"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
February 28, 2005
WAR: Freedom of the Press, Russian-Style
[W]hen Bush talked about the Kremlin's crackdown on the media and explained that democracies require a free press, the Russian leader gave a rebuttal that left the President nonplussed. If the press was so free in the U.S., Putin asked, then why had those reporters at CBS lost their jobs? Bush was openmouthed. "Putin thought we'd fired Dan Rather," says a senior Administration official. "It was like something out of 1984."
Another example of why we need better and more aggressive public diplomacy. We can't control what information gets to Putin, but it would be nice to create a climate where somebody in his circle would at least be aware of how ridiculous this sounds to Western ears (well, most of them).
via Rather Biased
BASEBALL: Larkin, Immortalized
Mike Carminati and Aaron Gleeman both make the case for Barry Larkin as a Hall of Famer, and I'm in complete agreement. Carminati lists the 20 Hall of Fame shortstops by career Win Shares: the average of the group is 330. Larkin finished with 346, compared to 318 for Alan Trammell and 269 for Dave Concepcion; the only higher WS totals for non-HOF shortstops are Cal Ripken, a sure inductee, at 427, and 19th century glove wizard Bill Dahlen at 394.
Larkin was the best shortstop in the National League for a decade and the best in baseball for about four years (1992-95). Larkin's reputation for being injury prone, while somewhat deserved, is also a bit overblown; for the 1990s, adjusted for the shortened schedules of the 1994 and 1995 seasons, Larkin averaged 135 games and 578 plate appearances a year - not great, but not a guy who was always hurt, either, and Larkin's career stretched over 19 seasons. As the star of a small-market team with unstable personnel, Larkin managed to play for a World Champion in 1990, a division winner in 1995 and a 96-win team that lost a 1-game playoff in 1999; he won 3 Gold Gloves and an MVP Award and played in 12 All-Star Games. I'd put him in.
February 27, 2005
LAW: Lost Tribe?
Ramesh Ponnuru expends a great deal of energy in this NRO article suggesting that a 2003 essay by Prof. Laurence Tribe in the journal Green Bag is, essentially, fiction in its account of Tribe's use of the Ninth Amendment in the 1980 public-access-to-the-courts case Richmond Newspapers, Inc. v. Virginia. You should read the whole thing and judge for yourself - I think Ponnuru makes a compelling case for the inaccuracy of Tribe's account, and one that's perhaps less excusable since Tribe says in his essay that he was re-reading the briefs in the case as he wrote. But for the most part, Tribe seems more to be guilty of the kind of embellishment that's not uncommon in our memories of events decades past, particularly as they tie in to other, bigger things in our lives (in this case, the death of Prof. Tribe's father). In the end, Ponnuru's effort to place this particular slightly-tall tale into the framework of plaigarism and other serious academic sins seems like a stretch.
Anyway, while we're on the subject, I've been thinking about the Ninth Amendment, by the way, and have been having a thought but haven't done the research to back it up, so take this for what it is. The Ninth Amendment reads:
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
As Ponnuru notes, there's a perennial debate between those, usually liberal judges and academics, who take the Ninth Amendment as something of a license for judicial "discovery" of "unenumerated rights," and those who, like Robert Bork's famous formulation, think that the lack of specificity in the Amendment leave it with no more legal effect than an "inkblot."
The Amendment's text comes after eight amendments preserving particular, enumerated rights against invasion by the new federal government, and before one amendment protecting the states as well. It clearly has a flavor of "I hope we didn't forget anything" about it, and given the legal maxim of expressio unius exlusio alterius (here, roughly, that making a list of things protected implies an intent not to protect what's not listed), it suggests perhaps that the Framers just wanted to avoid the argument that enacting the Bill of Rights somehow weakened rights that would exist in its absence, such as rights existing under state law.
Maybe. But here's a thought, and one that gives meaning to the amendment without turning it into a roving commission to overturn longstanding laws: one could also argue that the meaning of the amendment is to protect against new and unimagined federal invasions of rights so fundamental that nobody had thought to protect them because the law had not previously invaded them. Put another way: the Ninth Amendment wasn't intended to overturn anything existing at the time, but was intended to constitutionalize the existing sphere of rights enjoyed at the time as a floor below which new enactments could not fall. Anyone with more detailed knowledge of the history of the Ninth Amendment have thoughts on the issue?
POLITICS: Where's The Hypocrisy?
David Corn, who's nobody's idea of a right-winger, thinks the "hypocrisy" angle in the Gannon/Guckert story has nothing to support it. Link via Andrew Sullivan, who - unsurprisingly given his history - is outraged at the attacks on Guckert. I wouldn't go as far as Sullivan does, but it's consistent with his well-known views on the subject.
February 26, 2005
LAW: Evidence of Injury
I have, in an effort to reduce my intake of bile, mostly avoided reading Mark Kleiman since the election, but in the course of finding great humor in the New York Times' sudden discovery - now that a legal defense is needed for one of its reporters - that the leak of Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA "operative" may not have involved a crime after all, Tom Maguire points us (indirectly) to this Kleiman post from 2003 arguing that the disclosure may have involved a violation, and conspiracy to violate, a provision of the Espionage Act, 18 U.S.C. 793(d), which imposes stiff criminal penalties on the following:
Whoever, lawfully having possession of, access to, control over, or being entrusted with any document, writing, code book, signal book, sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blueprint, plan, map, model, instrument, appliance, or note relating to the national defense, or information relating to the national defense which information the possessor has reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation, willfully communicates, delivers, transmits or causes to be communicated, delivered, or transmitted or attempts to communicate, deliver, transmit or cause to be communicated, delivered or transmitted the same to any person not entitled to receive it, or willfully retains the same and fails to deliver it on demand to the officer or employee of the United States entitled to receive it.
Now, the usual disclaimers apply about trying to construe this statute without having read the surrounding provisions or the caselaw construing it. But Kleiman, a non-lawyer, has raised this point, so let's just stay with his analysis of the statutory text. Kleiman argues that a violation of this infrequently-used statute would be easy to prove in this case. Let's walk through his reasoning:
[N]otice how much weaker the scienter requirement is under the Espionage Act than under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act: "reason to know" that the information "could be used" to the injury of the United States.
So far, so good; "reason to know" does indeed make it unnecessary to prove the actual knowledge or intention of the person making the disclosure, and instead focuses on objective facts that such person would be in a position to know, which is easier to prove.
It would be very hard to argue that the Plame disclosures weren't of information that the disclosers had reason to know could be used to damage the United States.
This is where I think Kleiman is all wrong. The violation being urged here is, at least based on the public record as it stands, in the nature of a technical violation whose potential for harm required a certain degree of extrapolation - i.e., that her identity as a CIA operative some indeterminate number of years earlier was argued to be damaging mainly because of the precedent it set and the potential, still debated, of harm for sources who may have been known to associate with her. Assuming that the identity of a CIA agent is "information relating to the national defense" - I would think so, under common parlance, but there may be precedents under the statute to suggest a more limited reading of the term - it would not at all be difficult or unusual for a jury to determine that this was not "information . . . which . . . could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation," if under all the circumstances it appeared that Plame's ties to undercover work had grown sufficiently stale that there was no longer anything resembling an active operation left to compromise.
Moreover, in a case brought under the Espionage Act the timing of Valerie Plame's most recent foreign assignment and the vigor with which the CIA was keeping her identity under wraps would both be irrelevant.
Technically irrelevant, in the sense of not being a statutory requirement, as it is under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. But you can't seriously argue that it has nothing to do with whether her identity as a CIA employee would damage national security if exposed. Clearly, little if any damage could be done by disclosing that she was a Langley-based analyst. Equally clearly, damage could well be done if she had still been an active undercover agent. The extent to which she was still involved in things that could be damaging if her identity was exposed is, in fact, the crucial question in figuring whether any harm could reasonably be expected to befall the nation's security from the disclosure.
There's also the argument, of course, that potential harm to national security would be balanced against ways in which the disclosure could benefit national security; a statute with this sort of potential-harm requirement would presumably afford the defendants the chance to argue that the overall benefit rendered the potential for injury, on balance, trivial. Even though you could make the "it's not theirs to decide" argument in response, the "reason to know" standard would seem to necessarily incorporate what the person would, in all the circumstances, have reason to believe would be the overall consequences.
Now, the main benefit of exposing Plame's identity was obviously political - to defuse his attacks on Bush by demonstrating that Wilson was basically a hack who got the assignment through his wife - so I don't think such a defense would be a real good fit here. Still, the damage caused by the charge that the president lied to the world about Saddam's efforts to get uranium in Africa is damage that could go to the nation's overall reputation - that was certainly an argument raised by many of Bush's antagonists - and showing the problems with the charge could, I suppose, be argued to ameliorate that harm. As I said, I'm not endorsing that argument, but it does suggest yet another avenue of complication for Kleiman's analysis.
Moreover, the fact of a prior disclosure, unless that disclosure had been so convincing and so widely publicized as to preclude the possibility that any additional damage would be done by repetition, would not be a defense.
Again, this seems obviously wrong. The existence of the B-2 "stealth bomber," to pick a random example, is a fact of our security whose disclosure could harm our ability to conduct surprise attacks. Except for the fact that the bomber's existence is not at all a secret. There are many areas of law that turn on disclosures of information, and the idea that something was not really much of a secret is a routine and obvious defense.
Anyway, at a minimum, Kleiman breezes past a whole battery of problems with using such a statute in a case where there may well be strong arguments on the facts that Plame had been out of the field too long for any of this to have any real-world impact.
WAR: Getting Results?
"The election of a president will be through direct, secret balloting, giving the chance for political parties to run for the presidential elections and providing guarantees that allow more than one candidate for the people to choose among them with their own will," Mubarak said in an address broadcast live on Egyptian television.
Is this real progress, in a country of 76 million people, three times the size of Iraq's population and larger than the population of France? Wait and see.
SCIENCE: A Voice Recovered
Forensic scientists have recovered and deciphered the diary kept on board the space shuttle Columbia by Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, a little over two years after the shuttle's fiery explosion.
LAW: But It Wasn't "Sexual Relations"
February 25, 2005
BASEBALL: Golden Age
Imagine if the top five players in the league in slugging looked like this:
You'd say that's a league with some young talent. In fact, that's the American League slugging leaders in 1909, just with the slugging averages adjusted from 1909 terms (league slugging: .309) to 2004 terms (AL slugging: .433). The players: Ty Cobb, Sam Crawford (this was the last year before Cobb and Crawford switched between center and right), Eddie Collins, Frank "Home Run" Baker, and Tris Speaker, all on their way to Cooperstown.
If you were going to pick a time and place in history to be a baseball fan, you'd be hard pressed indeed to pick better than the early teens, especially the American League. Just focusing on the young talent bubbling up, look at the young players coming into their own by 1911, many of them on their way to long and successful careers, including a bevy of inner-circle Hall of Famers. First the AL, ranked by age and Win Shares:
Bear in mind, this was an 8-team league. Even accounting for the tendency to have younger players in those days, this is something else, as evidenced by how many of these guys were still going a decade or more later. Then the NL:
* - Giants and Reds
You can see the seeds here for why the AL came to totally dominate the decade, winning all the World Serieses between 1910 and 1920 except for the 1914 "miracle" and the 1919 fix - the NL had a more normal age distribution, a few less immortals, and a lot of the talent concentrated on the Giants. (Also, a lot of guys named "Fred"). Presumably the difference was that the AL, having started in 1901, had less top-flight older players by 1908-09, and thus AL franchises were hungrier than, say, the Cubs or the Pirates.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the Braves had Cy Young playing out the string at age 44 (2 WS). A good time to be picking young players to follow for years to come. Of course, the league was still segregated, and the rise of the Negro Leagues in subsequent years would begin to show how much fans of the majors were missing. And the problems already bubbling under the surface would emerge later - the gambling scandals, the salary squabbles that drove the Federal League revolt, the war in Europe that would eventually call a number of these players to service. But the early teens hadn't been marred by that yet. A great time for baseball.
(Steve Treder has more thoughts on the era here)
You know, I'm no expert on Social Security or macroeconomics, so I try to confine my commentary on the subject to obvious examples of logical fallacies and factual whoppers. But those somehow seem all too easy to find. Take this, from Will Saletan:
Republicans won't raise taxes; Democrats won't cut benefits. It looks like there's no way out. But there is a way.
