Posted by Brad @ 10:19 pm on March 31st 2009

Burt Blumert, RIP

The libertarian activist and benefactor of the Mises Institute and LewRockwell.com has passed away after a long battle with cancer that came up terminal recently. Blumert was not without controversy—see my chapter on Ron Paul’s 1988 campaign in that Paul biography I wrote for—but he was also one of the driving forces behind establishing a very real libertarian institution and one of the few who managed a lasting footprint in that sense. He was a real friend to the cause through and through.

Lew Rockwell paid tribute this afternoon, as did his bloggers.

Posted by Brad @ 9:34 pm on March 31st 2009

NY-20 – Quote of the Day

Polls are closed. We should know in a few hours.

Meanwhile, good catch from Dailykos. I give you, Quote of the (Two) Day.

Here is John Boehner a month ago at CPAC:

“We need to compete everywhere. And when I say compete everywhere, New York 20 is probably the best example. This is where Kirsten Gillibrand was appointed to the Senate. It’s an open race. Jim Tedisco is the minority leader in the New York assembly. He is our candidate.

“This election is on March 31st, and it is a giant opportunity for us to let America know that America is on our side.”

Here is John Boehner today:

In a Tuesday morning news conference, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the outcome of the election shouldn’t be seen as a referendum on the GOP leadership in Congress.

“It’s between those two candidates in New York,” Boehner explained to reporters.

Tedisco, meanwhile, is already preparing to go all Norm Coleman on Murphy’s ass.

Results in a few. For the record, though it may seem I’m rooting for Murphy, I’m really not. I’m not entirely sure who I would have voted for myself and, all else being equal, presuming the Republican passed a few basic smell tests (and Tedisco does), I would probably be more inclined to go his way (though the impulse to not want Republicans going all insufferable about it would be strong). Mostly though my interest in this race was spurred through the Michael Steele thing, and also on the referendum nature of it (which, despite Boehner changing his tune, is pretty live here). Actually, to be perfectly honest, I just kind of geek out about elections.

Results being updated very quickly at The Albany Project

Posted by Brad @ 8:42 pm on March 31st 2009

A Bad Law, or an Obnoxious Gaming of the System?

Or both.

Sarah Palin news: she had to fill a state senate vacancy this week. By law, she had to appoint a Democrat from Juneau (to fill in for the resigning Democrat from Juneau).

So, a legislative aid who was registered Republican switched his registration last week to qualify for the appointment. And lo and behold…

I guess the guy’s got a pretty good story behind it, but still. Apparently, his competition was a Democrat from Juneau who also happens to be the House minority leader.

I’ve pretty much decided over the last few years that Governor’s filling seats of any kind is just a plumb stupid idea. Special elections for all. And when I pass that constitutional amendment, remind me to add: “…especially for Alaska”.

Posted by Brad @ 8:22 pm on March 31st 2009

The Franken-Coleman Ruling

Or rather, the Franken ruling.

The legal battle, at least the main track of it, is winding down, and today the ruling heavily favors Franken.

Democrats are hailing a ruling from a three-judge panel in the long-running Minnesota Senate race, saying it only puts a limited number of ballots in play that will make it difficult for Republican Norm Coleman to overcome the 225-lead held by comedian Al Franken.

“It’s not looking good,” said a GOP staffer close to Coleman.

Details are not yet available, and the Franken campaign is holding a 5:30 p.m. conference call, while Coleman’s lawyers are planning a 6 p.m. conference call. Lawyers for both campaigns are reviewing the documents right now. A spokesman for Coleman could not immediately be reached for comment.

The ruling, released in the past 30 minutes, requires new absentee ballots to be counted in open court.

“It’s good for us,” said a source close to the Franken campaign […]

…a panel of three judges today ordered up to 400 new absentee ballots opened and counted, far fewer than Republican Norm Coleman had sought in his effort to overcome a lead held by DFLer Al Franken.

The ballots appear to include many that Franken had identified as wrongly rejected as well as ballots that Coleman wanted opened. About half come from Hennepin, Ramsey and St. Louis counties, places Franken won by significant margins.

Essentially, it narrows the universe of ballots down to the last 400, coming from districts that Franken won handedly, and which Coleman would need to win about 85% of to be able to win.

It’s unclear if that means that count, which the court directs will have to be done by April 7th, is indeed final final final. There are still some odds and ends out there (the “lost” 133 ballots, alleged double-counted ballots). But most people watching this slog closer than yours truly are taking this as about the final word from the Minnesota legal system, and even the Coleman camp are basically admitting that their last option in Minnesota is appealing to the state Supreme Court on the grounds, as Ambinder puts it, “that Coleman was the victim of unspecified constitutional violations by various election authorites in the state”. That will take about 6 weeks.

After that, the only options left are straight up the United States federal appeals court system, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals and then the United States Supreme Court. Not sure on how long that would take before the SCOTUS publicly decides not to hear Coleman’s case. But, it doesn’t sound like Coleman’s going to give up.

