Posted by Brad @ 7:37 pm on May 30th 2009

W. and Clinton

Bush Jr. and Bill Clinton appeared together in Toronto and, in stark contrast to Cheney, seemed to get along well and were both very respectful of both each other and Obama.

Former President George W. Bush called ex-President Bill Clinton “his brother” and the two rarely disagreed in their first-ever appearance together on stage.

The Republican and Democratic ex-presidents defended each other at a Toronto forum on Friday, disappointing some in the crowd of 6,000 who expected a more heated debate.

Bush said that he never liked it when previous administration officials criticized his government but said Clinton was respectful and never did.

Bush declined to criticize the Obama administration, in contrast to former Vice President Dick Cheney, who has been a vocal critic of Obama. Bush, who wasn’t asked about Cheney, said there are “plenty of critics in America.” […]

Asked why he didn’t stop the killing in the Rwanda genocide when he was president in 1994, Clinton said he had no excuse or defense.

“It’s one of the two or three greatest regrets of my presidency,” Clinton said.

Clinton said the U.S. could have saved 250,000 or 400,000 of the 800,000 people who died had he sent about 20,000 troops. Bush defended Clinton, saying 20,000 troops could not have been mobilized quickly.

Clinton praised Bush for his AIDS initiatives and also hailed the racial and ethnic diversity of his cabinet choices.

I know it’s meaningless, but I like this sort of thing. It makes me feel better about Washington that two guys who were at the center of the political universe, once removed from it, can not really care about partisanship and just respect the office and have a good time and revel in the kinship belonging to the world’s most exclusive club.

Posted by Brad @ 6:45 pm on May 30th 2009

The Higher Ed Bubble

I’ve sort of fallen into a career in higher education endowment management and donor relations. It’s what I’ve been doing as I try to find a “real” job, which will also probably be in higher ed (more marketing and PR though). Anyway, what has occurred to me working in this field during this recession is the “long tail” potential for an economic downturn such as ours. Higher ed was really one of the last industries to be hit by the recession—although endowments are invested and, at places like Harvard and Stanford and other fabulously wealthy universities, have been absolutely decimated by the downturn, at most institutions yeah they took a hit, but there wasn’t a sense of immediate panic as in other industries.

Staff and faculty are, for the most part, thusfar pretty well insulated from layoffs and such, most endowments are pretty robust and invested at pretty low risk so their principals have been, mostly, safe (even as income dries up), and universities have other sources of revenue, tuition and government support, that allow them a fair bit of fallback, and most universities also have a helluva lot of redundant spending and waste, which means that money can be “found” to cover short term deficits at the expense of things that won’t be immediately felt (spending and hiring freezes, holding off on capital campaigns and building projects, expending unrestricted monies, and just all-around belt-tightening). That, of course, won’t last forever, but it does mean that the effect of an economic slide is pretty well belated in higher ed, and in the past, that means that most of the trade-offs don’t have to occur until after the economy has picked back up and money is again coming in.

These are all great advantages in a short term downturn. However, there is a structural problem inherent to higher ed that means, for a long capital R recession, colleges may be among the last industries to really feel the crunch, but also may wind up being among the hardest hit over the long term and the slowest to bounce back.

For one, tuition, while it isn’t usually the largest source of revenue, is nevertheless usually enough to cover the basic operating expenses. But tuition, more than anything but perhaps buying a home, is thoroughly credit-based. Very few people have 40k they can just plop down annually for four years, so the entire system is dependent on loans, student aid, endowment income, and credit. All of those have dried up nearly entirely. The Chronicle of Higher Ed, in a much-discussed new article, summarizes the situation thusly:

With tuitions, fees, and room and board at dozens of colleges now reaching $50,000 a year, the ability to sustain private higher education for all but the very well-heeled is questionable. According to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, over the past 25 years, average college tuition and fees have risen by 440 percent — more than four times the rate of inflation and almost twice the rate of medical care. Patrick M. Callan, the center’s president, has warned that low-income students will find college unaffordable.

Meanwhile, the middle class, which has paid for higher education in the past mainly by taking out loans, may now be precluded from doing so as the private student-loan market has all but dried up. In addition, endowment cushions that allowed colleges to engage in steep tuition discounting are gone. Declines in housing valuations are making it difficult for families to rely on home-equity loans for college financing. Even when the equity is there, parents are reluctant to further leverage themselves into a future where job security is uncertain.

The second major source of university money is, frankly, the government, and here there is reason for hope if you work in higher ed. Thankfully (or not, depending on your point of view), politicians are generally pretty inclined to support education, and if the university system in America does start getting really hard hit, it seems likely (to me anyway) that a stimulus/bailout will be there for them if it gets too bad. And the third source of revenue, endowments, tend to take hits twice. The first as their investments dry up, and the second as the steady stream of donations that universities rely on dries up as well, as people A. have less money, and B. the money they do have they are less inclined to give.

But tuition alone might prove to be a very tough riddle to fix. Universities tend to grow almost automatically, i.e. as more money comes in that money isn’t used, generally, to make education cheaper, but to make universities larger. It’s not often used to make services more available, in other words, but usually to just make more services (even scholarship support is usually not seen as a way to chip away at student costs, but just as an excuse to admit more students). In a way, the university system in America operates in large part by expanding, at least in part, almost for the sake of it—to justify having or needing more money.