Now, raising the retirement age is certainly a defensible idea, and one worthy of discussion. But I suspect Saletan - who details later on how much money this would save in outlays - is being deliberately deceptive here in order to sell his idea when he says it's not a "benefit." What he's talking about is eliminating two whole years (or more) of benefits - and for people who die between 65 and 67, eliminating their benefits entirely. I mean, everybody knows this - saying that raising the retirement age isn't a benefit cut is like saying that a baseball team that offers a player $10 million a year for 5 years is offering the same amount of money as one that offers the same player $10 million a year for 7 years.
By the way, have you noticed that the same people who keep telling us that private accounts aren't really that much better a deal for workers than the current system . . . are also the same ones who keep saying we can fix the system with more taxes and fewer benefits? But Eliminating the contribution caps and slashing benefits will greatly increase the number of workers for whom Social Security will produce a net negative return on investment.
As for the frequent charge that private accounts aren't really a fix to the financing problem - a debate I won't get into directly - look: the system has accrued huge unfunded liabilities that we will not be able to cover with the existing structure of receipts. Private accounts won't help us pay those off, but they will stop the bleeding by replacing part of an unsustainable system that's continuing to rack up liabilities with a system that will be inherently sustainable over the long run without repeated crises. Saying that private accounts do "nothing" to fix the financing problem is like saying that cutting up your credit cards does "nothing" to get you out of debt - it ignores the fact that at least you've stopped making the problem worse.
The private accounts option is like the way FIRREA worked with the S&L bailout, or the way the IMF is, at least in theory, supposed to work: a condition of bailing out the current system is that Social Security lock up the booze cabinet and hand over the car keys.
BLOG: Quick Links 2/25/05
*Good catch: Lynn Swann announces that he'll be exploring a run for governor of Pennsylvania as a Republican in 2006, challenging incumbent Democrat Ed Rendell. (Yes, that's a picture of Captain Ed with Swann at the 2004 GOP Convention). Among other things, a Swann/Rendell race would be a classic East/West matchup between Pittsburgh and Philly, and would (in combination with what already promises to be a spirited effort by Democrats to knock off Rick Santorum) make Pennsylvania the highest-profile battleground in 2006.
*LaShawn Barber explains why Bill Cosby's private life is a disappointment. I remain skeptical of some of the allegations against Cosby, and doubly so because of their timing, coming on the heels of Cosby speaking out for more responsible parenting among some segments of the African-American community, statements that gave some people a vested interest in discrediting him. But, as Barber points out, Cos by his own admission has not been faithful to his wife.
*One of my commenters took me to task for having the temerity to implicitly question Alan Greenspan, in the comments to this post. Somehow, I haven't heard anything further about the issue since Greenspan came out in favor of private accounts in Social Security. Also, if you missed it, a debunking of the critics of Brit Hume's use of FDR to support the private accounts proposal. (via NRO). And the bottom line:
[I]t's important to remember that Social Security taxes and benefits have grown enormously since FDR's day. So cutting benefits two generations from now as a way of making some room for the financing of private accounts within the Social Security system today can't possibly be viewed as a violation of FDR's original vision -- and probably brings us closer to it.
*Rich Lowry on how critics of John Negroponte are the same people who made the perfect the enemy of the good in protesting the battle against Communism in Central America in the 1980s. On a related topic, some things are just too predictable. (via INDC)
*Druze for Jesusland? If you haven't seen it, check out David Ignatius' Washington Post column from Wednesday on how our progress in Iraq has energized the anti-Syria resistance in Lebanon, including this quote from Druze Muslim leader Walid Jumblatt, traditionally no friend to America:
"It's strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq," explains Jumblatt. "I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, 8 million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world." Jumblatt says this spark of democratic revolt is spreading. "The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it."
One of Russia's most serious actions has been ignored by Washington and the European Union: the continued presence of Russian troops in neighboring countries without their permission. In 1999 Russia promised to gradually withdraw troops stationed in parts of Georgia and Moldova -- troops supporting destabilizing separatist movements.
*Freedom from fear - British edition. Tony Blair: "There is no greater civil liberty than to live free from terrorist attack"
February 24, 2005
BASEBALL: Roto Rules
As the spring training camps creak slowly to life - most of the news these days is sportswriter-generated "controversy" with no shelf life - many of us prepare for another rite of spring: the Rotisserie Baseball draft. Mine is March 12, which is unpleasantly early (I've had way too many experiences of players getting injured between Draft Day and Opening Day), but it's harder as you get older to schedule these things.
Anyway, it's a traditional roto rules AL league (8 categories, $240 for 23 spots, 12 owners, auction-style draft). Seeing as this is the 12th year I've done this, and I've had my share of successes and failures, I thought I'd offer a little advice on drafting:
1. Preparation + Access: Preparation, of course, is key; if you try to improvise going into the draft, you're in trouble. In particular, you need to know the depth charts - who's got an everyday job, projected closers, etc. But as any good trial lawyer will tell you, it's not just what information you have, it's what information you can reach. Thus, it's equally important to have as much key information as you can get (and as little you don't need as possible) in a format you can scan quickly during the draft. In theory (depending how much time I have), I like to have both a set of depth charts for each AL team and a top-to-bottom list of players by projected prices, so I can cross them off and see who's left at particular positions as well as who's left to draw out the big money.
2. A Crappy Pitcher With A Closer Job Is Still A Crappy Pitcher: Yes, it's true that you pay for playing time as much as for quality. And with relief pitchers, you pay a "closer premium" for anyone who has a closer job, or a smaller one for a guy with part of a closer job or a shot at winning one.
The closer premium, however, should be discounted heavily if the pitcher is a bad pitcher. I've learned this one the hard way (*cough* Brian Williams in 1996 *cough*). You can't remind yourself of this often enough: bad pitchers lose their closer jobs. Then you're stuck with a guy with a double-figure salary who pitches 4 innings a week with an ERA that would look better as a winning percentage, and who probably didn't convert a ton of saves before that.
3. Never Mind the Gimmicks: It's like spotting the sucker: every year, someone decides to "go naked" with nine $1 pitchers. Once in a blue moon, someone makes that strategy work, but as a percentage move it's just awful, as I've seen team after team go down in flames by deliberately short-changing the pitching staff. A variation on this is the one-ace-pitcher theory, which is also risky because you spent $30 bucks on Pedro and then had to absorb hundreds of innings of guys with 5-plus ERAs to meet the innings minimum. We used to have a guy in our league who used the opposite strategy: tank HR and RBI, draft a few high-average base thieves to corner the steals market, and spend the rest on pitching. This strategy similarly failed more often than it worked, plus these days there are too few dependable base thieves left to make it work, especially in the AL.
4. Playing Time, Playing Time: At the opposite end of the pole, one strategy that seems to work quite a lot, although it's easier said than done, is largely eschewing top players to load the lineup with guys who play every day. This is a sure-fire way to run the table in RBIs. The downside: bring in a few injuries, and you have holes you can't plug and no desirable trade bait.
5. Flexibility: One thing I've learned is that each draft is different, as the league personnel changes, the AL's personnel changes, and strategies change. Top closers went for $40 plus in the mid-90s, and don't touch those prices today. Some years, starting pitching is at a premium. Don't be paralyzed by your projected prices; watch how the draft is going.
6. Follow the Money: This one's pretty basic, but if you're a beginner, make sure you closely track how much money everyone has left, particularly once a lot of rosters are nearing half-full. If there's someone you really want, you don't want him coming up while there are one or two guys left who can bid everyone under the table.
7. $14 for Paul Assenmacher: Not sure why I remember that one - I believe he was released by his owner before the end of April that year - but every year somebody winds up paying a silly-high price for their last player because they saved too much money to the end. Don't be that guy.
8. Three and Three: Although I've gravitated more to strategy #4 above in recent years - when I first started I used to blow my money on a few huge sluggers and bank on finding bargains to fill the lineup, which has gotten harder to do - I usually wind up with a basic alignment of three good starting pitchers and three guys who can crank out 30 HR apiece. The closer I get to that, the happier I am. Ideally, you want the pitchers at less than $20 apiece - last year, I put $51 on Barry Zito and Roy Halladay, with catastrophic results.
9. Big Prizes Early: Whether you're looking for bargains or trying to fob off duds, it just never seems to work to bring up anyone in the first few rounds who isn't a stud. People have enough money to prevent huge bargains, but they won't bid very far on lesser mortals while they're hunting for franchise players.
Strangely, there are often bargain opportunities in the first two or three players to be bid on, as people are still gunshy about blowing their wad right away. This depends to some extent on where enthusiasm for A-Rod is in your league this year.
10. $10-20 for Catchers: Catcher is the easiest position to get stuck with guys who don't play at all or don't hit at all. But there's also a tendency to go to $15 or $20 for a guy who'd be a $10 player as a first baseman, and that's a waste. The ideal team spends between $10 and $20 total on catchers.
Anyway, those are initial thoughts (more to come if I think of them). Of course, you can probably deduce a lot of my specific player-evaluation ideas from reading this site.
POP CULTURE: A High Bar
Tom Wolfe calls Dr. Hunter S. Thompson "the [20th] century's greatest comic writer in the English language." I know Thompson was a friend of Wolfe and traveled in the same circles, and admittedly I haven't read Thompson's best work. But it really seems quite unlikely that anywhere near a majority of people given the opportunity to read both would find Thompson funnier than Dave Barry, who I've argued in the past is "the funniest writer in the history of the English language." My sense of Thompson was that he was something of an acquired taste, and - like P.J. O'Rourke, only moreso - not to the taste of a lot of people who didn't share his point of view.
February 23, 2005
WAR: Fake, and Inaccurate
Jon Henke catches Robert Scheer, the poor man's Paul Krugman, fabricating 9/11 stories by claiming to know the contents of "secret" documents reviewed by the 9/11 Commission, in spite of the 9/11 Commission's unambiguous statement that Scheer's claims were supported by "no documentary evidence reviewed by the commission or testimony we have received to this point . . . "
BLOG: Simmons Shaqs Up
No time to blog today, but make sure you didn't miss yesterday's must-read column from Bill Simmons on his NBA All-Star Weekend adventures.
February 22, 2005
WAR: Battle Droids
The U.S. military is developing robot soldiers? This seems like it could have some real hazards to work out:
"They don't get hungry," said Gordon Johnson of the Pentagon's Joint Forces Command. "They're not afraid. They don't forget their orders. They don't care if the guy next to them has just been shot. Will they do a better job than humans? Yes."
The robot soldier has been a dream at the Pentagon for 30 years. And some involved in the work say it may take at least 30 more years to realize in full. Well before then, they say, the military will have to answer some tough questions if it intends to trust robots with the responsibility of distinguishing friend from foe, combatant from innocent bystander.
Of course, even aside from the issue of whether robots can be trusted not to target civilians, there's a second issue: as Victor Davis Hanson has often argued, a significant part of America's competitive advantage in combat is the brains and flexibility of soldiers from free societies, as opposed to those trained and conditioned in autocracies. Hopefully, a movement in the direction of automated soldiers won't erode that.
February 21, 2005
BASEBALL: Aging Tiger, Hidden Ace
David Pinto points to this interesting (as always) Studes analysis over at Hardball Times attempting to quantify the Doyle Alexander for John Smoltz trade, and reaching the conclusion that the deal was a good one for the Tigers (nobody disputes that it was a great deal for the Braves). Like David, I've always thought this was a deal you had to make if you're the Tigers, even not knowing Alexander would post a 1.53 ERA and the team would win all 11 of his starts, and even knowing that Alexander was a crummy postseason pitcher.
The 1987 Tigers were the classic win-now team. Darrell Evans, the team leader in homers for the third straight season (103 home runs between 1985-87), was 40. Lance Parrish had left before the season as a free agent, Jack Morris was held on the roster only through collusion, and Kirk Gibson would leave as a free agent after the season. Numerous contributors to the team were 32 or older: centerfielder Chet Lemon was 32 and would have just one more good season, Frank Tanana was 33, DH Bill Madlock was 36 and having his last hurrah, nearly the whole bench was 32 or older. And Alan Trammell was in the middle of a career year. The Tigers were seeing the window of the 80s close, and they knew it; two years later they would lose 103 games. 1987, when they had the best record in baseball, was the time to go for it.
I ran a composite age for that Tigers team, weighted by Win Shares (i.e., so the age of the biggest contributors figured most prominently); the Tigers averaged 30.81 years, or 30.59 if you leave off Alexander. That's not an old team, actually - Trammell was still 29, and a few key guys were still young, 23-year-old Matt Nokes, 25-year-old Mike Henneman. But Nokes would never again match his rookie year, as the Tigers may have suspected. It was clearly a team that needed to make the big move, and you can't blame them for it.
