barma to dismiss this is astonishingly dishonest.

Secondly, the current Chinese regime is authoritarian and illiberal without question. But it is "totalitarian" only if we define "totalitarian" so broadly as to be meaningless. Indeed, the historical trend is exactly the opposite of what B&R charge - since the reforms of the 1970s, China has become a far more "privatized" society in the sense that religious freedoms and other forms of association outside of the Chinese Communist Party have become far more common. Outside of politics, it is possible to form independent associations (obviously, there are limits to these freedoms.) This is the exact opposite of the traditional definition of totalitarian - where all forms of social organization are controlled by the state.

Aside from their linguistic sloppiness, B&R engage in some truly stupid association:
As a result, Chinese illiberalism is fast becoming a popular export throughout the developing world, even to those who don’t expect to replicate its dramatic success. In South America, Venezuela’s Hugo Ch├ívez and Bolivia’s Evo Morales have embraced the China model. The latter visited China in January 2006 less than a month after being elected and, when asked why he had made the trip, Morales explained that he considered China a "political, ideological, and programmatic ally of the Bolivian people." In the Middle East, Iran’s conservative media have explicitly advocated following a "China Model" of development in the wake of President Mohammad Khatami’s failed reformist agenda. Iranian diplomats have traveled to Beijing to learn more about China’s governance strategy, subsequently returning to help the government enact components of illiberal capitalism, such as reaching out to foreign investors while clamping down on political dissent at home. In Africa, Nigeria has been drawn by the luster of what its Senate president called "a good model for Nigeria in its quest for an authentic and stable development ideology."
Boy, you'd think that Latin America had no history of charismatic populists using resource nationalism as the foundation of their power. And I'm sure that, until they visited Beijing, the Iranian Mullahs had never thought of shutting down newspapers or interfering with elections before. Yup, if it weren't for China, the Venezuelan and Bolivian poor would be just so happy to sell their oil to the US at $5/barrel, and pro-American (and dare I say it, pro-Israeli?) liberals would have won the last elections in Tehran. This kind of thinking is idiotic, and is beneath serious liberal thinking.

Moreover, it simply isn't liberal. Liberals are supposed to believe that humans are rational creatures with agency. Morales and Chavez have faced popular challenges, the democratic process, and have retained the majority support of the populations of their countries. That's simply a fact. Nobody except the embittered Venezuelan opposition seriously contends that these elections were rigged. So presented with that fact, you can either conclude that a) it's possible for leaders to do things American liberals disagree with, and still retain democratic legitimacy, or b) anyone who does anything that American liberals disagree with is by definition an autocrat in league with the ChiComs. Guess which one Barma and Ratner choose?

A side note: If Beijing really were capable of exporting "illiberal capitalism", you'd think that as a first step they'd have sold the Chinese people on it. They manifestly have not:
Chinese authorities have shut down an online survey that found most respondents would prefer a different nationality if they were born again.... Of the more than 10,000 respondents, 64% said they would not want to be Chinese if they were reincarnated. The main reason, given by almost 40% of the respondents, was that Chinese citizens lacked human dignity.
Chinese "illiberal capitalism" doesn't even pose a serious ideological challenge in China, yet Barma and Ratner want us to believe it has global reach.

So at this point, Barma and Ratner have argued that China poses a new, long-term ideological rival to liberalism (false, or at least highly questionable) and that illiberal capitalism is new, dangerous, and is being exported by China to the developing world (simply false.) The final claim - that "illiberal sovereignty" undermines (American) "democratic liberalism" is similarly unsound. Basically, B&R argue that because of Beijing's largesse with foreign aid, the IMF and the World Bank can no longer force developing countries to adopt Washington's preferred policies on trade and human rights. This, according to B&R, is a bad thing. There's so much sloppiness here that we've got to take this one at a time.

1) When liberals say that Washington was promoting "trade and human rights" throughout the 1980s and 1990s, it's as noxious a rhetorical ploy as when Republicans say there's a problem with "Social Security and Medicare." There is no fundamental problem with SS, and a massive one with Medicare. Lumping them together is deliberately dishonest and serves an obvious political purpose. Similarly, there is no combined "trade and human rights" treaty. What there was, for almost all of the 1980s and 1990s, was a strict, enforceable, multilateral organization devoted to expanding trade, privatizing services, and opening countries to foreign investors. During the same time, there was only the barest, unenforceable, fig-leaf of a commitment to human rights. Washington's priorities were clear, and it wasn't making sure that Indonesians could vote.