Norm Coleman’s lawyers just held a conference call and said what’s probably obvious — that they’ll appeal this ruling. More interesting, Coleman legal spokesmen Ben Ginsberg hinted that the final say from the Minnesota Supreme Court won’t be the final word for them — i.e., that they’ll try to get the federal courts to step in and prevent the state of Minnesota from issuing Franken that certificate of election.

Hardly a surprise. Remember, Sen. Cornyn, the guy who’s essentially bankrolling this show, says he believes that seating a Minnesota senator could take years.

Actually, I think what Cornyn said was that the GOP intended to start World War III if Franken is seated, but why split hairs?

I can hear Adam saying now “Well why shouldn’t he appeal?” Presumably, though, if one cared about the interests of Minnesota, going two years being the least represented state in the Senate would be something to weigh heavily against whatever very very very slim chance you have left of getting the seat yourself. And, of course, Coleman’s a young guy.

Posted by Brad @ 8:07 pm on March 31st 2009

Data Point of the Day

The number of Americans who believe that the nation is headed in the right direction has roughly tripled since Barack Obama’s election, and the public overwhelmingly blames the excesses of the financial industry, rather than the new president, for turmoil in the economy, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

That latter bit is obvious enough, but the former surprises me a little. And for the record, Obama’s approval/favorability ratings have softened every so gradually but perceptibly (though it’s still over 60).

Posted by Brad @ 7:40 pm on March 31st 2009

Jon Stewart – Cable News Killer

At least at the rate he’s going. First crossfire, now CNBC is roiling with problems as one of their rising stars and their senior vp of business programming essentially walk off.

Granted, it’s probably coincidental as much as anything, but still. He does seem to be a coffin nail, don’t he?

Posted by Brad @ 5:13 pm on March 31st 2009

Quote of the Day

This is a really, really, really basic point that some of us have been railing about for years now (including Sullivan), but that I have never, fundamentally or really even glancingly, heard addressed. I think it’s at the core of why conservatism, as a philosophy, is so f’ed up right now.

[Barack Obama] has no expertise of the kind needed to run a car company. And this is the core conservative insight here: success is hard; it requires close attention to the details of a business or an enterprise; it takes experience and judgment and practical knowledge that no politician or economist or analyst has. Now I know GM’s management has sucked as well – but that doesn’t mean that government won’t suck a lot more. This is a classic case of a mismatch between what a politician can do and what he is trying to do: an over-reach, a categorical error.

But why, pray, does this not equally apply to running Iraq or Afghanistan? Why does our conservative elite believe that these vast, complex, foreign cultures and countries are somehow more manageable than GM? What expertise does Barack Obama have in running Afghanistan?

All he knows is Chicago, Hawaii and America. If you think of the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan as essentially foreign government take-overs of failed states, why would a conservative believe that it could be successful? If government cannot run a company within its own borders, why do we believe it can build a nation thousands of miles away? If it cannot control its own borders or balance its own books, what on earth is it doing trying to run or reorganize or pacify parts of the world it knows next to nothing about?

There is at present a massive disconnect between conservative economics and conservative foreign policy. The first is all about the wisdom of markets, or local knowledge, of irreplaceable specific expertise. The second is all about empire, control, liberal hubris and abstract ideology. At some point, conservatives will have to pick.

Of course, one answer is that, at least under Bush, they didn’t have to choose one or the other—they gave them both up, choosing liberalism in economics and in foreign policy, but with enough of a completely ad hoc and cherry picked application of conservative principles to completely muck it all up, getting, quite literally, the worst of all worlds.

But at the heart of it, Sullivan is right, and it has always astounded me how Republicans seem to have a total f’ing lobotomy right at the spot where the ability to generalize core lessons operates. They can very clearly and eloquently elucidate on why the government makes a mess of things when it regulates, say, a local community’s educational standards. But we can administer democracy in the Middle East, somehow. (also, we can regulate local community educational standards if fags or science are involved). And many on the right, even as they’re (thankfully) tacking rightward on the economy, are still essentially Stalinists when it comes to foreign policy.

What we’ve seen in the last 10 years is a computer program running with two mutually contradictory lines of code. In that sense, the Bush years, bleeding into today, were a Systems Failure.

Ctrl, alt, delete.

Posted by Adam @ 4:49 pm on March 31st 2009

The worst commercial on TV?

This will be a special treat for British readers, who won’t have experienced the full-on intellectual vacuum of US daytime cable TV advertisements:

I especially like the bit about being able to listen to people’s conversations when they clearly don’t think you can.

Posted by Rojas @ 2:11 pm on March 31st 2009

Blogroll addition

The Republican Liberty Caucus has been working towards the Whitman/Brad version of the party since 1991. No bailouts, legalized drugs, balanced budgets, entitlement reform, gay rights…it’s all there.

Of course, the fact that they’ve been around for eighteen years and their closest ideological sympathizers have never heard of them doesn’t speak too highly of their effectiveness. Still…now’s the time to pick a new direction for the party, and these guys seem to me to have it down cold.