That system is well overdue for a change, but the problem is, structurally, that sort of change won’t be pretty, or easy. But what really ought to frighten administrators is what happens if higher education falls from a necessity to a luxury in the eyes of middle and working class parents. We’re a long way from that happening, if it ever does, but if it does, the entire system will wind up being scrapped, replaced, I would guess, with technical schools and commuter colleges, while places like Harvard or other universities that more or less charge hundreds of thousands of dollars not for any skill sets or career paths, per se, but for the degree itself, are going to find themselves in a world of hurt.

Or, maybe not. I hope not, in any case, in that I’m a true believe of the liberal arts education. But, at the same time, I’ve also got real doubts about the sustainability of the higher education system as presently structured in America today. As I said, I think administrators are still a bit in denial, and still insulated enough from immediacy to allow them that luxury, but it will be interesting to see how that looks in three to five years time. A lot of very smart education-watchers are openly asking the question if, by the time other markets are finally starting to rebound, higher ed doesn’t prove to be the next big bubble whose bursting is on the horizon, in sight.

Posted by Brad @ 1:49 pm on May 30th 2009

I Don’t Care About Affirmative Action

I know that’s a very un-PC thing to say, and me being a young white man, more than a little hypocritical. Yet I know it animates a lot of liberals and conservatives who otherwise roughly fall in with me on various issues, and I just can’t drum up much interest.

It is not that I don’t believe there are very real racial issues in America today—of course there are. People are still discriminated against, and on the flip side structures and cultures are put into place to try to combat that that wind up being obnoxious and collectivist tools of thought enforcement. But, for the most part, I think the much vaunted standard of “equality of opportunity” is here. It is not perfect, by any stretch, but it never will be given the soup of prejudices, real and imagined, that will always exist in the human condition. Racism will never be dispelled, nor sexism, nor any other -ism. That does not mean you ought to stop trying, but it also does not mean you must remain hyper-vigilant. You just do the best you can, and I think we’ve, on the whole, done pretty good, at least as far as the major institutions or macro-policies go. On an individual level, of course, people can still be narrow-minded bigots, but that’s part of the reason why I dislike treating this issue on anything but a case-by-case basis. It’s the preoccupation with it on a societal level that disinterests me.

This, of course, is informing a lot of my reaction to the reaction to Sonia Sotomayor. We discussed last week her comments about how her latina-ness might inform her judicial thinking, and I say “fair enough” and leave it at that. I am sure it does, as I am sure my white male-ness would inform mine, the difference being that we are in no danger of running out of sympathetic minds towards whiteness or maleness in our political or judicial superstructure (well, unless you read a lot of Mark Steyn) so, on balance, I can buy that it’s probably a Good Thing to have more perspectives on courts. Certainly, if you buy the demographic data, hispanics or females are, in one case not really a minority at all, and in the other case may not be for long, and yet they still are, decidedly so, in the seats of power which are given the task on passing judgment on behalf of society. I don’t think a person should be considered solely for the demographic swath they might represent, but I also can understand it not being a neutral consideration either.

So maybe my “not caring” isn’t so much that I don’t have any interest in the issues, but that, for me, they come out to be more or less a wash.

I can agree, to some extent, with the crowd that believes society has become far too interested in thought policing, and now and again that DOES animate me (I was very outraged, for instance, in the treatment of Larry Summers at Harvard, and I get very, very angry at cheap accusations of “racism” or “sexism” or whatever at political or personal enemies). But I can also agree with Megan McArdle in this post, which makes the point that there’s a difference between vigilant about such things, and being thoroughly preoccupied with them (it’s easy to see how the aforementioned Steyn, or a guy like Pat Buchanan or Tom Tancredo, have swung way too far in the latter direction). Another point she makes that I’ve been making here is: really? We have a new Supreme Court nominee, in this day and age, and we’re worried that she might be too sympathetic in racial discrimination cases?

HL Mencken once defined Fundamentalism as “the terrible, pervasive fear that someone, somewhere, is having fun”. I’ve been thinking of this a lot watching some of the attacks on Sotomayor, but I’d frame the critics as suffering from the terrible, pervasive fear that some brown person, somewhere, is getting away with something.

Posit that everything the critics say about Sotomayor is true; that indeed, everything they say about affirmative action is true. Is this the biggest problem facing America? Is this the biggest problem facing America from Sonia Sotomayor?

Given my politics, I am probably not going to like how she rules on many, maybe even most, issues. But almost none of those issues involve racial preferences, which, even if they are a problem, are a small problem for America, affecting fewer people than almost any of the other major policy questions we’re debating today. Making race, or racial politics, the central complaint, makes it seem like your biggest policy priority is making sure that not one minority in the land gets anything they don’t deserve. But hey, we all get things we don’t deserve. I’ll go further: almost all of us get something we don’t deserve as a result of our race, including white people. Perhaps even especially white people. […]

Sonia Sotomayor is not manifestly unqualified to be a Supreme Court justice, so focusing on affirmative action is completely irrelevant. You can argue with her politics or her legal judgement, and hey, I’m all ears. But the affirmative action complaints aren’t advancing our quest to find out whether or not she’d be a good justice. They’re just alienating the people you want to convince.

Or, as Andrew Sullivan put it the other day. “This is so 1995”.