2) There was never any coherent form of "liberal sovereignty" for China to undermine, even if we concede that's what China is doing. Washington aided and abetted the mass killings in Turkey and East Timor, and never tried to intervene against the Russians in Chechnya. During the same time, America twice went to war in Yugoslavia to stop the killing there. Given the respective contexts of these decisions, all of these actions may all be defensible, but they certainly can't fit in to any coherent idea of liberal sovereignty. Barma and Ratner:
Unlike the United States and Europe, China does not subscribe to evolving international norms of multilateral intervention on the grounds of human rights and political freedoms, does not promote democracy overseas, does not demand open markets from its trading partners, and does not advocate selective violations of a nation’s sovereignty even in the extreme cases of genocide and the harboring of terrorists.
Here's the thing: neither did the United States or Europe until maybe 10 years ago. The idea of "selective sovereignty" only became accepted by the United Nations last year as part of the "responsibility to protect" doctrine. It is still incredibly controversial around the world, and highly contentious. Hell, I find the idea troubling some days. The fact that China does not agree with this idea is not an ideological challenge, unless - once again - simply disagreeing with American liberals makes you an autocrat. And American liberals need to stop talking about "promoting democracy overseas" for a while. Just sayin'.

3) There's no mystery to why China is finding so many countries willing, nay eager, to abandon the IMF and World Bank programs - they have singularly failed to produce the rapid growth that the developing world needs. Period. Full stop. Mark Weisbrot & Dean Baker, 2001:
Economic growth over the last twenty years, the period during which the policies advocated by the authors (and their institution) have been put into place, has been dramatically reduced. It may well be true, as Dr. Dollar argues, that "to ignore the importance of growth-enhancing policies is an injustice to the poor."[5] But to assume that the World Bank and the IMF have brought "growth-enhancing policies" to their client countries goes against the overwhelming weight of the evidence over the last two decades....

By any measure of economic performance, the last two decades have shown these rigid applications of orthodox economic theory to be a failure. Rather than defending this record of failure, the Bank and Fund researchers should be trying to discover what has gone wrong. And most importantly, they should allow governments to pursue their own, country-specific paths to growth and development.
The results of IMF policies since that paper was published have been even worse (Argentina, anyone?) Furthermore, note Baker and Weisbrot's emphasis that development policies should allow countries "their own... paths to growth." Gee, sounds an awful lot like the sovereignty of national governments should be respected, don't you think?

So there was only a laughable attempt by Washington to promote human rights, there was never any coherent formulation of "liberal democratic sovereignty" for China to undermine, and even if that's exactly what China is doing, it might actually be a good thing for the poor of the world.

All told, Barma and Ratner have made not a single argument that can stand on it's own, and they certainly can't support their claim that China poses a unique or novel ideological threat western liberalism. What, then, is this argument really about? Ah, here we are:
Thus, rather than arguing over how best to guide, manipulate, or suppress China’s power, the United States must meet the illiberal challenge head-on. The continued ideological dominance of democratic liberalism is crucial to the permanence and projection of American power, and to creating a world that lives up to universal ideals of freedom, equality, and justice.
This is the nut of the issue, isn't it? American liberals have yet to formulate a foreign policy that doesn't rely on continuing the "permanence and projection of American power", as they put it. (Though Matthew Yglesias seems to be trying.) The growth of China's influence in the world may (or may not) be a threat to America's power, but it's hard for non-American leftists and liberals to see that as a bad thing either way. It's especially hard for countries who have been on the receiving end of American power to regret Washington's diminished importance.

Barma and Ratner want the rest of the world to weep for the end of American hegemony as much as they do, and they're not above trying to scare us about China to do so. It's factually wrong, it's logically incoherent, and it's dangerous to boot.

How very Republican of them.

All done!

The Hell?

Israel is training Kurds? This isn't going to end well.
The BBC has obtained evidence that Israelis have been giving military training to Kurds in northern Iraq.

A report on the BBC TV programme Newsnight showed Israeli experts in northern Iraq, drilling Kurdish militias in shooting techniques.

Kurdish officials have refused to comment on the report and Israel has denied it knows of any involvement.
Because obviously, if you want a sustainable government in the heart of the Muslim world, your best bet has got to be tying yourself to Israel.

My guess is the Kurds have decided that "Iraq" as a state won't survive the American departure. They're probably right, but they've also obviously planned on some kind of Kurdish state surviving post-Iraq. That's... unlikely. The only thing that Shia and Sunni in Iraq agree on is that the Kurds can't have a state. Hell, it's something Syria, Turkey, and Iran all agree on too. Simply put, the Kurdish state will be a very short-lived creature indeed. If that weren't already true, the propaganda bonus of having the Kurds tied to Israel will guarantee that after the dust settles between the Iraqi Shia and Sunni, the victors will turn on the Kurds.

The big question for me is this: Israel and Turkey have been - perhaps until now - very close. As close as a Jewish and Muslim state can be, at any rate. Israeli politicians have publicly, and forcefully, defended Turkey against charges of genocide against the Armenians, among other things. But the one thing Turkey cannot abide is a Kurdish state on it's southern frontier. The Turks have already waged a Chechnya-style war against their own Kurds, killing 30,000, and the idea that Israel (Turkey's close ally) is arming the Kurds can't sit well.