Posted by Rojas @ 9:16 am on March 31st 2009

University of Kansas wins the national championship

…in debate.

I’ve written before about the weird position Kansas holds in the debate community. Suffice to say that we’re all feeling tremendously validated this morning, and proud of our state’s tradition. I judged both of the debaters in question in high school and am glad to have seen them ascend the highest pinnacle that the activity offers nationally. Rock Chalk, baby!

Posted by Brad @ 8:12 pm on March 30th 2009

No Vacancy

Dahlia Lithwick has a pretty good article up on the secret desire of justices to play their cards close to the chest regarding their retirement plans, waiting until the last minute before giving what always plays out like a surprise announcement (even if it had been coming for years). The net effect might be that it creates a massive amount of boiling, and then bubbling over, drama—presumably exactly what a justice might wish to avoid in keeping their plans secret in the first place. Lithwick:

I can’t help but wonder whether all the mysteriousness and obfuscation, followed by a surprise announcement in late June, doesn’t contribute to the widespread Confirmation Derangement Syndrome that explodes the instant a vacancy is announced. Americans might be less apt to overreact at news of court vacancies if there were warning signals that they were imminent. And perhaps at least some of the growing support for term limits for the justices and proposed mechanisms to remove them if they become infirm have come about because the public feels so completely cut out of this decision-making process and very much at the mercy of the justices’ secret plans.

I think it’s a point worth passing on. Would it really be so bad for justices to, say, give 18 month notice if they can?

Bonus: that article also marks the first time, to my knowledge, that “President Meghan McCain” has appeared in print.

Sigh.

Posted by Rojas @ 1:52 pm on March 30th 2009

What disciplined leadership looks like

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany denies President Obama’s request to hyperinflate her nation’s money supply in order to prop up US exports:

Where long lines of unemployed people are the indelible image from the Great Depression in the United States, it is the wheelbarrows of worthless currency during the hyperinflation of the 1920s that preoccupies Germans. Mrs. Merkel has exerted discreet but stubborn leadership in Europe to prevent the kind of overspending that could lead to inflationary pressure on the euro.

It is not, she pointed out, simply a philosophical difference. Borrow and spend today, repay down the road, is a particularly difficult proposition for a country with a shrinking population, she said.

“Over the next decade we will undergo a massive demographic change, and, therefore, borrowing is a greater burden for the future than in a country with a much more continuously growing population, as in the United States of America,” Mrs. Merkel said.

Rather diplomatic of her to let us off the hook as easily as that, I think. A “growing population” only assuages debt if the population is growing at something like the same rate as the debt incurred. Which ours isn’t. At all.

Yes, we have now reached the point at which even European social welfare states are looking askance at our fiscal profligacy.

Posted by Brad @ 1:12 pm on March 30th 2009

Quote of the Day

The back-biting feud between the Sarah Palin camp and the John McCain camp continues unabated. Speaking about the moments before the VP debate, Palin sez

“So I’m looking around for somebody to pray with, I just need maybe a little help, maybe a little extra. And the McCain campaign, love ’em, you know, they’re a lot of people around me, but nobody I could find that I wanted to hold hands with and pray.”

Uh huh.

You know, as one of the only bloggers to actively endorse Sarah Palin as John McCain’s VP, I can’t say enough that clearly, as it worked out, I was dead wrong. I imagined her cast as a libertarian-ish pragmatist outside reformer type…which for the record I think is a role they tried to mash her into. But it didn’t occur to me, or apparently them, how quickly she would buy her own bullshit and how right-ward she would veer, recasting herself, with great aplomb, as a Christian Warrior. She turned out to be pretty damn dreadful, not exactly but certainly approaching a disaster, and, if anything, only looks worse and worse in retrospect. I hope John writes a memoir in 10 years or so and, once and for all, for history’s sake, states flatly that he was wrong, she was a disaster, and dishes like hell. She deserves it.

Posted by Brad @ 12:59 pm on March 30th 2009

Meanwhile, Across the Pond…

Prime Minister Gordon Brown is endorsing the idea of changing the royal rules of succession, specifically by ending the prohibition on marrying Catholics and the preference for males to ascend over females. The idea, as Gordon Brown explains, is to make their royal ascension rules more in line with the 21st century.

Let me repeat that: to bring their royal ascension rules more in line with the 21st century.

Mona Charen rightly finds humour in the paradoxical nature of a “progressive monarchy”.

Posted by Brad @ 11:54 am on March 30th 2009

Totally Meta

Ann Althouse gets engaged to a commentator on her blog.

Watch out Redland Jack. I think Rojas has his eyes on you.

Posted by Brad @ 11:45 am on March 30th 2009

Obama Punting on DADT

Not entirely unpredicted, but disappointing nonetheless:

Don’t expect any change soon to the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy about gays in the military.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates says both he and President Barack Obama have “a lot on our plates right now.” As Gates puts it, “let’s push that one down the road a little bit.”

The White House has said Obama has begun consulting with Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on how to lift the ban. Gates says that dialogue has not really progressed very far at this point in the administration.