But, I don’t think any issue ought to be off the table, so let’s take it, real quickly. The purported fear of Sotomayor on racial issues, as I understand it, is that she will be too much of an affirmative action crusader (there is also the point, as James makes, that there were probably more qualified candidates out there once you take gender and racial political considerations away, and that is almost certainly true, though that’s the political realities we live in—although I would also add that that point doesn’t much animate me either, given that I’m pretty sure you could pick a few hundred of the top judges on the federal benches and they’d all be roughly equally qualified and the probabilities of them making Great or Terrible Justices would come out roughly the same as well). There is a very quick answer to the question of how Sotomayor will judge racial questions that come before her on the court. Look at how Sotomayor has judged racial questions that have come before her on the court (novel, ain’t it?).

Take it away Scotusblog…

I’ve now completed the study of every one of Judge Sotomayor’s race-related cases that I mention in the post below. I’ll write more in the morning about particular cases, but here is what the data shows in sum:

Other than Ricci, Judge Sotomayor has decided 96 race-related cases while on the court of appeals.

Of the 96 cases, Judge Sotomayor and the panel rejected the claim of discrimination roughly 78 times and agreed with the claim of discrimination 10 times; the remaining 8 involved other kinds of claims or dispositions. Of the 10 cases favoring claims of discrimination, 9 were unanimous. (Many, by the way, were procedural victories rather than judgments that discrimination had occurred.) Of those 9, in 7, the unanimous panel included at least one Republican-appointed judge. In the one divided panel opinion, the dissent’s point dealt only with the technical question of whether the criminal defendant in that case had forfeited his challenge to the jury selection in his case. So Judge Sotomayor rejected discrimination-related claims by a margin of roughly 8 to 1. […]

In sum, in an eleven-year career on the Second Circuit, Judge Sotomayor has participated in roughly 100 panel decisions involving questions of race and has disagreed with her colleagues in those cases (a fair measure of whether she is an outlier) a total of 4 times.

Fair enough. That matches, more or less, my first impression of her. She’s a pretty milquetoast jurist, inoffensive but by the same token unlikely to shake up the court in any profound way (for good or ill). Even on questions of race, where, to listen to the dialogue on her, one would expect her to be her MOST radical, she is, if anything, skewed the other way, towards consensus and prone, more often than not, to strike down claims of racial discrimination (at roughly the same rate, even a bit less, than most white male jurists). If anything, there is at least some support that on this issue, abortion, and probably a few others, the meme starting to develop that she might turn out to be a pretty big disappointment to liberals hoping for a full-throated liberal voice on these matters on the court has some merit. She’s sort of an Obama candidate. A cipher for the Grand Liberal Dreams that, in reality, is a pretty pragmatic middle-of-the-roader. If anything, I think conservatives should perhaps be a bit more satisfied at how un-game-changing she is, and liberals a bit more critical.

That settles it for me, then. I don’t care about affirmative action or racial discrimination cases. Or rather, I do, but it ranks really, really low on my list of concerns I might have for the future of this court.

Unfortunately, I have a feeling it sucks up about 80% of the confirmation hearing.

Posted by Brad @ 2:10 am on May 30th 2009

News Story of the Day


[Senator Lindsey] Graham, speaking after Rumsfeld’s Senate testimony, suggested that material in at least one tape held by Defense Department investigators could be by far the most-damaging yet to the U.S. military effort in Iraq and its prestige around the world.

“The American public needs to understand, we’re talking about rape and murder here. We’re not just talking about giving people a humiliating experience. We’re talking about rape and murder and some very serious charges,” Graham said to reporters. Graham said, however, he hadn’t seen the videos that are part of the investigation into the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers and military contractors.

Rumsfeld, too, said that even more damaging evidence is likely to come.

“There are a lot more photographs and videos that exist. If these are released to the public, obviously it’s going to make matters worse.”

The Pentagon won’t release other photos or videos because officials said they are evidence in criminal investigations. So far, six military personnel have been charged in connection with the Abu Ghraib abuse. Six separate investigations are still under way, and Rumsfeld pledged that they will go wherever the evidence leads them, even to high-ranking officers. The investigations include allegations of homicide.

Posted by Brad @ 8:58 pm on May 29th 2009

Great Moments in Republican Talking Points

H/t Dailykos.

Karl Rove, giving a juicy little tidbit.

ROVE: What’s interesting to me, though, is the question of how effective she’s going to be on the Supreme Court. We know that David Souter was a cipher. We know from her record on the 2nd Court of Appeals that she’s not a particularly effective colleague. I first got wind of this when Sam Alito, who was her colleague on the court while we were reviewing his record, it — you know, people who were familiar with the workings of the court said that she was combative, opinionated, argumentative, and as a result, was not able to sort of help create a consensus opinion on important issues. […]

VAN SUSTEREN: What did Justice Alito say about working with her?

ROVE: Well, I’m not going to comment on what he said about her…blah blah blah

Survey seeeez…

Sotomayor served on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Alito served on the 3rd Circuit.

Posted by James @ 12:10 am on May 29th 2009

The Real Music Video of the Week

No need to thank me.

Posted by Brad @ 10:52 pm on May 28th 2009

Quote of the Day

I’ve asked this a hundred different times in a hundred different ways, so…

here it is again!