(An aside to two long-running Hall of Fame debates: the Tigers lost in the ALCS that year in large part because Bert Blyleven beat Morris in Game 2 and Alexander in Game 5. Make of that what you will).
POLITICS: Closing Ranks
Instapundit links to this article by Joseph Curl of the Washington Times, which gets the reactions of three prominent White House correspondents to Daily Kos' destruction of James Guckert, a/k/a Jeff Gannon. To their credit, the reporters who are quoted recognize that reporters with an axe to grind aren't exactly a novelty:
"We all ask all kinds of questions; we all come to the briefing room with different points of view; we all serve different corporate masters," said Terry Moran of ABC News. "I don't know anything about Gannon's—or Guckert's—private life, and frequently he sounded like a shill for the administration. But he also challenged the White House from time to time with pointed questions—from the right. And that always struck me as valuable and necessary."
Of course, a major offense by Gannon in the question at issue, and of which Thomas has often been guilty, is speechifying - asking a question where the reporter is basically making a statement more than trying to elicit information.
It's not surprising, though, that White House reporters like Moran (formerly of the New Republic and one of the more open Bush antagonists) would be deeply appalled by the use of Guckert's sex life to drum him out of the business and publicly humiliate him; I'm sure every reporter can imagine how allies or foes of an administration could start using similar tactics against unfriendly reporters.
February 20, 2005
HISTORY: Courageous and Fanatical
As you may have seen elsewhere (see here, for example), yesterday was the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the 36-day battle for Iwo Jima, one of the critical battles of the final stages of encircling Japan, and setting up air basis that could run bombing raids on the Japanese mainland unimpeded, in preparation for the planned invasion of Japan. (As such, among other things, the nature of the resistance by the Japanese at Iwo Jima is both a critical part of the moral calculus of Hiroshima as well as a window into the obstacles we faced in turning postwar Japan into a civil democracy at peace with its neighbors and with us).
The resistance put up by the Japanese at Iwo Jima has few parallels in military history, and is staggering to the imagination: some 21,000 Japanese soldiers stood to defend Iwo Jima, and only 1,083 of them were taken alive; the other 20,000 fought to the death rather than surrender. 6,821 Americans died overcoming that resistance. Rest in peace.
BLOG: Yo- Yo- Yo- Yo- Yoda
WAR: "Low-Hanging Fruit"
Dean also said the Bush administration has ignored the mounting threat in Iran and North Korea. "We picked the low hanging fruit in Iraq and did nothing" about the other, more dangerous regimes, he said.
So, now Dean's complaint about the Iraq War is that it was . . . too easy?
Also, so much for Dean taking a role as a quiet functionary.
POLITICS: Makings of a Conservative
Continuing on the theme of the Left's tendency towards scorched-earth tactics against people who agree with them some but not all of the time, Patrick R. Sullivan wonders in the comments to this Jane Galt post whether Harvard president Larry Summers will still be a Clintonian liberal when he's through getting burned in effigy by leftists on the Harvard faculty.
On the other hand, while I think the reaction to Summers' comments has been absurdly overblown, it's just a bit simplistic to complain that attacks on Summers are inconsistent with academic freedom. It's not unreasonable to argue that people with unpopular opinions should be secure in their tenured professorships but at the same time complain when such people become university presidents or department chairs. (Much like the reasons why the GOP was right to tell Trent Lott he couldn't be Majority Leader anymore).
She's cookin' with heat, that's for sure. But as usual, Donna's fry pan contains more sizzle than steak. . .
There's more there, some of it substantive and quite probably justified, but yet again Kos shows that he will use whatever ammunition you put in his hand, even against enemies in his own party. Brazile has, at times, shown that she's willing to be civil, even friendly, with people like Karl Rove and Jonah Goldberg, which apparently makes her (like Summers) a heretic who must be burned. If you want to purge the likes of Donna Brazile from your party, be my guest. You're gonna need a smaller tent.
February 19, 2005
BLOG: Thought for the Day, 2/19/05
Dave Barry on children's television:
Today's children watch shows like "Sesame Street," which teaches them that the world is full of friendly interracial adults and cute puppets and letters that form recognizable patterns. This is, of course, a pack of lies. When I was a kid, in New York, my friends and I watched shows like "Captain Video," which taught us that the world was full of evil forces trying to destroy the earth, which turns out to be absolutely correct.
February 18, 2005
BLOG: Moms, Dads, and Newsweek
Michele has a great essay on how the stresses of motherhood get exacerbated by peer pressure:
This was at the height of the mommy wars. Stay at home moms and working moms were rumbling in the alleys, knives drawn and guns loaded. It was an ugly time to be a new mother, as you were constantly pressed upon to choose a side. The working mothers would attack you from one side: "You'll lose your sense of identity if you don't continue your career! You'll spend your days with formula spit on your shirt and strained pees in your hair and some day you will resent your children for making you live the life of a slave to their childhood and you'll end up an old, bitter hag with a dysfunctional family!" And the stay at home moms would counter attack: "Your child will grow up with a sense of abandonment! You'll be too tired to help her with homework or read to her! She'll look for love everywhere else besides home and eventually she'll end up on a street corner selling herself for crack!"
I realized about six months in to this mothering thing that there was a Perfect Mommy cult and half of the members lived within shouting distance of me. My kid shouted, they came running. "Pick her up immediately, or she'll feel like she can't trust you!" Ok, but my mother said to just let her cry if she's not hungry or dirty and.... "NO! Never let the baby cry, it causes irreparable damage!"
And all the while I was stuck in a game of tug-of-war between different parenting groups vying for my attention. When I say some of these women were bats**t crazy, I am not exaggerating. They followed trends like some people follow sports teams - with this undying devotion. I half expected to show up for the "How To Get Your Baby To Sleep" lecture and walk into an auditorium filled with face-painted women wearing Ferber t-shirts and holding up "Let Her Cry It Out!" posters.
And why do they want to drag everyone they know into their world of perceived perfectness? Because it justifies that world, of course. Karen, my super mom friend, was constantly trying to get me to go back to work full time. When she wasn't harping on that subject, she was throwing pamphlets at me for sports schools and dance schools. If I would just join her lifestyle, if I would just assimilate, then maybe she wouldn't feel quite so crappy over the life she was living. If all her friends jumped off a bridge....well, you know how that goes.
But it only had to be that way if you made it that way. I worked. I had friends. I had a life. I had two kids. But I didn't over schedule my kids and I didn't take on more than I can handle just so I could turn around and bitch about how much I had to handle. Martyrdom, anyone?
The whole thing is worth reading. Of course, the burdens and tradeoffs involved are real, but Michele and Lileks (who delivers a marvelous fisking of the same Newsweek article on parenting that touched off Michele's rant) have a point: if you internalize the escalating peer-group pressures, they only get worse. (I saw the same phenomenon in law school).
February 17, 2005
WAR: Meeting With The Enemy
It's time for another episode of "let's make an important distinction here."
Matt Yglesias continues to argue that the Powerline guys are way, way out of line to say that Jimmy Carter is "on the other side," contending that this "What's being elided here is the all-important distinction between political disagreement and warfare." Naturally, Atrios and Kevin Drum agree.
Powerline clarifies the charge here with a discussion of Carter's meetings with the Soviet foreign minister, expanding on John Hinderaker's original post containing the original attack on Carter. Jon Henke thinks Powerline goes too far, but nonetheless offers additional supporting examples, including an unnamed Clinton Cabinet member calling Carter a "treasonous prick" over his meetings with the North Korean leadership.
I'm mostly with Henke here - I don't think Carter actually wants to bring about harm to the United States, but I do think that his activities since leaving office have gone well beyond what you could fairly characterize as just "political disagreement." Carter may not be on the other side, but he has repeatedly and consistently shown up to offer his help to the other side in such a broad variety of international controversies that you can't help but wonder what on earth the man does think he's doing.
There's a critical distinction here that the critics on the Left, most notably Yglesias - who's posted on this three times now without addressing the distinction - need to grapple with. And that is this: giving speeches and the like here at home is, indeed, just "political disagreement." It may help us or it may hurt us, but it is just speech. But that's not what Hinderaker is talking about, although you'd never know from reading Yglesias. What he's talking about is traveling around the world, meeting with foreign leaders and taking positions contrary to those of the United States or rendering assistance directly to hostile forces and regimes.
This is, of course, a recurring theme in conservative criticisms of a number of liberals - besides Carter's many trips, prominent examples include John Kerry's famous meeting with the North Vietnamese and the trip Kerry and Tom Harkin took to meet with Daniel Ortega in the 1980s. Jesse Jackson is also a master at this. To say nothing of Jane Fonda and Ramsey Clark. (I can't think offhand of conservative examples of the same; I'm sure you can find some, but the practice has been far more pervasive on the Left, and not only because we've had mostly Republican presidents since the dawn of the modern Left in 1968). Time and again, whether they be legislators, state officials, ex-leaders, or private citizens, we've seen the spectacle of people on the Left sitting down with hostile heads of state and assuring them that the United States does not present a united front against them. They, in turn, often use such meetings for propaganda purposes, including for the purpose of telling their own people that the United States is not going to help them.
This is just wrong; you may disagree with the Commander-in-Chief, but you don't run around the world undermining him in front of our enemies. Other than Clark - who is very deeply on the other side and should have been prosecuted for treason for his visit to North Vietnam in 1971, saving us the spectacle of him offering legal aid to Saddam Hussein - Carter is the single worst offender on this score, and he does deserve a much greater degree of criticism for these persistent displays of what you can't help but call disloyalty than the average "dissenter."
Why does Carter do these things? He must understand, or at least believe, that he has some influence, some ability to alter the outcome of international controversies by actively intervening in them. When he does, he almost always takes a position that undermines or actively opposes the position taken by the duly elected chief executive of the United States. Does Yglesias care to explain why this practice is just "political disagreement"? Does anyone? If not, Yglesias shouldn't be so quick to jump on the critics of a practice he himself considers indefensible.
If you can tolerate a few more of the sordid details of Carter's transgressions against loyalty - not an exhaustive account, to be sure - try the Jay Nordlinger article here:
Read More »
For years, Carter has been a thorn in the side of presidents, acting as a kind of "anti-president," as Lance Morrow once put it in an essay for Time. You recall how Carter irked Clinton on Haiti and North Korea. His low moment, however, came during the run-up to the [first] Gulf War, when he wrote members of the U.N. Security Council - including Mitterrand's France and Communist China - urging them to thwart the Bush administration's effort. Our government found out about it when the Canadian prime minister, Brian Mulroney, called the defense secretary, Dick Cheney, and said, "What the . . .?"
Then there's billionaire terrorist Yasser Arafat (as Nordlinger notes, "Arabs are heavy-duty funders of the Carter Center, and they get a lot for their money"):
After the Gulf War, Saudi Arabia was mad at Arafat, because the PLO chief had sided with Saddam Hussein. So Arafat asked Carter to fly to Riyadh to smooth things over with the princes and restore Saudi funding to him - which Carter did.
At their first meeting - in 1990 - Carter boasted of his toughness toward Israel, assuring Arafat at one point, ". . . you should not be concerned that I am biased. I am much more harsh with the Israelis." Arafat, for his part, railed against the Reagan administration and its alleged "betrayals." Rosalynn Carter, taking notes for her husband, interjected, "You don't have to convince us!" Brinkley records that this "elicited gales of laughter all round." Carter himself, according to Brinkley, "agreed that the Reagan administration was not renowned as promise keepers" (this, to Arafat).
After Carter had that first meeting with Arafat, he went home and promptly served the PLO head as PR adviser and speechwriter. What do I mean? Listen to Brinkley: "On May 24 Carter drafted on his home computer the strategy and wording for a generic speech Arafat was to deliver soon for Western ears . . ." Said Carter, "The audience is not the Security Council, but the world community. The objective of the speech should be to secure maximum sympathy and support of other world leaders . . . The Likud leaders are now on the defensive, and must not be given any excuse for continuing their present abusive policies."
There's Carter sucking up to dictators:
While in office, Carter hailed Yugoslavia's Tito as "a man who believes in human rights." He said of Romania's barbaric Ceausescu and himself, "Our goals are the same: to have a just system of economics and politics . . . We believe in enhancing human rights." While out of office, Carter has praised Syria's late Assad (killer of at least 20,000 in Hama) and the Ethiopian tyrant Mengistu (killer of many more than that). In Haiti, he told the dictator Cédras that he was "ashamed of what my country has done to your country."