I guess I still just don’t get what the big deal is, or why people are so terrified to dip their toe in these waters. I can understand, with all that is indeed on Obama’s plate, not wanting to find himself mired in a culture war sort of issue—that’s probably the last thing he needs. But it still sounds like a cop out (not as bad as “I have to veto this gay marriage bill because it might distract from economic debate” cop out, but in the same ballpark anyway).

Obama does a very good job of somehow managing to wade into choppy political waters and, to mix metaphors, still sounding like the adult in the room (Rojas has written about this previously). This has served him well in economic debates, where he takes a pretty radical message and casts his position as being pragmatic middle-ground. That is exactly the sort of skill needed to cut through a debate like DADT (and, for that matter, marijuana prohibition stuff), where all it takes is one guy with that kind of air of authority to step in and simply say “Grow up. Who cares? Go find something more important to gin up furor about, these boys have a job to do.” I suppose Obama’s political fear is diminishing returns, diluting himself by doing that too much over too broad a swath of policy, and I can understand that. Still, somebody’s got to.

Posted by Brad @ 10:50 am on March 30th 2009

We’re Not Nationalizing Them

We’re just fiating their ledgers, raising their capitol, collectivising their losses, dictating their business practices, and firing their CEOs.

But it’s not like we’re running them or anything.

Posted by Brad @ 10:40 am on March 30th 2009

Your Libertarian Paranoid Link of the Day


Law enforcement agencies are seeking scientists to develop an artificial nose that can detect the smell of fear as terrorists pass through security at airports.

The US Department of Homeland Security is advertising for specialists to devise airport scanners that will sniff out “deceptive individuals”.

The technology builds on recent breakthroughs in finding human scent-prints which, many researchers believe, may be as unique to individuals as fingerprints.

Homeland Security wants a device that automatically compares odours with scents collected from crime scenes and held in a “smell bank” which, like DNA or fingerprints, could be used in court.”

You ever wonder, during these free-wheelin’ spitballin’ brain storming sessions wherein law enforcement dream of fanciful technologies with which to detect thoughtcrime, whether there’s some Dilbert-like guy just sitting in the room looking around at all the idiots around him, eventually raising his hand and asking “what if they’re just afraid of flying?”

“Well, simple Dilbert, we’ll only use this as a piece of evidence. We’re not going to convict anybody with it, just use it to sniff out suspects. If, for instance, it’s just some white grandmother, we’ll let her go. If, however, it’s a young brown man, well, he’s probably afraid of flying because he knows he’s going to blow up the plane.”

“So what about a young brown man who has no fear of flying at all?”

“Hmmm. Very suspicious. We might need to develop a no-fear sniffer as well.”

Posted by Brad @ 10:33 am on March 30th 2009

NY-20: The Libertarian Endorses the Democrat

I meant to post this a few days ago, but it got stuck in my aggregator.

The Libertarian candidate in the Tedisco-Murphy race has been successfully challenged off the ballot. On Wednesday, he got kicked out of the race due to signature challenges. He is quite convinced that this was a concerted effort by Tedisco supporters to squeeze him out (and nobody really denies that), and so, the day after he exited the race, he decided to endorse Murphy.

Mr. Tedisco denies any involvement with the concerted effort by his supporters to knock me off the ballot. I don’t believe him. The ruthless effort by his supporters to knock me off the ballot without a word of protest by him proves his unfitness for any office let alone Congress in these critical times.

I will be voting for Scott Murphy on Tuesday. While we disagree on some important issues, I find him to be a man of honor, a good family man and successful businessman. Unlike Tedisco, he actually lives in the District. And, unlike Mr. Tedisco, I view Scott’s business success as a virtue, not a vice.

I urge my supporters and all those who believe in open and free elections to show their disgust at the tactics of the Republican political machine to win at all costs. Please join me in voting for Scott Murphy on Tuesday.

The only public poll of the race shows Murphy up four, but two internal polls give Tedisco the slight lead. The DNC, which hadn’t been all that interested in making this a marquee race a month ago—it seemed like a pretty safe race in a basically Republican district, so there wasn’t much desire to pin the party’s brand to a likely clean loss—is now redoubling their efforts down the home stretch. Interestingly, the race has become all about this proxy battle between the two national party superstructures. Tedisco has put all his eggs into the basket of urging people to vote against Murphy because he was for the bailout. Murphy, for his part, has ceded the argument and then some, basically urging people to vote for him in large measure because he supports Obama, the bailout, and the Democratic agenda. The DNC is now running ads, Obama has issued a mailer endorsing Murphy, Biden has recorded a radio ad, and the net effect is what we’re getting is a pretty level playing field (a Democrat represents the district, but a very blue dog Democrat, and it’s a very right-leaning district) and a pretty clean race (i.e. there are no real gaffes or scandals involved, Michael Steele notwithstanding) wherein the germane voting issue is essentially Obama’s first 100 days, for or against. That was the Republican strategy more or less all along (or at least once Murphy became threatening enough to demand a strategy against), using the district as a referendum on Obama and, in winning that, proving that the Republican oppositional message has the people behind it. The Democrats, being Democrats, seemed to not want to directly engage, fearful that the Republicans would get their victory and their PR victory with it, but now, as Josh Marshall says, they’re going all in.