So why is Israel doing this? I don't see any percentage in this unless a) the American government has demanded it, or b) Israel has (correctly, if coldly) decided that they're safer if Iraq is never put back together again.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Wish I had caught it

Tim at POGGE (see, I reference properly!) brings us this nugget:
Asked point-blank whether the United States is winning in Iraq, Abizaid replied: "Given unlimited time and unlimited support, we're winning the war."
Well it's a good thing that America has unlimited time and unlimited support, or else I'd start worrying!

This makes me happy

via Atrios, Eric Boehlert:
Here then, is some much-needed historical perspective to put Bush's standing in context:

* According to Gallup, on the eve of President John F. Kennedy's 1963 assassination, he was suffering the worst job-approval ratings of his presidency -- 58 percent.

* In 1968, when the war in Vietnam was claiming hundreds of U.S. casualties each week, President Lyndon Johnson was considered so unpopular that he didn't even run for re-election. Johnson's average Gallup approval rating for that year was 43 percent.

* When Reagan's second term was rocked by the Iran-Contra scandal, his ratings plummeted, all the way down to 43 percent.

* This year, according to the Gallup numbers, Bush has averaged an approval rating of 37 percent.

Things take a turn in Japan

Boy, the LDP really knows how to pick a leader. First the unapologetic dick Koizumi, now a man with even greater levels of dick-ishness, Shinzo Abe surprises no one by winning the leadership of Japan's ruling party.

The article is coy, saying it's "unclear" whether this will affect South Korean and Chinese relations. I'd say it'll become pretty clear the next time Abe opens his mouth about history texts, or goes to Yasukuni.

Arctic, cont.

Woo! The good news comes in faster than I can post it!
The global sea level rise caused by climate change, severely threatening many of the world's coastal and low-lying areas from Bangladesh to East Anglia, is proceeding faster than UN scientists predicted only five years ago, Professor Chris Rapley, director of the British Antarctic Survey, said yesterday....

The present prediction of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, from its third assessment report in 2001, is that global sea levels will rise by between 9cm and 88cm by 2100, depending on a number of factors including how far emissions are controlled, with a best guess of about 50cm over the century....

But the new evidence, from a series of scientific papers published this year, indicates that this rate would be exceeded, said Professor Rapley, who runs the world's leading institute on Antarctic science - although he could not say what any new rate would be....

Last week, two American studies showed that the melting of the winter sea ice in the Arctic had accelerated enormously in the past two years, with a section the size of Turkey disappearing in just 12 months.
Just so we're clear, Turkey's total surface area: 780,580 km2. If that loss of polar ice continues without accelerating - and the whole point is exactly that it is accelerating, but stay with me - the entire arctic polar ice cap (upper range: 12 million km2) would be gone in 15 years. That's probably overstating the case (I imagine the ice cap would reform to a small extent in winter) but nevertheless, the ice-free arctic seems to be coming, whatever we do.

If there's any good news here - and yes, I'm reaching - it's that Canada's northern resources will be more accessible. But don't worry, I'm sure we'll find a way to screw the First Nations like we always do. We've got a reputation to uphold, after all. Additionally, maybe Churchill, Manitoba will finally be the bustling port of call we've always wanted it to be.

Sailing north

...until you can't get north no more. Apparently, scientists were "shocked" to discover that there was an ice-free passage all the way to the North Pole this summer.
PARIS (AFP) - European scientists voiced shock as they showed pictures which showed Arctic ice cover had disappeared so much last month that a ship could sail unhindered from Europe's most northerly outpost to the North Pole itself.

The satellite images were acquired from August 23 to 25 by instruments aboard Envisat and EOS Aqua, two satellites operated by the European Space Agency (ESA).

Perennial sea ice -- thick ice that is normally present year-round and is not affected by the Arctic summer -- had disappeared over an area bigger than the British Isles, ESA said.

Vast patches of ice-free sea stretched north of Svalbard, an archipelago lying midway between Norway and the North Ple, and extended deep into the Russian Arctic, all the way to the North Pole, the agency said in a press release.
Still, I'm not sure why anyone would be shocked at this point. If it wasn't this summer, it was going to be next. Or the one after that. This, in case you're curious, is the area we're talking about:

Summer ice normally retreats to the north coast of Greenland, but this seems to be new - large bodies of open water large enough to sail a ship in, all the way North.


The New Government of Canada? Who do they think they are?

...sorry, stupid question. Obviously, they think they're the New Government of Canada. But last I saw, there've been no Constitutional Ammendments, no changes to Parliament or the Governor General's office. So no, Harper et al. inherited the same mantle as every political party since John A. Macdonald (his poor liver aside, a truly great Tory), the Government of Canada.

It's a trifle, I admit. But it's stupid, and it's wrong. Part of the legitimacy of democratic governance comes from continuity, not disruption.