(More Nordlinger on Carter here).
« Close It
WAR: Us and Them
No time to blog this morning, I'll just leave you with two links. First, Stuart Buck points us to this must-read Boston Globe article on interrogation tactics, from the perspective of the interrogators. The stuff on the areas of division, and of agreement, in the intelligence community was also instructive:
A retired general interrupted, "There is only one war. In Afghanistan, in Iraq. It's all one war."
Then there's Mark Steyn's latest, on why UN moral corruption is both inevitable and so pervasive the media barely notices it:
Now how about this? The Third Infantry Division are raping nine-year olds in Ramadi. Ready, set, go! That thundering sound outside your window isn't the new IKEA sale, but the great herd of BBC/CNN/Independent/Guardian/New York Times/Le Monde/Sydney Morning Herald/Irish Times/Cork Examiner reporters stampeding to the Sunni Triangle. Whoa, hold up, lads, it's only hypothetical. But think about it: the merest glimpse of a freaky West Virginia tramp leading an Abu Ghraib inmate around with girlie knickers on his head was enough to prompt calls for Rumsfeld's resignation, and for Ted Kennedy to charge that Saddam's torture chambers were now open "under new management", and for Robert Fisk to be driven into the kind of orgasmic frenzy unseen since his column on how much he enjoyed being beaten up by an Afghan mob: "Just look at the way US army reservist Lynndie England holds the leash of the naked, bearded Iraqi," wrote Fisk. "No sadistic movie could outdo the damage of this image. In September 2001, the planes smashed into the buildings; today, Lynndie smashes to pieces our entire morality with just one tug on the leash."
February 16, 2005
POLITICS: Burying The Hatchet
Hillary Clinton, who voted alone against Clinton prosecutors Michael Chertoff and Viet Dinh for DOJ posts (before Chertoff was elevated to the Third Circuit) has apparently finally set the vendetta aside, as she joined in the 98-0 vote to confirm Chertoff for Homeland Security head (a vote, the cynical might note, that strips Chertoff of life tenure as a federal judge).
POLITICS: In a Laffer
Maybe it's just me, but I don't remember Arthur Laffer, the father of supply-side economics, supporting Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996 (link for WSJ subscribers only).
BASEBALL: A Good Gamble
Aaron Gleeman is - surprise! - satisfied that the Twins are getting a good deal keeping Johan Santana. Is Santana really worth twice as much as Kris Benson? Wait, don't answer that.
POP CULTURE: Aaaaaaay
Bill Simmons is back with more Ramblings, and this one cracked me up:
I wish there were cameras on hand for every parent that watched the "Happy Days" reunion, then tried to explain to their kids that Henry Winkler was once the coolest man on the planet. I just picture the kids pointing to the TV and saying: "Really, that guy? Are you sure? Every kid wanted to be like him? Really?"
POLITICS: Good Bye, Loser
Also, on the NR front, check out the Beltway Buzz, a new feature.
BASEBALL/LAW: Proof of Nothing
RELIGION/BASEBALL: Fisher of Men
Interesting article on Fr. Edwin Cipot, who was recently appointed by Cardinal Egan as director of vocations for the Archdiocese of New York. Before the priesthood, Fr. Cipot was a minor league ballplayer who just narrowly missed making the Mets in 1978, and an actor whose one cup of coffee in Hollywood was a tiny part in The Natural.
February 15, 2005
POLITICS: Jordan and Guckert
I haven't blogged on either story thus far - I suppose I should have blogged about Eason Jordan when I first read the story in Opinion Journal's Political Diary - but Jonah Goldberg nails the difference between the two: Jordan, much like Howell Raines and Dan Rather before him, was a senior executive with a news network with hugely influential global reach, while Jeff Gannon, a/k/a James Guckert, was an obscure member of the vast White House press corps working for a tiny, openly right-wing news service almost nobody seemed to pay any attention to (Captain Ed makes the same point here). In this sense, of course, the two were typical of the positions held in the media by liberals and conservatives; outside of Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, it would be inconceivable for a guy with Guckert's politics to rise to a position like Jordan's. And yet, to the Left, the real scandal is not the pervasive reach of guys like Jordan but the tiny toehold of guys like Guckert.
Of course, some are now bemoaning the fact that Jordan lost his job. Yes, that seems extreme, and it's odd that he didn't first try to get the tape of his actual remarks out there and see if things died down. But let's recall what the Jordan story is about: the problem with Jordan's treatment of Saddam's regime (i.e., his admission in 2003 that CNN pulled punches on stories of atrocities while reporting from Saddam's Iraq so as to retain access) and with his comments at Davos (where he reportedly received effusive praise after the panel from Arab attendees after claiming without evidence that the American military was deliberately murdering journalists in Iraq) was two instances of the same thing: a CNN exec telling anti-American audiences what they want to hear (or not saying what they didn't want to hear) as a way of buying access at the expense of the truth. (Powerline also noted that the Davos comments were not an isolated incident with Jordan). You couldn't find a more perfect example of the polar opposite of 'speaking truth to power,' which supposedly is the mantra of journalists. Why this type of behavior should be defended by anyone in journalism is beyond me.
On the other hand, Guckert's main offense is a little hard to pin down. Yes, he asked some oddball questions, a few of which served up softballs for the White House, but anybody who's seen a Democrat on the Today show, for example, knows that softball questions aren't exactly a rarity in this business. Yes, he used a pseudonym, but so did George Orwell and Mark Twain. Did the White House know his real name? This part I missed, since obviously concealing his true identity from the Secret Service would be a major grounds for revoking his press pass to the White House, and would probably justify a thorough review of screening procedures. The Kos press release makes much of Guckert's paltry credentials, but I don't see why Guckert's credentials are less impressive than those of Kos himself, who has had press passes to a number of big events (maybe it's Kos' Solomonic impartiality). All that's really left is that a hack journalist had a creepy sex life on the Internet. I guess that's disturbing news, but it does seem like the kind of thing that the party of Bill Clinton and Ted Kennedy and Barney Frank shouldn't be getting itself too worked up about.
UPDATE: I shouldn't let this post end with a reference to Frank's role in sex scandals a decade and more ago without noting that I agree with others on the conservative side of the aisle that Frank should be commended for standing up to Jordan at Davos; it was really Frank who made this story. He was served up an opportunity where the petty partisan thing to do would have been to spread Jordan's smear and use it as further ammunition against Bush and the Iraq war, and the patriotic thing to do was to defend the honor of the United States before a foreign audience, and Frank chose the latter. If Democrats made that choice more often when flimsy charges are levelled against America's conduct overseas, perhaps they wouldn't be in the same pickle today.
February 14, 2005
WAR: The Torture Problem
Sebastian Holsclaw (link via Yglesias) says those of us on the Right ought to do more to denounce the use of torture by the United States in general, and the practice of "rendering" terror-related suspects to countries that have no restraint about torture in particular. (See also more links he supplies to a must-read New Yorker article here that actually quotes non-anonymous sources and here to a collection of blog links). Holsclaw also argues that now - with things going fairly well in Iraq and the presidential election behind us - is the most opportune moment to get some momentum on this subject. He's right.
Like, I think, a lot of people on the Right, I've been hesitant to wade into this issue, for a bunch of reasons. Partly it's the fact that this is a hard issue to get a factual handle on, if you want to get a realistic view of what's actually happening, why, to and by whom, and what the legal framework is; I keep putting off writing about this stuff thinking that there's another 50-page memo or 70-page court decision I ought to have read (although I did read one of the big 50+ page Gonzales memos, and honestly it just looked like typical lawyer advice to me: here's what the statutes say, here's how they've been interpreted, here's where we think the legal lines are). And partly, yes, it's the incessant bait-and-switching by the Left (including the media) - the efforts to connect the Abu Ghraib sexual and other abuses to so-called "torture memos" despite a complete absence of evidence that the prison guards involved had any knowledge of internal White House legal memoranda; the effort to stretch the word "torture" to cover nearly anything that sounded remotely unpleasant and denounce anyone who tried to make reasoned distrinctions as an apologist for terror; the inability to distinguish between moral standards and legal standards; the constant and entirely beside-the-point invocation of the Geneva Conventions; and so forth. To say nothing of the need to separate fact from, well, Seymour Hersh. But again, Holsclaw is right that at some point, we have to put our heads down and focus on what's actually going on and what should be done about it, and not use the Left as an excuse to duck the issue.
(I'm not touching here on the issue of due process and detainees, which is a whole 'nother ball of wax for another day.)
On general principles, I suspect that my own views on torture are probably not far from those of a lot of people on this issue:
1. I'd agree that there are a number of different cases against torture - a moral case against extreme mistreatment of fellow human beings, a practical case against torture as an effective means of interrogation, a legal case, a case that torture encourages our enemies to do the same to our people, and a case that any hint of torture harms our public image abroad. But I'm not so sure I'd agree that each case is coextensive - while I understand the argument that torture winds up yielding a lot of useless information, I think it's probably likely that at least in some situations, things we shouldn't do for other reasons might turn out to be effective on a practical level. And it's certainly true that, in this war at least, our enemies have no restraints on their behavior no matter how we ourselves act. And, of course, we'll get some types of bad p.r. around the world from the Seymour Hershes and Robert Fisks of the world pretty much regardless of what the actual facts are. Arguing otherwise on any of these counts really tends to gloss over some of the real trade-offs and moral dilemmas we face between the need for effective intelligence-gathering and things we can't and shouldn't try to morally justify.
2. The Geneva Conventions have nothing to do with this issue, and are perhaps the single biggest red herring in the whole argument. The Geneva Conventions are a treaty. They bind the signatory nations to grant certain types of treatment to the uniformed combatants of other signatory nations. You can find good summaries of this issue by the National Review here (part of the article is subscription-only) and here, and by Jay Tea at Wizbang here and here. Among other things, NR notes that the Geneva Conventions require that captured POWs receive "dormitories, kitchenettes, sports equipment, canteens, and a monthly pay allowance in Swiss francs"; in fact, because the Geneva Conventions are focused entirely on wartime nations' interest in taking uniformed combatants off the battlefield rather than on interrogation, "[e]ven tempting detainees who are POWs with a candy bar to answer questions beyond name, rank and serial number violates the Third Geneva Convention."
Yes, say some on the Left, but we should take the noble step of complying even if our enemies don't, so we don't become like them . . . see, this is one of the biggest divides between Right and Left: the Left tends to see treaties as gestures of American good faith and submission to multinational rules; as ends in and of themselves. But if you take treaties seriously, you have to remember what they are: agreed-upon bilateral frameworks of incentives. A treaty just formalizes a carrot-and-stick approach: if you do A we will do B; if you don't do X we won't do Y. This just keeps coming up: the Left wanted us to sign the Kyoto treaty even though we were only one of, if memory serves, either one or two of the world's six largest nations that would have been bound by it; the Left wanted Israel to have treaties with Arafat without any mechanism to punish the Palestinians for violating the treaties; the Left wanted more negotiations and more treaties with North Korea instead of any consequences for violating the last treaty; the Left successfully demanded that the U.S. do nothing when the North Vietnamese violated the treaty that ended the Vietnam War with an independent South Vietnam; the Left wanted us not to resume hostilities with Saddam Hussein when he violated the terms of the 1991 cease-fire. But if we just give away the benefits of treaties without requiring anything in return, we lose the ability to use treaties to get anything we want. (This is the same basic rule the Right applies in economic debates to reforming welfare for the poor or cutting taxes for the rich: everybody responds to incentives).
3. Of course, getting back to Sebastian's point, just because the Geneva Conventions don't and shouldn't apply, and just because practices like "extraordinary rendition" may be legal, doesn't answer the moral and policy question of whether they are the right thing to do. Sometimes, we can't let the law do all our thinking for us. We have to make our own judgments.
4. It's also true that something can be wrong without being "torture." The simplest definition of tourture is the infliction of lasting or permanent physical harm. Most of us would probably extend that definition further, to the infliction of intense physical pain, whether or not it leaves a mark.
I think a lot of what appalled people about Abu Ghraib was the psycho-sexual stuff. A lot of that really doesn't seem like "torture," things like stacking up a bunch of guys naked; humiliation, yes, torture, no. But the Right tends to get boxed in sometimes to by resisting the argument that if it's bad, it must be torture. Sexual humiliation is bad, regardless of what label you put on it.