It’s my hunch that Murphy takes this seat tomorrow, but either way Republicans will have their first test case as to whether being anti-Obama and anti-bailout is indeed the popular mandate they’re presupposing. Or, to put that another way, whether the supposed populist sentiment against the bailout et al amounts to just soft waffling (i.e. people uncomfortable with it but still basically willing to give Obama et al the benefit of the doubt) or actual opposition. Expect a lot of swing Republican congressmen unsure of how far out on a limb they ought to go in opposition to Obama’s economic tinkering to be watching the results in New York carefully tomorrow.

Posted by Brad @ 6:32 pm on March 29th 2009

Extreme Sheepherding

I like this wave of companies engaging in bizarre stunts for the sake of viral videos.

Posted by Brad @ 5:46 pm on March 29th 2009

This Just In (Yet Again): Torture Does Not Work

The practical case against torture is so clear I still have no idea why so many people who claim to be so committed to the pragmatic case for the War on Terror cling to it. The ticking time bomb scenario is the sort of hoax the government uses across the board as a way of claiming power it doesn’t really need, does not rightly belong to it, and that it will use to (at best) useless ends. We see the ticking time bomb scenario used all the time in government power grabs, of course—the ticking time bomb of poverty, of youth violence, of impending banking doom, yadda yadda yadda. But for some reason when it’s a literal ticking time bomb scenario, the conservative response has been “where do I sign that blank check?”

But I digress. The point of torture is not, and never has been, that of information gathering. For one very simple reason: torture is very poorly suited for that end, as the consensus of nearly everybody who works in military intelligence recognizes. And yet, a small cabal of true believers still like to think that we live in a Jack Bauer world where all you need to do is kick ass and good wins. What a crock.

One of the very first cases of the application of “enhanced interrogation” was that of Abu Zubaida, purportedly the first high value captive that the government freely admits to torturing. Dick Cheney and George Bush and others have mentioned his case by name as evidence that torture works. He apparently talked up a storm while he was drowned and beaten, and this was prima facie evidence that the Bush methods got results.

Only it turns out, after all the leads have been followed up on, that not a single thing he said led to any actionable intelligence. The WaPo’s great story also has a great headline: “Detainee’s Harsh Treatment Foiled No Plots”.

When CIA officials subjected their first high-value captive, Abu Zubaida, to waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods, they were convinced that they had in their custody an al-Qaeda leader who knew details of operations yet to be unleashed, and they were facing increasing pressure from the White House to get those secrets out of him.

The methods succeeded in breaking him, and the stories he told of al-Qaeda terrorism plots sent CIA officers around the globe chasing leads.

In the end, though, not a single significant plot was foiled as a result of Abu Zubaida’s tortured confessions, according to former senior government officials who closely followed the interrogations. Nearly all of the leads attained through the harsh measures quickly evaporated, while most of the useful information from Abu Zubaida — chiefly names of al-Qaeda members and associates — was obtained before waterboarding was introduced, they said.

Moreover, within weeks of his capture, U.S. officials had gained evidence that made clear they had misjudged Abu Zubaida. President George W. Bush had publicly described him as “al-Qaeda’s chief of operations,” and other top officials called him a “trusted associate” of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and a major figure in the planning of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. None of that was accurate, the new evidence showed.

Abu Zubaida was not even an official member of al-Qaeda, according to a portrait of the man that emerges from court documents and interviews with current and former intelligence, law enforcement and military sources. Rather, he was a “fixer” for radical Muslim ideologues, and he ended up working directly with al-Qaeda only after Sept. 11 — and that was because the United States stood ready to invade Afghanistan.

What more is there to say?

Perhaps just this: the Spanish court that brought Augusto Pinochet to justice has opened the books on their case against the torture enablers in our previous administration. By pretty much any objective measure, Cheney et al are transparently war criminals. Whether or not they’ll ever be brought to justice, who knows, but if their exact administrative practices had been practiced in some tinpot third world country we had our targets set on, there’s little doubt in my mind the United States would have had them hanged.

Posted by Jerrod @ 12:19 am on March 28th 2009

Why do we fear foreign terrorism when the greater threat is homegrown?

Terrorism is a complex phenomenon the effects of which combines targets, methods, attackers, propaganda, and media exposure. The attacks on September 11, 2001 were unquestionably masterful and due to the incredible audacity of the planning and success in implementation, they left a scar on our national psyche that will persist for a generation or more. The success or impact of terrorism involves (at least) the following elements in combination. 9/11 was textbook perfect on all accounts.