[H]ere’s my main question: what exactly is so hard about getting terrorists convicted in American courts? Under US law, even “providing material aid” to any “terrorist organization” is a felony. I mean, come on — the US can try university professors for “material aid” to a “terrorist” organization for recruiting donations to a Palestinian political and charity group that was not, at the time, considered a terrorist organization. How hard is it, really, to convict someone picked up “on the battlefield” in Afghanistan of having “provided material support” to the Taliban? [A]re you seriously telling me that the Bush Administration’s torture regime has so thoroughly bolloxed the entirety of the evidence regarding detainees at Gitmo that we can no longer even prove they were doing anything to support any group on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations? Any such group whose actions have resulted in “the death of any person”? If we can’t prove that about these guys, what are they doing in prison?


This was never about justice.

No honest man can ever look at the full brunt of the reality of it and conclude otherwise.

Posted by Brad @ 5:40 pm on May 28th 2009

Music Video of the Week – One Hundred Years of Some of These Days

The original recording, from 1911, by Sophie Tucker (or 1927 if you want a little more polish).

Bing Crosby – Some of These Days (1932)

(Or if you want awesomely up-tempo, Cab Calloway – Some of These Days (1937))


Posted by Brad @ 4:57 pm on May 28th 2009

How the Mighty Have Fallen

PJ O’Rourke, writing for the Weekly Standard, argues that on the issue of torture, America is being turned into a banana republic.

By Democrats daring to suggest it be investigated.

Posted by Brad @ 2:37 pm on May 28th 2009

Sestak v. Specter

I’m trying to think of a boxing match rhyming name for the bout, but all I can come up with is tax collector and slide projector.

Anyway, Smokin’ Joe Sestak, though he has not yet officially announced his candidacy, is pretty much in, saying as much to his major donors and friends trying to get a war chest going. He may still drop out if he finds the support isn’t there, but it’s pretty clear he’s gunning for Arlen at this point, and will likely be the only major challenger.

Right now, Qunnipac finds him behind, but Specter far from sealing the deal. Also, Sestak beats Toomey, but Toomey is gaining a lot on Specter for the general election.

Dem Primary
Specter 50
Sestak 21
Und 27

GOP Primary
Toomey 38
Gerlach 10
Luksik 3
Und 47

General Election
Specter 46 (-7 vs. last poll, May 4)
Toomey 37 (+4)
Und 14 (+4)

Sestak 37
Toomey 35
Und 23

I know it would be bad for the country and all, but man, does God love me enough to have Specter lose his Democratic seat to Pat Toomey? That would be about the funniest thing ever in terms of the back-biting that would then ensue in Democratic circles.

Posted by Brad @ 1:15 pm on May 28th 2009

Rape in America Detention Centers

This comes as no surprise to those of us who have actually had an interest in learning about the practices that regularly went on in American detention centers, oftentimes at either the willful behest or conscious blind-eye of the chain of command, but it’s worth noting, because torture apologists try to pretend this stuff isn’t out there.

Former Major General Antonio Taguba, the officer who conducted an inquiry into Abu Ghraib in 2004, has been interviewed by Britain’s Daily Telegraph, and confirms some of the reporting originally done by Seymour Hersh. Namely, these detention centers had an explicit “anything goes” policy, and under those conditions, of course, anything went.

At least one picture shows an American soldier apparently raping a female prisoner while another is said to show a male translator raping a male detainee.

Further photographs are said to depict sexual assaults on prisoners with objects including a truncheon, wire and a phosphorescent tube.

One such photo was already released—you can find it at Salon and other places—with the original batch. It shows a blindfolded detainee in a very unnatural position sticking a banana in his rectum. The military inquiry caption read something to the effect of “Detainee sticking a banana in his rectum. This was apparently done voluntarily.”

I’m sure.

There were also pictures in that set of a couple of prostitutes they had picked up in Iraq that, for some damn reason, they had detaineed at Abu Gharib. The guards with the cameras were quite taken with them. Pictures of them lifting up their shirts for the camera, sitting on each other’s laps, etc. And of course, the naked dogpiles, images of Granger and England performing sex acts on each other in the detention center while on duty, and on and on. Who the hell knows what else, although Hersh, for his part, reported about an incident that seems to match Taguba’s description of one particular picture:

Maj Gen Taguba’s internal inquiry into the abuse at Abu Ghraib, included sworn statements by 13 detainees, which, he said in the report, he found “credible based on the clarity of their statements and supporting evidence provided by other witnesses.”

Among the graphic statements, which were later released under US freedom of information laws, is that of Kasim Mehaddi Hilas in which he says: “I saw [name of a translator] ******* a kid, his age would be about 15. The kid was hurting very bad and they covered all the doors with sheets. Then when I heard screaming I climbed the door because on top it wasn’t covered and I saw [name] who was wearing the military uniform, putting his **** in the little kid’s ***…. and the female soldier was taking pictures.”

There are two points on all this.

1. It keeps reminding me of the Stanford Prison Experiment, the most infamous illustration of the innate corruptibility of man to come out of the field of psychology (and which, for obvious reasons, will never be replicated). You give a group of people—any people—absolute power over another group of people they are conditioned, even indirectly, to dehumanize, and bad things happen. That’s why we demand such vigilance with law enforcement, why guidelines of conduct in mental hospitals, nursing homes, and (theoretically) jails and prisons are so formally conscripted. The “bad apples” comment is not wrong, but it misses the point. It’s not just “bad luck” that these people wound up there, doing what they were doing. You could have replaced them with a random sample of other detention officers and, conditions being what they were, gotten roughly the same result.