5. On the specific subject of what are and are not acceptable practices, I don't have any problem with some of the coercive interrogation techniques that have been widely mooted about, things like sleep deprivation and "stress positions," and we can have a fair debate about some of the other stuff, where the line should be drawn. I'm probably not alone in thinking you draw the line a little further out if you are dealing with known insurgents rather than witnesses with unknown affilitions, a little further out if you're dealing with foreign fighters rather than Iraqis, a little further out yet with known hardened Al Qaeda terrorists. That said, do I know myself where the right line is? No. And I think it would be productive to give a fresh look at this issue that focuses prospectively on what we want the rules of the road to be, rather than wasting time debating existing structures like the Geneva Conventions or wallowing in efforts to play "gotcha" over who has done what up to now. That's particularly where I think Senate and House Republicans could and should lead the way in putting together at least some general guidelines for the future, even despite the obvious and sensible objection to using statutes to micromanage things like interrogation of terrorists. This link-filled Instapundit post is a great place to start in terms of examining the issue.
6. Returning to the issue of rendition, the New Yorker article undoubtedly oversimplifies the issue (if these are allies, can we refuse to hand over anyone they have a warrant out for?), and there may be legitimate needs for the program in some sense, but there's no escaping the bottom line that, whatever our rules are or should be, if there are things we wouldn't want to do to people in custody ourselves, we shouldn't hand them over to somebody else to do it, period.
UPDATE: John Cole has some detailed background on "extraordinary rendition." Like I said, I'm less concerned about demonizing the overall practice than about its specific use in routing people to foreign governments for the purpose of having them tortured.
HISTORY: In The Gulag
Americans held in Stalin-era gulags? Apparently so.
February 13, 2005
BLOG: Quick Links 2/13/05
*Jane Galt notes that outrage over Brit Hume's characterization of FDR's long-term plan for something like private accounts has been overblown by the Left. Personally, I didn't get the big deal of the Hume quotation, maybe because I'd read the full quote first from the WSJ and got the basic point, which was not that FDR wanted total privatization of the system but that he foresaw some role private accounts by 1965 or so. Either way, too many Democrats are tied to leaving things just as they were in 1935 . . . well, except for the numerous times the system has been amended since then, mostly to raise the available benefits in 1950 and 1977.
*Steven Schwartz has an in-depth look at "On the Waterfront," including a comparison with a play by Arthur Miller. (via Powerline) I'm sure when Schwartz wrote this he didn't think Miller would die just as it was running on the web, since this is very harsh on Miller. Schwartz explores the parallels between the film and the experiences of director Elia Kazan and writer Budd Schulberg with Communism in Hollywood. As it happens, I (somewhat accidentally) attended a talk by Schulberg about a year or two ago on this movie, and he gave a great deal of detail on how the story arose from the real-life activities of a crusading priest fighting gangsters who controlled the longshoremen's union. The other issue Schulberg talked about, which isn't really a novel point of view but isn't mentioned in Schwartz's account, is the biblical imagery in the film, especially Brando's final scene.
*Samizdata has an interesting review of Bernard Lewis' latest book, which is mostly a collection of essays over the past 5 decades. I believe Lewis is now close to or past 90, but you still see him writing, and the September 11 attacks have made the past few years the most prominent of his career; it's amazing to see public intellectuals still contributing to debate at that age (Milton Friedman is a prominent example of an over-90 intellectual who's still going, and I read an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal recently that quoted 95-year-old management expert Peter Drucker).
*Just when you think you understand women . . . Gil Grissom, Sex Symbol?
*This Reuters report skips over the part in al-Zawahri's latest diatribe where he complains of America's "freedom of AIDS, or the industry of prostitution and same sex marriages."
February 12, 2005
BASEBALL: The Annual Ritual
BASEBALL: Whose Fantasy Is It?
An ugly legal dispute brewing between Major League Baseball and fantasy baseball league operators. See this in the Roto Times, and David Pinto's response. Baseball's owners and the union are both in on this - a very bad sign.
POLITICS: Prospects For The Future
American Prospect editor Michael Tomasky has a thoughtful piece on why liberals need to do some rethinking and decide which are really their first principles. It's instructive, of course, to see the defensiveness in his explanation to readers of why TAP would run articles critical of Michael Moore and of pro-choice rhetoric.
Tomasky also makes an interesting point about the differences between contemporary liberals and Goldwater-era conservatives:
Some will say at this point: But wait. When conservatives were at the bottom of the well, they didn't spend a lot of time engaged in namby-pamby navel-gazing. They went out and said what they believed, repeatedly, loudly, unapologetically. And they won. And, therefore, that's what our side needs to do now.
Of course, Tomasky doesn't draw any conclusions from this - such as the fact that this means that most of liberalism's best ideas have already been tried, or that the Democratic party is much more encumbered by interest groups that don't want their existing honey pots taken away. But it's an interesting essay, and worth reading the whole thing.
LAW/POLITICS: Nah, Just The Fox, Ma'am
It's a time-honored publicity technique: prepare an ad likely to be rejected by media outlets, and when they turn you down, complain to the press that you're being denied a fair hearing. . .
February 10, 2005
POLITICS: Unhealthy Fixation
Tuesday's fun with the "chicken hawk" argument was, at first blush, about yet another of the stupid arguments you encounter (from Left and from Right) in political debates, an ad hominem that feels good to toss around but makes no logical sense. But this argument is much more than that: it's political hemlock that the Left/liberals/Democrats can't seem to stop imbibing, with catastrophic consequences in the 2004 election. You would hope that they've learned something from that. Let me count the ways:
1. The Wesley Clark Boomlet: One of the problems the Democrats faced, once Howard Dean flamed out, was the absence of meaningful alternatives to John Kerry that anti-Kerry voters could rally around. One reason for that was the time wasted in the fall of 2003 fawning over Wesley Clark, whose only qualification for running was his military experience. The willingness of Democratic pundits, bloggers and (for a time) voters to swoon over Clark's military pedigree was a bad early sign of their confusion of military experience with good ideas on foreign policy. Significantly, some of the biggest Clark boosters in the blogosphere, like Kevin Drum and Mark Kleiman, were the same people who went ga-ga over the "AWOL Bush" story. Coincidence? I think not. They convinced themselves that you could defeat Bush in a foreign policy debate by comparing Clark's distinguished service record to Bush's.
2. The Rise of Michael Moore: Moore had been on the political scene for some time, with his books and movies. But you may recall that his first direct insertion into the campaign came in January 2004 when he endorsed (who else) Wesley Clark and, in the process of his endorsement, called President Bush a "deserter." In retrospect, that was the best opportunity then and there for somebody to smack down Moore and keep the debate focused on things that happened less than 30 years ago. Nobody did; to the contrary, Moore kick-started a blog and media frenzy over the previously dormant AWOL story, setting off, among other things, comments from DNC Chair Terry McAuliffe on the subject. This created a monster, as Moore quickly learned that he could say whatever he wanted and still be embraced by the party's leadership.
3. The Kerry Nomination: Of course, the biggest debacle of all was the decision to nominate John Kerry. I believe, and I doubt too many people would disagree with me on this one, that Kerry would never have won the nomination had it not been for the widespread perception that he could take advantage of the distinction between his own combat record and Bush's military service record. That calculation wound up overcoming a wealth of reasons, well known to many Democrats, why Kerry could be a terrible candidate.
Now, Kerry did have a decent resume at first glance (two decades in the Senate) and did have his strengths as a candidate, notably his startling aggressiveness as a debater. And he didn't get blown out in November. But he did lose a lot of ground Al Gore had held, and as more than a few people pointed out during the primaries as well as later on, he was a sort of Frankenstein's monster of bad candidate traits: in a Senate divided between work horses and show horses, Kerry is a show horse who doesn't show well, a faux populist who's bad with people, an orator who gives deadly dull speeches, a guy who's all image and no substance . . . and his image is as a guy who's dull, condescending, mean, arrogant, and insincere. A glass-jawed bully who picks fights and boasts "bring it on," yet whines when attacked back. He's basically spent thirty years living off youthful exploits that he himself denounced, hiding behind medals he pretended to throw away. And, of course, there was his famous inability to take a clear position and stick to it.
All of this was well known to Democrats. But they overlooked it all in their obsession with proving that Bush was a chicken hawk and Kerry a noble war hero.
4. The Convention: You know the story: the Democratic Convention produced almost no bounce in the polls, and turned out to be a missed opportunity to lay out a coherent message. Why? Does the phrase "reporting for duty" ring a bell? Yet another blind alley, as the Democrats stressed over and over the contrast in Kerry's and Bush's service records at the expense of talking about a winning strategy in the war on terror or even laying out a stronger and more detailed critique of Bush's.
5. The Swift Boat Vets: We knew all along that Kerry would take some heat from Vietnam veterans over his conduct after the war. But nobody had really expected Kerry to suffer such damage from attacks on his service itself. There's no question that those attacks were motivated and given more visibility by the extent to which Kerry sought to play the "I served and you didn't" card.
6. Rathergate: The final way Bush's critics went astray over their obsession with hunting chicken hawks was the fiasco of the 60 Minutes hack job on Bush's National Guard service. Once again, the zeal of Bush critics who had pursued this story for five years overbore their judgment about the credibility of their sources, and led to a humiliating reversal that symbolized, for many voters, the media's mania to get Bush by any means necessary. Worse for the Democrats, the report coincided to a high degree of coordination with attack ads rolled out by McAuliffe. (And I'm leaving out here the roles of Tom Harkin and Max Cleland)
Could Bush have been beaten in 2004? It's a debate that can rage on through political history, but those of us who lived through it, on either side of the fence, certainly thought it was at least possible, and at any rate a stronger race against him might have salvaged some of the down-ticket disasters for the Dems.
Most of us who supported Bush recognized that Kerry's service record compared to Bush's was a positive for Kerry. If the Democrats had left it at that, it would have helped them. But at every turn, the obsession of Bush's critics with the "chicken hawk" argument - the idea that Bush's lack of combat service wasn't just one factor but a disabling fatal flaw for a wartime president - overbore their better judgment about sticking to the issues and the record, and wound up turning a positive into a series of disasters. Will they ever learn? Stay tuned.
February 9, 2005
POLITICS: Finance 101 - You Fail!
A lot of people, including George W. Bush himself, seem unduly impressed by the fact that the trust fund does not consist of a "a pile of money being accumulated somewhere." . . . Here in the United States . . . nobody accumulates literal piles of money. Instead they buy stocks, bonds, and other financial instruments. The Social Security Trust Fund is, like most of Bush's money, invested in bonds issued by the U.S. government.
(Emphasis added). Look, there are perfectly good arguments to be made about Social Security, but this ain't one of them. Let's say you can invest in two companies. Both are identical except that, for a third of their assets, they hold a portfolio of corporate bonds. Company A holds corporate bonds issued by, say, General Motors. Company B holds corporate bonds issued by . . . Company B. Wouldn't you be just a bit skeptical about the value of Company B's investment? Don't you think Company B would get into some trouble with its investors if it just said "a third of our assets are invested in corporate bonds" and didn't bother to disclose that they were buying their own bonds? There is a very big difference between buying bonds issued by somebody else and buying bonds you issued yourself.
Now, all of us make mistakes, and I'm certainly no expert on all the economic issues here - there's a reason I haven't delved too deeply into the Social Security debate - but if Yglesias can't grasp that simple distinction, he really should not be writing about this issue.
MORE: He's at it again here. Yglesias' point is that foreign holders of Treasury bonds will panic and fear a default by the U.S. if we don't repay the Social Security Trust Fund's theoretical holdings of Treasuries. But that's nonsense, and anybody who believes that wouldn't last a day as a bond trader, because the anticipated dramatic narrowing of risk-premium spreads between other bonds and Treasuries just wouldn't materialize. Holders of Treasuries know full well that nothing done to rearrange the U.S. government's internal accounting for what it "owes" itself (they're really IOMEs, not IOUs) will make it more likely that we would decide to default on bonds held by a non-federal-government holder, any more than the bank that holds my mortgage cares whether I keep a New Year's Resolution to put more of my money into my 401(k). You can argue over whether Bush's plan would improve or harm the federal government's overall long-term fiscal outlook (we'll leave that one for another day), but there's nothing here that remotely suggests the likelihood of a general default on Treasury bonds.
WAR: Baby Steps
The Saudi elections go forward. I would hardly characterize this as real progress, but the symbolic progress of having elections isn't nothing. Still, on the whole, I continue to regard Saudi Arabia as one of the weaker prospects for democratization in the Arab world (the worst may be Egypt, with its massive and mostly illiterate population and no economy to speak of).