    Target: US government (White House/Capitol Building); US Military (Pentagon); US Economy (WTC). All had great symbolic as well as utilitarian purposes.
    + Methods: Suicide Plane Hijacking. Can’t get much more exciting and attention grabbing than this.
    + Attackers: Islamic extremists, both of the “bearded turban in Afghanistan” as well as “clean cut quiet neighbor” types.
    + Media Exposure: Incredible images of the explosions and collapse of the buildings dominating the news cycle for weeks. Even if he hadn’t been involved, Osama Bin Laden would have known about them in his Afghanistan cave.
    + Propaganda: Both Al Qaeda and the US Government engaged in high profile propaganda efforts to characterize the aftermath as an existential battle pitting the forces of good against evil.

Maximizing results on all points is going to reap the greatest “benefit” for the attackers. But what if any portion of that equation was different? Prior to any attack actually happening, the target, methods and media exposure are subsumed by Propaganda. Even if a group is thwarted, if the authorities go overboard in their treatment of the interdiction, they end up propagandizing the whole effort but in a negative fashion that has essentially the same effect on people that the attack itself would have. It could even get to the point to where its cheaper and more effective for a group to begin assembling plans to attack some place, then tip the police to it. The fuzz swoops in, then crows about how dangerous and complex the action would have been. Cheap, easy, and the target population still cowers in fear. But I digress.

The 1990s saw two equivalent attacks, one by the same group of people that pulled off 9/11 and the other by a group of American extremists. The WTC was bombed in 1993, killing 6, far short of the goal of knocking one tower into the other and bringing the entire edifice down. In 1995, the Federal Building in Oklahoma Citywas destroyed, killing 168. Prior to 9/11, this was the most devastating terror attack on the United States, ever.

Looking a rough history of attacks in the US, it’s pretty obvious that domestic terrorism has been far more prevalent over our history. Even if we don’t count lynchings (which we should), there’s a lot more domestic than foreign terrorism. In my adult life I’ve seen the Unabomber, Olympic bombings, anthrax attacks, the Oklahoma City bomb, and the Christian terrorists’ campaign against doctors and clinics that provide abortions. And then there’s recent news of the discovery of the attempt to build a dirty bomb. Short version of the story is that wife kills husband on the basis of self-defense after years of ongoing abuse, investigation reveals that he had white supremacists and radical-libertarian ties as well as several jars of radioactive materials, including Deplete Uranium and Thorium. Word on the street is that he was upset at Obama’s election victory.

I was going to write about the disconnect between the government/media response to finding a dirty bomb plan by a white guy vs a muslim, but maybe the real story here isn’t that we didn’t make a big deal out of discovering a disgruntled actor willing and ready to make a bomb as much as it is the way we fling our hands in the air and scream when there is a “Other” involved. It is hard not to think that we are simply frightened more by bearded turbans than suburbanits, even though the odds of getting killed by the latter is far greater than the former (unless you work outside the USA).

People who want to inflict death and damage on the broader public do exist, in all shapes and sizes. They need to be investigated and stopped, regardless of their motivation, methods, or personal background. 1993 and 2001 show that there are groups of enterprising and ambitious Islamists intent on inflicting damage on the United States and that clearly needs to be addressed. (We should begin by taking a good hard look at some of the root causes) But the issue is so completely overblown. It’s wasting treasure and blood and distracting us from other more pressing policy options. But we also need to avoid throwing fuel on fire and inflating threats. I think the response to finding this dirty bomb was appropriate (an improvement over just 2 years ago.) Anything more than that starts to fall into the propaganda category of the terrorism equation, which contributes to the overall effectiveness of the attempt, exactly the opposite of what we should be doing. I’m not advocating that we try to hide attacks or “protect” the public from fear either. People deal with danger and stress better when they are informed. We need to avoid getting hysterical or overly secretive. Most of the news about Islamic-related terror (Buffalo 6, Padilla, liquid bombs on airplanes) falls into the former category, but maybe the shift in tone by the Obama administration and the change in our attention to economic issues is giving us a chance to put our societal response to terrorism on more reasonable footing.

Posted by Brad @ 8:21 pm on March 27th 2009

Music Video of the Weekend

I dig Lykke Li. Here’s an unofficial video to a song of hers I’ve had rattling in my head today.

Lykke Li – Dance Dance Dance

After the fold, three videos of another song of hers. None of which are the official video, which kicks ass, but which the c$#ksuckers at Viacom won’t allow me to embed.

(more…)

Posted by Brad @ 1:29 pm on March 27th 2009

NY-20: The Inevitable Scott Murphy Lead

I was thinking (and writing) last week that Jim Tedisco has fallen into the trap, only partially through any real fault of his own, of the Challenger Surge.

The Challenger Surge is what I lazily call those races where, for whatever reason, a challenger that by any rights would have no reason to surge, does so, and where that surge feeds mostly on itself. That’s not the same as a challenger gaining, or winning. Plenty of them do that. They either start with big numbers and keep them, or start with respectable numbers and build, little by little, until they’re ahead.