2. And there’s the rub. “Conditions being what they were”. The orders from on high, which we know and have on record, is that so long as you didn’t kill them, “anything goes”. Including, as John Yoo famously opined, crushing a child’s testicles. Interrogators who objected were overruled by civilian command and contractors who thought they knew better or had an axe to grind or point to prove, and romper room ensued.

Obama needs to release everything he has. It is not the releasing of the documentation that damages our reputation and puts our country in danger, its the practices being documented, and we not only have we every right to know, but we NEED to know to be shaken to our core that this is not Jack Bauer style saving the world. This is evil and it is weakness and it is a black spot on our national soul that is only expanding the more we refuse to hold ourselves accountable for it, the more we let the infection alone. We, as a country, are rotting away from the inside because we’ve allowed this to become a theoretical partisan issue. There is now a political base for blank check torture in America today, in large part because of the various fictions that have been allowed to get entrenched.

Throw open the doors, let the sunlight in, and let’s see who’s prepared to be counted as enabling these kinds of things.

Posted by Jack @ 8:46 pm on May 27th 2009

The State of Objections to Judge Sotomayor: Bringing It Down A Notch

Let’s catalog the objections, and score them for popularity, wing nut hypocrisy, and overall legitimacy. I’ll start. (Blanket credit: Most, though not all, of these come from Andrew Sullivan, natch):

1. The Empathy Thing. You know, the idea that Obama wanted a judge with empathy, so she probably has it, seems to admit to it, and this is Really Bad. It is clearly inappropriate for a judge to have empathy with people.
Popularity: High, but waning.
Wingnut Hypocrisy quotient on this complaint runs high, particularly given Judge Alito’s apparent endorsement of empathy.
Legitimacy: The pursuit of perfect neutrality is indeed a noble goal, but for reals? No empathy at all? Gotta say Very Low.

2. “Where Policy is Made” Referencing her dialogue regarding advantages of clerking in the appeals court system.
Popularity: High, steady
Wingnut hypocrisy rating: Medium. I am highly skeptical of all “judicial activism” accusations, seeing this increasingly abused and empty phrase as a stand in for “rulings I don’t like.” How loud did the conservatives complain about judicial activism when Oregon’s euthanasia / assisted suicide legislation got overturned by the judiciary?
Legitimacy: Low based on her follow on paragraph and a wide reading of the nature of the appeals court and its role in interpreting law. Brad points to this post at Anonymous Liberal

3. “Wise Latina” vs. “White Male”. We have been debating the meaning of her sentence, particularly in the context of her extensive commentary on race and gender versus neutrality, in the comments to this post. It seems to come down to your willingness to see the comment as an inelegantly stated extension of her quite rational central theme, or as a bridge-too-far false note indicating an unnatural preoccupation with the benefits of her race and gender.
Popularity: High and growing.
Wingnut hypocrisy rating: Unknown, but its early. Oops, almost forgot about Senator Jeff Sessions, ranking GOP member of the Senate Judiciary committee, and his colorful past. So really HIGH hypocracy rating.Putting Tancredo out front on this seems like a bad idea.
Legitimacy: Low to Medium at best. The context of the speech and her record on the bench seriously undermine the charge.

4. Overturn rate by the Supremes. Apparently Sotomayor has had five cases in which she wrote the majority opinion taken up by SCOTUS, three of those were overturned. Nate Silva points out that this is actually a good statistic for her, as SCOTUS overturns roughly 75% of the circuit court cases it takes, because the Supremes are selecting cases that they have a strong suspicion need to be overturned.
Popularity: Medium and dropping. Too wonky, involves numbers and percentages.
Wingnut hypocrisy rate: I’m guessing high, but unknown, because I do not feel like investigating overturn rates for favored conservative judges.
Legitiacy: Very low, although the reason for overturning could be quite relevant.

5. Temperament, i.e., the Jeffrey Rosen hit piece.
Using entirely anonymous sources, Rosen questioned her intellect, judicial temperament, and general suitability. Apparently, no onomous sources were available for this reclusive and obscure judge so recently appointed to the bench. Greenwald responds (at length, of course.)
Popularity: Very High. Rosen’s piece immediately became the standard talking point memo for right wing outfits.
Wingnut hypocrisy factor: Really high. Temperament and intelligence were not exactly hallmarks of plenty of Bush nominees and appointees. See Miers, Harriet and Brown, Brownie.
Legitimacy. Very Low, the Rosen piece was a total hack job, and its not like Scalia is lap dog. A little fire on the bench would hardly be unusual.

6. The Dead Grandmother Gambit. Greg Mankiw’s deceased grandma believed in savings, and Sotomayor doesn’t have a lot. So she obviously has some screwed up priorities and poor decision making skills. See Nate Silva for an alternative view.
Popularity: Blessedly Low
Wingnut Hypocrisy rating: I can’t even begin to calculate this.
Legitimacy: Very Low.

7. Her name is unnatural. That is, placing the emphasis on the last syllable is wrong wrong wrong and probably racist. Or reverse racist. Or at least Unamerican.
Popularity: Please let it stay low.
Wingnut Hypocrisy: Medium, as the creator of this criticism lists people he admires with pronunciation preferences.
Legitimacy: Lower than Low. Seriously, this is beyond silly. My last name is initially pronounced wrong by 90% of people I meet. Not one person has had the gall to suggest that I change the way I and the rest of my family pronounce it. They politely correct themselves. Nativism run amuck.