BLOG: On The Street Where You Live
This is really kinda creepy: Google will give away a map to your house with just a phone number.
And on an unrelated note, but from the same blog, I know it's wrong, but I just can't help myself linking to this.
FOOTBALL: Show Me The Money!
POLITICS: Memory Lane
POLITICS: Dayton Bails Out
Mark Dayton (D-MN) won't run again for the Senate, giving the GOP a major opportunity to pick up a Senate seat. Rod Grams, who held the seat for one term before losing a close race to Dayton in 2000, is said to be in the running to seek the GOP nomination. (via regular commenter Large Bill). Dayton is one of three Senators whose seats are up for election in 2006 who were elected with less than 50% of the vote; the others are fellow Democrats Maria Cantwell of Washington and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan (yes, this reminds me I'm overdue to do my early roundup on the 2006 races).
SECOND UPDATE: The Dayton v. Kennedy blog will need a new URL.
WAR: From The Ground Up
Absolute required reading: "Black Hawk Down" author Mark Bowden (reporting through the eyes of one of the veterans of Mogadishu) on the difficulties of building a new NCO and officer corps in the Iraqi Army. Bowden suggests that conventional wisdom may be wrong on one major point:
It has become generally accepted wisdom that it was a mistake for the Coalition Provisional Authority to disband Saddam's army after American forces took Baghdad two years ago. If Maj. Lechner's experience is typical, then retaining the old force would have just created a whole different set of problems, and might well have further set back efforts to create a flexible, effective Iraqi army. Solving the problem in the 7th Battalion ultimately required rooting out nearly all of those officers who had served under the old regime.
[I]n almost all cases, the decisions by Bush and his civilian and military advisers involved avoiding alternatives that had their own potential bad consequences, and the critics are judging these decisions in a vacuum. The decision to disband Saddam's army and undergo a thorough de-Ba'athification is a classic example, cited incessantly by critics on the Left. But what if Bush had kept that army together, and they had acted in the heavy-handed (to put it mildly) fashion to which the Ba'athists were accustomed, say, by firing on crowds of civilians? Isn't it an absolute certainty that all the same critics would be singing "meet the new boss, same as the old boss," accusing Bush's commitment to democracy as being a sham and a cover for a desire to set up friendly tyrants to keep the oil pumping, that we'd hear constantly about how we've alienated the Iraqi people by enabling their oppressors, how we showed misunderstanding of the country by leaving a minority Sunni power structure in place over the Shi'ite majority? Wouldn't we hear the very same things we hear now about Afghanistan, about using too few US troops and "outsourcing" the job, or the same civil-liberties concerns we hear when we turn over suspects for interrogation to countries without our restraint when it comes to torture?
I still have no way to judge if disbanding the old army was the right thing to do, and Bowden explains why, either way, the task ahead may yet be long and difficult (although the end result, if it works, could be the most effective military in the region other than Israel and Turkey, given that similar problems with the officer and NCO corps abound in Arab militaries).
I have a simple question for Mr. Drum. The last time I checked, Democrats can still introduce legislation. They may not have the votes, but they can introduce their own plans. If they are unified and can peel off some Republicans such as Lincoln Chaffee, Olympia Snowe, and Susan Collins, they might even be able to pass something. And if it does not pass, they will be able to point to their plans during the next election cycle. Why are they not doing so?
It's George Bush who's insisting on a private account plan that even his own people admit won't do anything to shore up Social Security's finances. It's George Bush who's insisting that the only cures he'll consider are ones that include huge - but quiet - benefit cuts...
If "small benefit cuts" are part of, in Mr. Drum's analysis, an 'easy' solution, then how can it be that Bush's plan "won't do anything to shore up Social Security's finances" when it includes "huge - but quiet - benefit cuts"? If benefit cuts are part of a solution to shore up Social Security's finances, wouldn't a plan that includes benefit cuts at least be doing something towards that end, directly contradicting the "won't do anything" claim? And if private accounts "won't do anything to shore up Social Security's finances", then why would Democrats be "happy to support add-on private accounts"? Do the Democrats often support things that don't do anything (or at least, that they think won't do anything)? Or do the Democrats think that private accounts have some positive, desirable benefit? What might that benefit be, and could it be part of the reason they are in Bush's plan?
The Democrats could negotiate with the American people. They could do so by offerring their own detailed plan. If Republicans blocked it, then Democrats could use that during campaigns. What the problem for the Democrats really is, is that their solutions are distasteful to Americans. As such, the Democrats are pretty much stuck with a strategy of trying to claim there is no big problem (contrary to things that party leaders like Bill Clinton had been saying for the last decade) and trying to make sure that people do not understand the President's plan and how the two parts of it (the indexing change and the private accounts) fit together.
REID: Well, but, see, that's easy, Tony, to throw those words out. My father, probably as smart as any of the three of us, but he had no education. My father never graduated from the 8th grade. And to think he can invest his own money, he couldn't do that.
This highlights one of the main reasons that Democrats will not offer "Bill Clinton's proposal for the government to invest part of the Social Security trust fund in the stock market" (Drum's description). The argument for that as opposed to Bush's personal accounts boils down to who do voters trust with their money- themselves, or government? The Democrats, or at least Reid, take the position that government is to be better trusted than individuals. The Republicans position is the opposite. This difference in political philosophy has been a theme of the past few elections, and the Democrats have not liked how those have turned out.
(Emphasis mine; read the whole thing). Meanwhile, as if to cement the negative perceptions of Democrats on this issue, Dales points out that the governor of New Jersey is planning to tax 401(k) contributions.
February 8, 2005
LAW: Apology Accepted
You know, lawyers get a bad reputation for a lot of reasons, and unlike a lot of people in the legal profession, I tend to agree with a lot of the criticisms. But I have to say: I feel a real surge of professional pride when I see the Powerline guys take on journalists. Experienced litigators just have a much more precise view of what constitutes evidence and how you go about proving and verifying things than a lot of journalists do, and when those guys get into a fight with a journalist, the journalist almost always winds up looking like he brought a knife to a gunfight.
In that vein, it's encouraging to see a complete apology from Bill Moyers as a result of John Hinderaker's latest efforts. Hinderaker completely exposed Moyers' reliance on third-hand hearsay, and he had Moyers dead to rights.
BASEBALL: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year
WAR: A Response to Juan Cole
I, for one, am sicker than sick of the "chicken hawk" argument, which I've dealt with on this site so frequently as to be not worth linking back to them all. But the latest salvo from Juan Cole in his feud with Jonah Goldberg prompted me to write this email in response, which I reprint here:
Dear Prof. Cole:
BASEBALL: Garcia Yard Sale
Why is Danny Garcia off the Mets' 40 man roster, and how did the Mets pull this off without losing him? (via Jeremy Heit)
BASEBALL: Running to Stand Still
What's more important to outfield range - positioning or speed? David Pinto makes the counterintuitive case that Sammy Sosa turns more batted balls into outs than Ichiro Suzuki because Sosa takes fewer chances and positions himself more consistently where the ball is likeliest to be hit. (Warning: Math alert! And double-dog math alert on tangotiger's analysis in the comments, in which he pokes at the issue of whether Pinto's conclusions are over-influenced by park factors or other conditions that result in Ichiro being measured against a much higher bar than Sosa. The comments are worth reading).
POLITICS: The Simpleton
The Minute Man continues his dissection of Paul Krugman's broadsides against Social Security reform, and argues that Krugman gets three points wrong in the macroeconomic case against private accounts helping to close the funding gap. As I understand Maguire's argument, on #1, Krugman contends that it "is mathematically impossible" to have growth in returns on stocks in the neighborhood of 6.5-7% without very high levels of growth in the economy as a whole, higher than any reasonable current estimate. Maguire contends that it is possible, and that this can occur if corporations hold down wage growth and thus pass on to investors much or all of the benefits of economic growth. (You would think that liberal/Democratic pundits, of all people, would grasp this zero-sum-game workers vs. capital dynamic as at least a possibility.) As Maguire has noted before, this scenario becomes more plausible when you consider the possibility of capital invested in low-wage foreign markets.
If Maguire is right, not only is this a possible outcome, but it is one in which it becomes uniquely desirable for laborers to become capitalists to offset their vulnerability to stagnant wages. Which explains why #3 is wrong too: since private accounts are an investment in the international stock and bond markets while the current pay-as-you-go means (on a macro level) an investment in domestic payrolls, any scenario in which (a) wages don't keep up with profits or (b) jobs go offshore is likely to throw off the 1:1 relationship of returns on capital:payrolls, and thus defeat Krugman's tidy syllogism.
#2, I'm not sure I understood, however. I think Krugman is saying that corporate profits (before, or after payment of interest to bondholders?) determine the return on capital to the corporation's owners. I get that Maguire says this is not necessarily so, but I'm not sure I followed why.
Anyway, go check the comments, where Don Luskin actually says he thinks Krugman is sort of right on these points (but wrong overall, by Luskin's projections).
POLITICS: Chairman How
From where I sit, I think the problem for the Democrats with Howard Dean as DNC Chair isn't organization or ideology; the problem, which Jonathan Chait just nails, is the gaffes:
The DNC chairman has two main jobs. First, he transmits the party's message - an important role when the party lacks a president and majority leaders in Congress. This job requires one to master the dismal art of "message discipline," boiling down the party's ideas into a few simple phrases and repeating them over and over until they have sunk into the public consciousness.
Read the whole thing (via Will Collier). The history of the decline of the Dean campaign is the story of Dean's gaffes - the three worst of which, at least while he was still running, were (in debatable order) (1) the bin Laden line Chait notes, (2) his grudging response to the capture of Saddam, and (3) perhaps the most damaging of all - in ways the mainstream media never quite understood but that Iowa voters, even Iowa Democrats, got: the "George Bush is not my neighbor" crack. A lot of Christians have trouble living up to that Biblical injunction, but no real Christian would make that statement, nor would any polite Midwesterner. (I'm not even getting into when he sorta-kinda endorsed the Cynthia McKinney theory that Bush knew in advance about the 9/11 attacks) What Dean gives Republicans is the ability to dominate a news cycle with some similarly foolhardy quip and tattoo it on every Democrat in the land.
POLITICS: Quick Links 2/8/05
*Was Rehnquist "Deep Throat"? Hey, who in the Nixon White House hasn't been the subject of that speculation? I suppose it's more plausible that it would be Rehnquist than Pat Buchanan, and it would explain why the source's identity could never be revealed.
*The old saw about a liberal being a man too broad-minded to take his own side in an argument doesn't even begin to capture the madness of the Dutch banning their own flag in Dutch schools "because this would provoke students of other nationalities". (I'd give 10-to-1 odds on this report showing up in a Mark Steyn column in the next two weeks)
*I've always hated columns like this one, ripping Michael Jordan for being circumspect with his image and opinions. It's not like we haven't seen plenty of glimpses of the realm MJ, from tearful or fist-pumping victory celebrations to the decidedly uncommercial decision to become an outfielder in AA ball at the peak of his career following the murder of his father. But Charles Pierce gives away his real gripe:
Had Jordan been as willing to be as reckless with his influence on the stump as he was with his money at the blackjack table, poor Harvey Gantt might now be in his third term as senator from North Carolina.
(Actually, Jordan was a big backer in this election of Barack Obama, giving him money early in the primaries). So, MJ hasn't played ball for the Democrats, and that makes him some sort of phony? Get real.
*These two Margaret Carlson columns, on why criticism of Barbara Boxer is sexist while criticism of Condoleazza Rice isn't, and in praise of Hillary, pretty well capture why I look forward to a possible Hillary-for-president campaign with such loathing: we will hear over and over and over from Carlson and Anna Quindlen and their ilk that any criticism of Hillary is criticism of all women (this is not true of criticism of Republican women, who after all are Republicans). Of course, you don't have to be a He-Man Woman-Hater to think Boxer is as shrill and as far out of her gourd as Howard Dean and Ted Kennedy.