No, what I’m referring to are those candidates who maybe aren’t even exceptional candidates, who start in the single digits in a race, and just kind of hang around for a good long while, until some tipping point comes along and they can 10-15 points. Sometimes, that’s all that happens, but sometimes, a perfect storm happens where that national election-watchers all converge on the race, the opponent is flustered and so flails a little bit, and the story becomes “OMG, this guy is in trouble!” The surge part is, beyond a certain point, it becomes self-perpetuating; everything you, as the guy trying to beat back the surge, do just feeds into the narrative. If you don’t change anything, you’re entrenching and tone deaf. If you change anything, you’re rearranging deck chairs or trying to look like you know what time it is. If you change everything, you’re panicked and “embattled”. Whatever the case, you just can’t really win. I’m reminded of, say, Joe Lieberman against Ned Lamont, or George Allen against Jim Webb, or Elizabeth Dole against Kay Hagan. Sometimes those kinds of challenges fall just short, often they don’t. Whatever the case, it becomes a self-perpetuating downward spiral where you fall into a reactive game that you just can’t win.

So it is with Jim Tedisco and Scott Murphy in New York’s marquee off-season congressional race. Today’s Siena Poll (PDF) shows Murphy with his first lead of the cycle—4 days before election day.

Murphy 47 (+6 vs. last poll, March 12)
Tedisco 43 (-2)

The Seina poll before that, February 26, Tesdisco was up 12. So he’s shaved off 16 points in a month (in other polls, that’s closer to 25). The poll before February 26th—I don’t think there was one, because this wasn’t a race to watch.

What to do? Lately, Tedisco has been trying to conflate Murphy with a rubber stamp supporter of Barack Obama. As Adam has pointed out in emails, this strategy is really only recommendable when the guy you’re trying to peg your opponent to is unpopular at the time. Murphy, for his part, seems just fine with the Obama-Murphy conflation, and the President, it’s rumored, might do some heavy lifting personally in this race over the weekend (he has already helped connect with donors, recorded some ads with Murphy, and some other behind-the-scenes things). What’s more, Tedisco’s “I’m my own man and he’s not!” schtick might work better if his campaign weren’t very transparently being run by the Republican National Committee (in fairness, Murphy’s is even more so, but he’s not running on a platform as a rouge independent-minded sort of candidate).

The election is Tuesday. My guess is, Tedisco can’t beat this one back. Murphy’s got the Big Mo’ now, and the story has already become how Jim Tedisco managed to lose this race. Once that’s the headline, it’s hard to write the rest of the story yourself.

Posted by Brad @ 10:52 am on March 26th 2009

You All Fell Right Into Michael Steele’s Trap

So says Michael Steele. The shitstorm he created for himself with the Rush Limbaugh flap?

All part of his master plan.

STEELE: So if I do something, there’s a reason for it. Even, it may look like a mistake, a gaffe. There is a rationale, there’s a logic behind it. […]

Q: There’s a rationale behind Rush, all that stuff?

STEELE: Yup, yup. … I want to see what the landscape looks like. I want to see who yells the loudest. I wanted to know who says they’re with me but really isn’t. … It helps me understand my position on the chess board. It helps me understand, you know, where the enemy camp is and where those who are inside the tent are.

Posted by Brad @ 9:13 am on March 26th 2009

Chris Matthews, Larry Kudlow, To Not Run for Senate

In case you were wondering.

Kudlow (who had been approached to run in, I believe, New Jersey (or maybe Connecticut?) as a Republican):

Tonight I want to talk to you for a quick moment about me. Several weeks ago, I was approached by the Republican Party to consider a run for the US Senate in the great state of Connecticut. It was a flattering conversation, and one that I thought about, but to me it was never really a serious proposition.

However, this story seems to have a life of its own. It started as a solitary blog post and then spread like wildfire. Now CNBC, my network, is getting questions from a number of high-profile reporters wanting to know what I’m going to do. I’m glad they care.

So this evening, I’m letting the world know that I am not running for the US Senate. And here’s why: in my heart I know that I belong right here at CNBC. This is my love. I just signed a new long-term deal here and I can’t think of anything else I would rather do.

I’ve invested and worked very hard at this job, and I am so blessed to have it. My great hope is I’ll be around this network, doing my thing, for many years to come. So I appreciate your interest and support. The case is closed.

Matthews (who has stoked rumors that he might run for PA Senate as a Democrat):

Chris Matthews, the usually garrulous host of “Hardball” on MSNBC, has quietly signed a new long-term contract to remain with the cable network through the next election, signaling that he had quit entertaining any plans to run for a Senate seat.

The deal is for at least four years. Financial terms were not disclosed, and neither side would confirm whether MSNBC had won a reduction in salary for the host, as it had been reported to be seeking. Previous reports put his annual salary at about $5 million.

Mr. Griffin said about Mr. Matthews’s dalliance with a political career, “I never really took it seriously.” But his rather public testing of the waters during a presidential campaign raised questions about how he could remain at a news organization while seeking public office.

Mr. Matthews said that he had been serious about the Senate seat, now held by Arlen Specter, a Republican, and took umbrage at any suggestion that he might have been using the idea as negotiating leverage.

“I think it’s unfair people think like that,” Mr. Matthews said. “That’s sacrilegious.”