8. Actual Judicial Rulings.
Popularity: Low. This just doesn’t seem important.
Wingnut hypocrisy rating: Yes.
Legitimacy: High, in that this is what we should all be looking at, but Low, because few of us are. Ed Brayton is. That’s a start.

Brad adds:
9. Intellect. Interestingly, one can find this on both the regular right but also the hardcore left. The right’s claim is she’s an affirmative action nominee. The left’s claim isn’t all that dissimilar, saying Obama had an opportunity to get really bold and put a liberal lion on the court that would set precedent for a generation of theorists and write opinions that would be poured over for centuries, and instead he went with a person who is perfectly qualified and perfectly competent and surely passes muster but who doesn’t seem to be someone who is going to really challenge the status quo on the court or really skew things in a liberal direction in the way, say, Scalia does on the right. I was actually hoping Thimble might drop in, as it seems to be coming from this wing of the party (what I might describe as the hyper-intellectual far-left). So far, I’ve only seen this expressed in comments at HuffPo, Dailykos, or, occasionally, someone like Michael Moore.
Popularity. Low, but by the same token, under the radar.
Wingnut hypocrisy rating: Actually fairly low. Nobody could deny that Bush’s nominees were intellectual heavyweights. Ironically, Roberts has fallen in line as a more or less completely mediocre stand-in Republican, while Alito, the stand-in lapdog, has himself some pretty good moments now and then. Harriet Miers doesn’t really damage this rating because, frankly, it was the wingnuts who buried her.
Legitimacy: Unclear. I doubt any charges of “she’s a dummy” stick; she’s clearly not. But I do think that Obama will face more pressure than he might otherwise with his next appointment to go really far left. (Jack’s comment: I see this as LOW. Princeton, Harvard, young appointee to the bench. She may not have the intellect of SCOTUS’ brightest stars, but she clearly has enough to meet the standard.)

James insists that
10. She will eat a baby…. I have no explanation for this. The point, I think, is that her nomination, based upon her compelling narrative, is so secure that she could eat a baby on live TV and still get nominated. It reminds me of The Poorman Institute’s Wilford Brimley BTK point. The real point is that, despite her annointing, and even without aligning oneself with the wingnut right, you can still honestly inspect her record and find areas of concern. Not all criticism should be assumed to be the product of partisan hackery.
Popularity: Immeasurably low, but significantly more frequent now than it was two hours ago.
Wingnut hypocrisy: I think this may be clean. I know of no wingnuts that have actually endorsed a baby eater.
Legitimacy: TBD.

Brad finds a doozy.
11. Pigs feet jurisprudence. This is the… novel? theory that Judge S believes her diet provides special insight into judging. Words fail. From The Hill: This has prompted some Republicans to muse privately about whether Sotomayor is suggesting that distinctive Puerto Rican cuisine such as patitas de cerdo con garbanzo — pigs’ feet with chickpeas — would somehow, in some small way influence her verdicts from the bench. ” And Talking Points Memo: “I guess the chain goes something like this: 1). Sotomayor implied that her Latina identity informs her jurisprudence, 2). She also implied that Puerto Rican cuisine is a crucial part of her Latina identity, 3). Ergo, her gastronomical proclivities will be a non-negligible factor for her when she’s considering cases before the Supreme Court.”
Popularity: Awesome.
Hypocrisy Watch: Republicans seem weirdly transfixed with what a diet says about a person, be it arugula, hamburgers with mustard only, or pig’s feet.
Legitimacy: Unlike one day and two hours ago, I’m going to go ahead and just assume this was somebody tripping over their own rhetorical feet in service of a larger point that’s pretty clear. If anything though, the mockability factor will probably not do conservative critics any good.

Posted by Jack @ 9:51 pm on May 26th 2009

Trivial comment on Judge Sotomayor

Excited liberal co-worker: Wow, she’s Puerto Rican, and from the inner city, the Bronx!
Me: I’m married to a Nuyorican from the Bronx. I’m not sure this is such a fabulous idea.

Posted by Brad @ 1:07 pm on May 26th 2009

Sonia Sotomayor is Obama’s Supreme Court Pick

The obvious choice, I guess, given it pretty much had to be a woman. Ideologically, she’s down-the-line liberal but not known for radicalism or grand vision. Demographically, she’s a female Hispanic, of course, and good luck to the Republicans if they wish to even brush against any of those lines. As to how the confirmation plays out, my guess is Alex Massie has it right.

Identity politics and treating entire swathes of the population as client groups is not an especially bonny aspect of American politics. But it is what it is. While it’s not obviously the case that just putting the first hspanic justice on the bench necessarily advances or even much solidifies Democratic support amongst latino voters, one can easily imagine a situation in which a raucous, energetic, strident Republican attempt to derail the nomination could further alienate hispanic voters from the GOP. That might be unfair, but I wager it’s how it would be perceived by latino voters. So this would seem, at first blush, to be the trap Obama has set for the Republicans: accept the nomination (assuming there’s no scandal) and like it or fight it and lose and do more damage to your own interests than you would if you’d simply seethed in silence and accepted your inevitable defeat. It’s one they do not need to fall into…

Or, demographics aside, as Ben Smith puts it:

Obama has signaled that he plans a much more populist appeal, stressing the common touch, than the usual intellectual, legal and Beltway-centric defenses of Supreme Court nominees. And my view is that this nomination, barring surprises, carries far more risk for the Republican Party than for the White House.