*Speaking of Ted,Noemie Emery nails him:
"Defeat is an orphan," Ted's big brother the president once famously said, but this fails to apply when Ted is in the neighborhood. He preemptively embraced failure in Iraq, declaring defeat three days before the election, just in time to demoralize American troops and Iraqi voters (and calling to mind another JFK comment, that his youngest brother was not "terribly quick"). But it wasn't the first time Ted had stumbled over his feet in his rush to proclaim a defeat for the United States. In 1990, he wanted to leave Kuwait and its oil fields in Saddam's possession, proclaiming a war would kill 50,000 Americans and become a new Vietnam. But things lately have been confusing for Teddy, what with George W. Bush morphing into JFK, while he himself turns into something rather more like his father, famous in 1940 for saying democracy was finished in England and attempts to save it would lead us into a quagmire--call it FDR's Vietnam.
*Powerline rips Bill Moyers for spreading lies (what else is new?). (Via Instapundit) The critical point the Powerline guys keep making is not just the things that big media liberals get caught doing, but the fact that until recently, there were fewer ways to expose them, which makes you wonder how many things like this they've gotten away with. (On the other hand, James Watt and Zell Miller aren't exactly illiterate migrant workers; I assume a letter to the editor from one of them would get printed).
*We can all stop pretending now:
Preceding its Women Who Make a Difference Awards Dinner on March 1, the National Council for Research on Women is featuring "a conversation with Teresa Heinz," . . .
*Snopes has the now-infamous Volkswagen Polo "suicide bomber" video here.
WAR: Who Thinks Michael Moore Stole From Him?
February 7, 2005
These guys I believe deliberately missed it. And really misled their readers. And they don't have egg on their face. They have an omelet on their face this morning.
And on the Iraq War in general:
I went through angst during these last three years, thinking, my God, have I been behind something that's going to be the biggest catastrophe in American foreign policy? It still might. But at least, after these elections, there is now a chance for a decent outcome. And Howie, if this works, this is going to be bigger, in my view -- this is going to be the biggest thing since Napoleon invaded Egypt. This is really, really big.
LAW: Rocket Docket
There are a number of noteworthy features to Senate Bill No. 5, the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005, which was recently voted out of the Judiciary Committee to go to the full Senate. One that I'm sure the federal appeals courts will hate is this one, permitting appellate review of orders remanding certain class actions to state court:
`(c) REVIEW OF REMAND ORDERS-
Now, there's an escape hatch here - the court can get the parties to consent to a saner schedule for briefing and argument - but if the plaintiffs are in the mood to be obstructionist (defendants won't have any such incentive, given the provision in subpart (d) that says they lose if the court doesn't move fast enough), as is more likely to happen in complex tort cases with multiple plaintiffs' firms jockeying for advantage, the court could find itself having to get two sets of briefs, review them, maybe hold argument, and render a decision all inside of two months, a schedule that's miles from the usual pace at which federal appeals courts work. (One result is that I assume most courts will routinely decide cases without oral argument if there's no extension of time).
FOOTBALL: For $ale
Good game last night, not that I have anything to add to the mountain of press coverage; I'd agree with the obvious observation that the major difference in the game was the Eagles' inability to run the football.
You know, I'm not easily offended by "commercialization," but it just cracked me up flipping channels minutes after the game ended to see the Home Shopping Network on the field at Jacksonville hawking stuff. Amazing.
February 6, 2005
BASEBALL: The Greater Fools
I'm a big fan of Magglio Ordonez, and I've thought for much of the winter that somebody might get a great bargain on him if Ordonez turned out not to have long-term problems stemming from his knee injury. But the 5 years and $75 million dollars (plus two extra option years that vest automatically if Ordonez hits playing time targets) given to Ordonez by the Tigers is not a bargain - it's closer to the market value of a healthy Magglio.
The Tigers do apparently have an escape clause:
Under the complicated deal, Detroit would have the right to void the contract after the 2005 season if Ordonez has a reoccurrence of the left knee injury that hampered his production with the Chicago White Sox for most of last year and the reoccurrence lands him on the disabled list for 25 days or more.
That's a savvy way to hedge against the risk of a recurrent injury. But it does nothing to solve the problem of what happens if Ordonez can play, but not well. Plus, there could be litigation down the road if Ordonez' agent, Scott Boras, thinks the Tigers are holding down his playing time to get out of the option years. I know Detroit is desperate, but really.
February 4, 2005
Good work by Dean Barnett of Soxblog getting an op-ed published in the Weekly Standard on Daily Kos. I can't believe Kos wants a primary challenge to Joe Lieberman. You know, what the Democrats need these days is a good purge that shakes out another ten or so Senators . .
WAR: A Man, A Plan, Iran
Condoleazza Rice, meeting with Tony Blair, stresses that we are not yet at the point of armed conflict with the Iranian mullahs. Andrew McCarthy says no serious person should object to news that the U.S. has been developing war plans to deal with the possibility of war with Iran. True enough on both scores - but what is the Administration's affirmative plan for Iran? We got a glimpse Wednesday night in the State of the Union Address:
To promote peace in the broader Middle East, we must confront regimes that continue to harbor terrorists and pursue weapons of mass murder. Syria still allows its territory, and parts of Lebanon, to be used by terrorists who seek to destroy every chance of peace in the region. You have passed, and we are applying, the Syrian Accountability Act -- and we expect the Syrian government to end all support for terror and open the door to freedom. Today, Iran remains the world's primary state sponsor of terror -- pursuing nuclear weapons while depriving its people of the freedom they seek and deserve. We are working with European allies to make clear to the Iranian regime that it must give up its uranium enrichment program and any plutonium reprocessing, and end its support for terror. And to the Iranian people, I say tonight: As you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you.
(Emphasis mine; the promotion of Syria to this kind of treatment in the State of the Union speech is also momentous). Regime Change Iran thinks that Bush is maneuvering to pressure Iran on human rights, a common ground that will be palatable to the EU and UN. (via Instapundit). This may be right, but it seems a bit narrow - I don't think it was idle chatter for Bush to stress Iran's role as the leading state sponsor of terror. I suspect that he'll try to pressure Iran on multiple grounds and not just human rights, with sponsorship of terrorists being also on the table. But the blogger's point about the coming Iranian election in June suggests a flashpoint - we may try to use the examples of Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine and the Palestinian Authority to drum up international support for microscopic scrutiny of Iran's election process (although a fair vote is meaningless if the candidates are still hand-picked or their offices are powerless).
I'm happy to see the debate shift away from too great a focus on Iran's nuclear capabilities, which can be notoriously difficult to ascertain from afar, and onto the nature of its regime, which is the real problem. At the end of the day, after all, our gripe with the Iranians' terror-sponsoring tyranny, not with their having weapons. This ties into a point Stanley Kurtz made the other day about Iraq (scroll down to "Korea and Iraq" if the link doesn't work) -i.e., that Iraq's ability to get WMDs from outside sources like North Korea means that the actual state of its stocks of those weapons was far less important than its intentions and behavior. As I've said since before the invasion, the problem was the nature of the regime itself:
The test for whether we should seek regime change should be whether a regime has (1) the desire to attack civilian targets outside the context of an openly declared war and (2) has or is working on the means to do so, or to give aid and comfort to those who do so. Number (1) is the key, and it's not always susceptible to hard proof, but the best evidence of a regime's desire to attack American or other civilians is the level of anti-American vitriol in its official statements. It amazes me that people debating the merits of these things always tell us to ignore what the other guy says. Evidence of past complicity in terrorism, or past aggressive wars by the same basic regime (by which I mean the guy in power or predecessors in the same unelected junta, not ancient history) are also key. Try a little common sense, and it's not hard to figure out who our enemies really are. There are a million little ways that a regime shows itself to be unwilling to abide by the basic norms of international behavior (by which I mean standards other nations actually live by, not pie-in-the-sky ideals like Kyoto), and when you add them up it's easy to discern the difference between countries with weapons of mass destruction ("WMD") that merely disdain us but would never do violence to us (i.e., France) and places like Iraq and North Korea and Cuba and Syria and Iran that don't respect the rights of their own people or anyone else's in the day-to-day commerce of nations. Look for countries that don't allow free foreign press, just as a sample.
The key problem with Saddam was neither his possession of WMDs nor his ability to acquire them, but rather his intent - we knew he could be ruthless enough to use chemical weapons in battle and against his own people, we knew he had shown a willingness to work with terrorists, and we knew he was known to do things that were not, at least by our standards, rational (the best example of which was when he tried to have George HW Bush blown up). All these "well, if you go after Saddam, where does it stop" arguments always ignored the fact that the key issue was Saddam's behavior and state of mind, not his capabilies. If we didn't learn that from seeing a handful of guys armed with box cutters kill 3,000 people, we never will.
And that's why Iran and Syria stand ahead of other countries that may have arsenals of weapons or deprive their people of rights - because the overall track record of the regimes' hostility to the U.S. and support for terrorism makes them a threat. Hopefully, Bush will turn the screws on Iran in multiple directions to try to get another rehime of that nature out of power.
POLITICS: On Not Being Indifferent Between Law and Anarchy
Via RCP, two good columns from Wednesday that, on closer inspection, are about related topics. First, the Rocky Mountain News calls for the firing of Ward Churchill, the state college professor who called those of us who worked at the World Trade Center "little Eichmanns" and essentially argued that the September 11 attacks were justified. The Rocky Mountain News points out that these views are consistent with Churchill's long history of openly advocating violence against the United States. Because state action would be involved, it may be difficult to remove Churchill. But the state can't be indifferent about its own survival; there have to be some outer limits to what ideas the taxpayers are compelled to finance, and their own murder should not be one of them. Moreover, academic freedom surely doesn't mean the abdication of quality control, and if you admit that there are any standards at all, you have to look skeptically at allowing a loon like Churchill to keep teaching.
Then, Michael Goodwin has a tremendous column on NYPD cops not shooting threatening suspects - and how the consequences of that forbearance with violent men aren't always good.
Jay Nordlinger has lots of interesting stuff from the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland; this, from newly elected Ukranian president Viktor Yuschenko, is interesting:
[Yuschenko] claims that the toast — the act of toasting — originated in Kiev, anciently. You see, the most popular method of eliminating one's opponents was poison. (This, of course, is all too meaningful, coming from Yushchenko.) So you clinked your glasses extra hard, so that some of his drink would spill into yours, and some of yours would spill into his.
February 3, 2005
POLITICS: Not Quite Getting The God Stuff
I actually saw little of Bush's speech last night. I saw the Democratic response, which like all SOTU responses, was horrid. (See my vigorous fisking of Gary Locke's response in 2003 here). Harry Reid, like Locke two years ago, opened and closed with an upbeat, can-do set of personal anecdotes that were completely at odds with the relentless pessimism of the response.
Sometimes important questions like Social Security or the economy or education get reduced to dollars and cents or competing policies and political parties. But really, these are questions that are about old-fashioned moral values that don't get talked about much in Washington, but matter so much to our country. Are we willing to do right by our parents and care for our children? Do we believe that big corporations with powerful lobbyists should get special favors and that the wealthiest should get special tax breaks? Or do we believe we are all God's children and that each of us should get a fair shot and each of us deserves a say in our future? Will we be able to tell young people like Devon back in Searchlight that America is still the land of the open road and that you can travel that open road to the place of your choice?
The effort to cast Republicans as the folks who don't believe we are all God's children (apparently as evidenced by the corporate tax code?) would be manipulative if it wasn't so transparently desperate. How about that "each of us deserves a say in our future" line as a reason why letting people make their own decisions amounts to "taking Social Security's guarantee and gambling with it"? And, again, we have this upbeat "open road" rhetoric married to a message of "don't mess with the welfare state," another jarringly bad contrast.
WAR: Fallujah Unspun
The Green Side has another email from a Marine in Fallujah who points out that, for all of the Western press' spin about how Fallujah was an unimportant battle because the insurgents could get away and melt back into the countryside, that's not what the insurgents were telling their own people before the battle, which is why the victory there has been so important:
Part of the motivation for the attack on insurgents in Fallujah back in November was to set the conditions for successful elections to be held 30 January. . . If the insurgent leadership headquarted inside the city was not directly projecting operations to cities as far away as Basrah or Mosul, their activities and overt posture undoubtedly inspired insurgents in other parts of the country to continue.
(Link via Instapundit)
WAR: Gas Poisoning
The prime minister of Georgia, Zurab Zhvania, died of "gas poisoning" at a friend's house, under circumstances that thus far don't seem to clearly indicate whether the death was an accident or foul play, although they are calling it an accident for now:
An Iranian-made gas-powered heating stove was in the main room of the mezzanine-floor apartment, where a table was set up with a backgammon set lying open upon it, Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili said in a televised statement reported by The Associated Press.
February 2, 2005
LAW: Indefensible Acts of Congress?