He said he had held a lifelong love affair with the Senate. “I grew up reading ‘Advise and Consent.’ I would go to Washington on high school trips with the band and I would see senators just like in ‘Advise and Consent.’ Humphrey, Dirksen, Goldwater.” He added, “To be a senator was the greatest thing in the world.”

He modified that view as he examined the current role of senators, which, he said, has become dominated by raising funds. And he came to question, he said, whether he had at least one prerequisite for a political career.

“Every great guy has three things,” Mr. Matthews said. “Motive, passion and spontaneity. Clearly I had the final two. But motive? I would say to my wife, ‘When the tough calls come, I would do the right thing. I would check the Constitution.’ And she would go, ‘What do you want to do?’ I didn’t have that drive to do particular things.”

Heh.

Posted by Brad @ 4:29 pm on March 25th 2009

Right Wing Sites

So, now that I’m tacking back to the right now that the fugue of the Bush years is starting to dissipate, I’m realizing something. One: pretty much the vast, vast, vast majority of right wing outlets became absolutely unreadable during the Bush years, and most haven’t really recovered. And two: given that I was more interested in the opposition, combined with the dreadfulness and total intellectual vapidity of what passed for conservatism during the Bush years, my online reading habits weened pretty far towards the progressive end of the spectrum.

Point being, I just don’t read many sites that I could describe as right-of-center any more. There’s the ones on the blogroll, and that’s pretty much it (and some of those—The Corner for instance—have sunk so far I don’t really expect them to ever become very good again). I haven’t done a blanket solicitation in awhile, so tell me: are you finding any good right-of-center stuff out there that you want to hip me too? Any old standbys that you’re returning to? New voices? I need to replenish my bookmarks.

Posted by Rojas @ 2:14 am on March 25th 2009

Brace for impact

As Obama speaks, the worm turns elsewhere.

My old high school debate opponent Brad Setser interprets newly released January data to mean that other nations are ceasing to buy US treasury notes. Apparently they’re unconvinced that the US government is a particularly good investment at the moment.

If this trend holds, it’s going to mean some very specific and ugly things in terms of US economic policy. Our existing means of financing our public debt is to sell bonds internationally. If we can’t do that, we are left with a choice between 1. selling them domestically, 2. radically reducing public debt, or 3. engaging in de facto debt financing by inflating the currency.

Option one means that government bond sales end up crowding out all kinds of private sector investment that is critical to economic recovery. Option two immediately ends existing government stimulus measures and crib-smothers the broader Obama agenda. Option three very likely ends all future prospect of foreign deficit financing, possibly causes the global abandonment of the dollar as reserve currency (which is A Very Bad Thing), and does all the other delightful things that inflation does.

It is, of course, too early to read the data as definitive or indicative of a broader trend. We’d better hope it isn’t, because if it is, our options are about to become severely constrained, and the discussions currently being had in Washington about how to fix the economy are about to become immaterial.

Posted by Brad @ 6:27 pm on March 24th 2009

“Progressive Republican”

Don’t look now, but Meghan McCain, arguably the most prominent young Republican in the country right now (which, granted, isn’t saying much), is out there trying to define Republicanism for a new generation, or at least trying to articulate the kind of Republicanism that she subscribes to and which she believes has the best chance of connecting to the next generation. Essentially, small l libertarian. Or, as she puts it, socially liberal “progressive Republicanism”.

Welcome aboard Meghan. You can sit here by me and Christine Todd Whitman. Colin Powell went out for a pack of smokes and never came back.

It’s interesting to me that the only two prominent Republican figures under 30 that I can name are Ross Douthat and Meghan McCain. Both hold more or less opposite views on social conservatism, but both have exactly the right idea. If that’s the future of the party—good.

Posted by Brad @ 5:46 pm on March 24th 2009

Glenn Beck Has Gone Insane

I’m just going to go ahead and say it.

And I mean it seriously. He’s a recovered alcoholic who’s had some mental problems in the past. I get it. Good for him. And, off and on, I’ve liked him. Nor do I disagree that some of the kernels of his “message” are laudable. I think this kind of thing isn’t bad at all.

But seriously. Watch this and tell me, on a raw level, you’re not watching somebody who has seriously, on a very personal level, become unglued, and really, really needs to be treated for “exhaustion”, like, now.

It’s unclear to me that people take him seriously (despite his assurances of massive throngs of people taking to the streets under his banner), or I might be more worried. And like I said, I’m about as sympathetic to the whole survivalist conspiracy-minded individualistic right-wing crowd as you can get without actually being a part of it.

But man. That guy really needs to take a deep breath and a month or two spent hiking or something. And Fox needs to really take him off the air; he’s a …well, I won’t get specific, but let’s say he’s a Potentially Dark Situation in the making. It’s sad enough when people get increasingly paranoid, hypersensitive, melodramatic, militant, and cut off from reality when it happens in, say, an isolated trailer somewhere. It’s another thing entirely when they’re doing it live on their own cable television program.

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