With Specter already in favor of her nomination, as well as the two Maine ladies, the possibility of a filibuster is DOA. My expectation is right-wing talk radio ala Glenn Beck make a lot of noise, and we hear a lot about her statements that appellate judges “make policy”, but otherwise, Republicans just eat this one. They’re in no position to pick this fight (or to fight this pick, as it were), and my guess is they know it. The only way she can really be considered objectionable is if one considers any liberal justice unacceptable (and many do). My guess is it’ll be an obligatory kind of opposition, but without much fire in the belly, and all told a pretty easy confirmation.

One final point: Glenn Greenwald gives Obama more credit than I do for his political courage here, given that there has been a concerted whisper campaign in the beltway media to try to define Sotomayor early. That might have led some Presidents seeking to entirely avoid controversy to pass her over for an even more milquetoast liberal. My impression of the campaign against her was that it was more a probing endeavor, to see how much leverage they might be able to gain. Answer: not much.

In the coming week, I hope to learn more about Sotomayer’s philosophy, particularly on executive authority and privacy issues, and post them here. But first blush is she’ll vote pretty close to Souter, so the net lean of the court won’t change much. On the whole, from what I know about her, it’s a fairly uninspired choice. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but given that Obama is as knowledgeable on constitutional law as any President in the last hundred years, there was both the hope and the fear that he would bypass easy politics and pick someone who might add a new ideological thrust to the court, someone who intellectually really excited him, say a lesser known and more, forgive me, maverick-y figure that would have added an interesting wrinkle to the bench or a particular expertise/passion. Like I said, that could have been bad or good depending, but it would have been interesting. Instead, he went with a pretty mainstream liberal that, like I said, probably won’t change the fundamentals of the court at all. And, I guess, there’s something to be said for that. Obama is anything but a radical, I’ll give him that.

Posted by Brad @ 9:21 am on May 26th 2009

Tom Tancredo for Drug Legalization

In case you missed the story, Tom Tancredo came out for ending the War on Drugs last week.

Admitting that it may be political suicide, former Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo said its time to consider legalizing drugs.

He spoke Wednesday to the Lincoln Club of Colorado, a Republican group that’s been active in the state for 90 years. It’s the first time Tancredo has spoken on the drug issue. He ran for president in 2008 on an anti-illegal immigration platform that has brought him passionate support and criticism.

Tancredo noted that he has never used drugs, but said the war has failed.

“I am convinced that what we are doing is not working,” he said.

Tancredo told the group that the country has spent billions of dollars capturing, prosecuting and jailing drug dealers and users, but has little to show for it.

Tancredo’s an interesting guy. Clearly, I could never support him, and find his anti-immigration crusading to be positively pathological, as I do with most of his culture war anti-multiculturalism crap.

But, despite his own willingness to paint himself in that box, he’s not quite as one-dimensional as a, say, Duncan Hunter, and I found myself liking Tancredo a number of times in the Republican primary despite myself. He was a strong advocate of constitutionalism, was down with Ron Paul and, aside from Paul,

Posted by Brad @ 5:23 pm on May 25th 2009

Weird Soda Review Review

She called me at my work after she had returned home, and told me that she and the rest of the staff had brought home some Weird Soda, and that they had sampled it.

“How was it?”, I asked.

Silence on the phone. I didn’t know you could hear someone shuddering with horror. You can.

“You should come home,” she said, “and try it.”

Images of Invasion of the Body Snatchers ran through my mind. Join us…join us

“The kids didn’t die,” she said.

It was then that I knew that this situation would call for my full capacities as the Quaffmaster. This was the real thing–a Weird Soda loose in the field! Less experienced tasters down, possibly injured. A cry for help. My calling.

The soda in question was Abali Original Flavor Yogurt Soda.

I had no idea that so many varieties of Weird Soda were bacterial-based. They are, apparently, not the pleasant varieties. Although Your Week In Soda-Based Lovecraftian Imagery comes from the much more palpable Dry Soda Company Vanilla Bean.

Posted by Brad @ 4:41 pm on May 25th 2009

Establishing the Blame Game Early

Busy this weekend, not much blogging (as you can see), but I did want to pass on one quote solely because I have a feeling I’m going to want to refer to it later.

Jeffrey Toobin:

Even worse than Cheney’s distortions was the political agenda behind them. The speech was, as politicians say, a marker—a warning to the new Administration. “Just remember: it is a serious step to begin unravelling some of the very policies that have kept our people safe since 9/11,” Cheney said. “Seven and a half years without a repeat is not a record to be rebuked and scorned, much less criminalized. It is a record to be continued until the danger has passed.” Cheney’s all but explicit message was that the blame for any new attack against American people or interests would be laid not on the terrorists, or on the worldwide climate of anti-Americanism created by the Bush-Cheney Administration, but on Barack Obama. For many months after the 9/11 attacks, Democrats refrained from engaging in the blame game with the Bush Administration. Cheney’s speech makes it clear that, should terrorists strike again, Republicans may not respond in kind

Posted by Brad @ 3:13 pm on May 22nd 2009

While I’m at It

Sort of on an anti-Republican kick today—feeling vindictive after the Cheney speech—so I give you, courtesy of DailyKos:

Great Moments in Republican Talking Points, 1 and 2.

Posted by Brad @ 3:08 pm on May 22nd 2009

The Cheney Blowback

Man I hate the Washington press corps.

Posted by Brad @ 1:47 pm on May 22nd 2009

Lieberman/Graham to Obama’s Rescue!