A decision last Friday by the D.C. Circuit, Taucher v. Brown-Hruska (No. 04-5026), raises an intruiging set of questions about the ethical obligations of government lawyers in defending the validity of laws and regulations before the courts. The underlying legal dispute in Taucher involved a lawsuit to declare a portion of the Commodity Exchange Act that required registration with the CFTC for anyone providing certain types of investment advice about commodity futures trading to be an unconstitutional infringement on free speech. The plaintiff publishers eventually won, convincing the court that the statute was unconstitutional as applied to them. (Slip op., at 4).
Taucher deals with the plaintiffs' request for legal fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. 2412, which allows parties who prevail in actions against the government to recover fees if the government's legal position was not "substantially justified," although the statute provides an exception under which a court can deny fees if "special circumstances would make an award unjust." The district court awarded fees to the plaintiffs, but the D.C. Circuit, in a 2-1 decision, reversed the award.
The court nonetheless refused to accept the CFTC's argument that it could not be penalized for arguing that an Act of Congress was constitutional, given that an executive agency is charged with the constitutional duty of carrying out Acts of Congress, not deciding whether to follow them. (Slip op. at 10-11). "Theirs not to reason why," in a sense. The court refused to accept the principle "that the government is forever and always 'substantially justified' in defending in court the constitutionality of an Act of Congress, whatever the statute may say, and on any ground a legal mind may conceive . . . The question under EAJA remains whether that position was substantially justified." (Slip op. at 11-12; quotation omitted).
Ultimately, however, the court determined that the unconstitutionality of the provisions in question had not been clear enough from controlling Supreme Court or D.C. Circuit precedents, and had been a sufficiently close case on the particular facts presented, that the government's position could not be said to be without "substantially justification" - a fairly common result, actually, given federal courts' frequent hesitancy to shift the costs of litigation to losing parties.
Of course, you can argue that EAJA is a remedial statute - i.e., designed to benefit plaintiffs with valid claims - rather than a penalty (after all, an EAJA award is paid by the taxpayers, and the lawyers themselves aren't disciplined). Thus, one could look at a failed CFTC defense and an award of fees and say, "the system worked." But the court's analysis of the duty to defend definitely stands as a warning to executive agencies that there can be adverse consequences to defending Acts of Congress, even if the agency may be duty-bound to do so.
POLITICS: World? What World?
If you're interested in the Social Security debate, you must read the Minute Man on a daily basis. Today, he points out that Paul Krugman's economic analysis completely ignores the international nature of the capital markets.
Of course, as Krugman's analysis admits, many of the arguments being made on both sides depend on economic projections far into the future, and the only thing we know for sure about such projections is that all of them are certain to be wrong. The difference is that a private-accounts model contains, within its design, an inherent check on fiscal catastrophe: the number of people who draw on personal accounts can never exceed the number who paid into them. The system thus has the flexibility to grow or contract with the population, and is therefore more stable over the long term than a system in which benefits are tied to yesterday's workers, while revenues are tied to today's. As a result of this self-correction mechanism, a private accounts system is less likely to generate a renewed fiscal crisis if the future fails to meet a specified set of financial assumptions than is the current system.
WAR: Bad Headline
I think the Washington Times could have chosen its words more carefully in Monday's headline on the Iraqi elections:
Joy explodes across Iraq
BLOG: Network Effect
Here's another little way the blogosphere has changed things: I went to check out Glenn Reynolds' book on conflicts of interest, and if you scroll down, Amazon advises:
Interior Desecrations : Hideous Homes from the Horrible '70s by JAMES LILEKS
Now, I'm sure Reynolds never expected, back when he started writing about the appearance of impropriety, that his book would be recommended alongside a humor book about interior decoration (or a book called "Axis of Weasels"). But, of course, Instapundit's audience is tied to Lileks' audience by the blogosphere, and that outweighs the fact that the books are about completely different subjects.
POLITICS: Liberal Meanies?
Ann Althouse complains about the different treatment she gets from Right and Left:
In the year that I've been blogging I've taken a lot of different positions, some left and some right. What I've noticed, over and over, is that the bloggers on the right link to you when they agree and ignore the disagreements, and the bloggers on the left link only for the things they disagree with, to denounce you with short posts saying you're evil/stupid/crazy, and don't even seem to notice all the times you've written posts that take their side. . .
Well, as Charles Krauthammer once opined,"To understand the workings of American politics, you have to understand this fundamental law: Conservatives think liberals are stupid. Liberals think conservatives are evil."
Hawkins is partly right, especially because the Left's self-identification is tied so closely to the notion of themselves as lonely crusaders against bigotry, a posture that requires you to regard all your opponents as bigots. I suspect at least two other factors at work:
1. Althouse is widely thought of, much against her will, as more a conservative than a liberal. She voted for Bush. Thus, lefty bloggers think of her as an enemy, while conservatives think of her as an ally, if an unreliable one.
2. The influence of academia and pop culture. Quite simply, college ensures that, at a fairly young age, most conservatives get the experience of being surrounded by people who vocally disagree with their political opinions, which teaches you to keep your head down a bit and stay civil. This is reinforced by the fact that a lot of us watch movies and listen to music made by people whose political opinions we find repugnant. I think a lot of liberals, particularly the more vocal ones on the internet who grew up in blue-state cities and went to blue-state colleges and got into blue-state occupations like the law or academia, just don't have the same formative experience of having had to reconcile themselves to political disagreements with people they otherwise like or respect, and it shows.
POP CULTURE: The 13-Year Korean War
Jane Galt, noting the latest horrors in North Korea, asks:
I was an enormous fan of M*A*S*H when it was first on the air, though I was far too young to grasp the political implications (I think I was nine when the series ended.) Now, of course, I realise that it was a thinly veiled metaphor for the Vietnam war: American boys and innocent asians being killed by a bunch of power-mad brass waging war for the fun of it.
I suspect not; I doubt that Alda ever seriously believed that the show was really about Korea rather than Vietnam, and if asked they probably would have said something about how it didn't matter much to the men who were fighting the war . . . I suspect that, in the end, it wasn't just Alda, it was the audience; I don't think M*A*S*H did much one way or the other to affect Americans' views of the Korean War. M*A*S*H was as much about Korea, really, as Beetle Bailey is about the modern Army.
POLITICS: Making the Sale
President Bush will undoubtedly be tempted to spend a lot of tonight's State of the Union Address on Iraq, what with the wind at his back after Sunday's elections. But the "march of freedom" isn't a new story, and he just went there, very publicly, in his Inaugural Address. Instead, tonight has to be focused first and foremost on the one thing Bush needs to do: start laying out the case for Social Security reform. 2005 is Bush's best and perhaps only chance to make this happen, and he only gets so many prime-time opportunities to take his case directly to a big audience.
We naturally don't get too many laughs in the War on Terror, but yesterday's hoax - in which an Islamist website's claim that it held an American GI hostage, only to have it quickly discovered that the photo of the soldier clearly showed that he was a toy action figure - was frankly hilarious. If this was actually perpetrated by some Islamists hoping to scare us, it's just the most pathetic thing I've ever seen. The Command Post had the timeline.
February 1, 2005
HISTORY: The Darkroom Floor
Speaking of Carson, Bill Simmons' intern asked last week: "Can you imagine being the idiot that erased the old "Tonight" shows? I bet he's the first guy to be put IN the Hollywood Walk of Fame." Yeah, that's bad. But I can top that one: read this harrowing account of how war photographer Robert Capa risked life and limb landing with the Allied invasion on D-Day, shooting over 100 irreplaceable images of the heroism, chaos and tragedy of that landing, only to have all but ten destroyed by a darkroom assistant's blunder.
POP CULTURE: Carson and Schulz
Just catching up on the Johnny Carson obits - David Edelstein argues that Carson is miscast by recalling him as gentle and genial, when his best work (especially in the 60s and 70s) was sharp-edged comedy and unsympathetic interviews with guests. In a way, this reminds me of similar arguments about another droll Midwestern cultural icon, Charles Schulz (see this Jonathan Franzen tribute in the New Yorker) - like Carson, Schulz's best work was often dark and sarcastic, yet by the end of his long career Schulz was remembered more as a wholesome and genial entertainer.
HISTORY: Environment and Culture
Gregg Easterbrook reviews "Collapse" by Jared Diamond, and gives an overview of Diamond's thesis, in his earlier book "Guns, Germs, and Steel," that the advantages of Western societies are wholly and completely an accident of environmental conditions. As set forth in this and other reviews (no, I haven't read the books), Diamond's thesis sounds like a classic example of a useful insight carried to ludicrous extremes. Easterbrook:
Diamond's analysis discounts culture and human thought as forces in history; culture, especially, is seen as a side effect of environment. The big problem with this view is explaining why China -- which around the year 1000 was significantly ahead of Europe in development, and possessed similar advantages in animals and plants -- fell behind. This happened, Diamond says, because China adopted a single-ruler society that banned change. True, but how did environment or animal husbandry dictate this? China's embrace of a change-resistant society was a cultural phenomenon. During the same period China was adopting centrally regimented life, Europe was roiled by the idea of individualism. Individualism proved a potent force, a source of power, invention and motivation. Yet Diamond considers ideas to be nearly irrelevant, compared with microbes and prevailing winds. Supply the right environmental conditions, and inevitably there will be a factory manufacturing jet engines.
Of course, to argue that the environmental factors Diamond cites were a boon to the West is to state the obvious; to suggest that they, and the conditions to which they contributed, also contributed to the West's dynamic culture of individualism and rational, skeptical thought is likewise common sense. But, as Easterbrook points out, it's hard work to ignore culture completely. Easterbrook also notes the logical leap made by Diamond's latest book, "Collapse," when it tries to generalize lessons for the wider world from the collapse of societies like Easter Island and the Viking settlement in Greenland:
How much do Diamond's case studies bear on current events? He writes mainly about isolated islands and pretechnology populations. Imagine the conditions when Erik the Red founded his colony on frigid Greenland in 984 -- if something went wrong, the jig was up. As isolated systems, islands are more vulnerable than continents. Most dire warnings about species extinction, for example, are estimates drawn from studies of island ecologies, where a stressed species may have no place to retreat to. "Collapse" declares that "a large fraction" of the world's species may fall extinct in the next 50 years, which is the kind of conclusion favored by biologists who base their research on islands. But most species don't live on islands. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the leading authority on biodiversity, estimates that about 9 percent of the world's vertebrate species are imperiled. That's plenty bad enough, but does not support the idea that a "large fraction" of species are poised to vanish. Like most species, most people do not live on islands, yet "Collapse" tries to generalize from environmental failures on isolated islands to environmental threats to society as a whole.
A theme I've noted before here is that many bad ideas are simply good ideas stretched too far. This seems like a perfect example.
WAR: Go, Go Genocide!
The Minute Man notices that John Kerry now says of his legendary trip to Cambodia, "We delivered weapons to the Khmer Rouge on the coastline of Cambodia." Which would be interesting, given that the Khmer Rouge were on the other side. I'll credit a slip of the tongue here, but isn't it interesting that Kerry can't even remember whose side he was on in Vietnam anymore? I mean, hey, what's a little mixup when you're talking about the Khmer Rouge, who went on to perpetrate perhaps the worst (per capita) genocide of the 20th century (which is saying quite a lot)?
Speaking of Vietnam, Hitchens has an amusing column explaining why Iraq is no Vietnam from the perspective of someone who (like Hitchens) was an opponent of the Vietnam War. Interesting reading, although of course Hitchens leaves off many other reasons why the parallel doesn't withstand even momentary scrutiny, the most obvious of which is that there is no North Vietnam in this one, no half of the country controlled by the enemy.
One of the parallels that people forget, of course, is that U.S. participation in Vietnam ended with a peace treaty that settled the war on terms we could live with. The North Vietnamese then violated the treaty by re-invading the South in 1975, and the U.S. turned its back on its ally, sending the unequivocal message that treaties with the United States need not be respected - a message that pretty much destroys the case for negotiating with anyone, since without the will to enforce treaties, they aren't worth the paper they are printed on. Fast forward to the 1990s, and we had a replay of that, as Saddam Hussein repeatedly violated the terms of the 1991 cease-fire. We could enforce those terms, or we could yet again tell the world that we don't care who lives up to agreements with us. (I have yet to hear anyone who calls the current war "illegal" attempt to grapple honestly with the question of whether international law, or whatever other source of law you care to think on, requires nations to take violations of terms of a cease-fire lying down).
WAR: Tired, Tired Tropes