In a little-noticed news item, last night the Senate passed the Detainee Photographic Records Protection Act, an amendment to the Supplemental Appropriations bill.

You’ll recall, of course, that the Department of Justice finally gave in in its fight against releasing additional torture memos as part of an ongoing ACLU FOIA lawsuit. Obama was okay with that, and then he wasn’t, and since then action has been stalled. Obama wasn’t going to issue an executive order stopping the photos from being released, but short of that, he was going to make the DoJ keep fighting the lawsuit and, in all likelihood, losing anyway.

But never fear! Joe Lieberman and Lindsay Graham decided to give him an assist, passing a law…

which would establish a procedure to block release of the detainee photos. The Senators plan to offer the legislation as an amendment to the Supplemental Appropriations bill that is being deliberated on the Senate floor this week.

Last week, after consulting with General Petraeus, General Odierno, and others, President Obama decided to fight the release of photographs that depict the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody. Those photographs are the subject of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

This legislation would authorize the Secretary of Defense, after consultation with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, to certify to the President that the disclosure of photographs like the ones at issue in the ACLU lawsuit would endanger the lives of our citizens or members of the Armed Forces or civilian employees of the United States government deployed abroad.

The certification would last five years and could be renewed by the Secretary of Defense if the threat to American personnel continues. Also, the language in the bill is clear that it would apply to the current ACLU lawsuit.

Of course, the ACLU can fight that law, and it probably will, but that’s a pretty damn big roadblock. I figured Obama would go on record against the release, garner the cred with the military brass and neocon hawks, and then the photos would get out anyway.

But, give them an inch, and now we have a law on the books giving the Pentagon yet another “out” to prevent transparency. And, of course, the law makes no provision to challenge their certification that the release of materials they’re otherwise legally obligated to release should not be released. More and more layers of “executive say-so’ just keep getting piled on…

Posted by Brad @ 1:32 pm on May 22nd 2009

Quote of the Day: Mewling Babies Edition

Unlike Adam, I have very little respect for the political power of the “releasing Gitmo detainees into American communities!” argument. I have even LESS respect for the “releasing Gitmo detainees into American prisons” argument, which seems to operate under the assumption that these guys are all test subjects of Al Queda super soldier serum that No Walls Can Hold. It is an argument contrary to common sense and easily refuted and, if anything, easily turned into an argument that projects strength and common sense (i.e. “you guys are sniveling babies turning the War on Terror into a ridiculous farce by play acting everything and not being serious about national security”). If Democrats are ready to cave on something this dumb and paper tigered, there’s no hope for them on anything. They have the White House behind them, common sense, all the actors and experts in both national security and American criminal justice, and even if they did cave, they can’t cave indefinitely…it’s not like this won’t again be an issue next year, and the year after, and the year after, and thus, by caving, you’re essentially surrendering a Republican talking point that will come up again and again and again.

So, of course, they cave.

Dan Froomkin says it best:

Here’s one thing that hasn’t changed in the Obama era: Republicans are still able to come up with scare tactics that turn Senate Democrats into a terrified and incoherent bunch of mewling babies.

It’s hard to imagine anything more ridiculous than the suggestion that bringing some of the terror suspects currently incarcerated in Guantanamo to high-security prisons in America will pose a threat to local communities.

It is nothing more than a bogeyman argument, easily refuted with a little common sense. (Isn’t that what prisons are for?) But that’s assuming you don’t spend your every moment living in fear of Republican attack ads questioning your devotion to the security of the country. Or that you have a modicum of respect for the intelligence of the American public.

Ah well. Old habits die hard, I guess. And Senate Democrats apparently remain an easily frightened bunch, after eight years of faint-hearted submission.

Posted by Brad @ 12:57 pm on May 22nd 2009

Dick Cheney’s Motive

Some have been wondering why Dick Cheney has become the most visible spokesman in the Republican party since Obama’s election, up there with Rush Limbaugh and Michael Steele, and why, in particular, he’s making a rather inglorious show of out-and-out demonizing and castigating the new President in a very un-statesmanlike fashion.

It must be that he cares very deeply about this issue and really believes that Obama is making grave mistakes that threaten the country he cares so very deeply about, right?

Well, maybe. But mostly…

Vice President Dick Cheney decided to speak out after learning that President Barack Obama might open prosecutions of former Bush Administration officials, his daughter disclosed Thursday.

Elizabeth Cheney told Fox News’ Sean Hannity that her father decided to speak out after he learned there was a possibility of legal action.

“He certainly did not plan when he left office to be doing this,” Cheney’s daughter said. “But I think as we watched in those very first days and weeks after President Obama came into office when he released the memos that lay out for the terrorists — the techniques we used to question them. Then when he suggested in the Oval Office itself that he would be open to the prosecution of former Bush administration officials including many who weren’t political appointees potentially, you know really, I think, made my dad realize this was just fundamentally wrong. We had to speak out.”

I really just don’t think it’s possible to underestimate Dick Cheney’s motives, as a general rule.

Posted by Brad @ 10:48 am on May 22nd 2009

Job Posting: Elite High School Debater Wanted

During my debating days in high school, I became pretty good at speed reading. I don’t mean quietly scanning through a book rapidly, I mean reading a book aloud at the quickest pace possible, comprehension mostly optional. This was a valued skill in debate, where, if your judges were acclimated well enough, the game could often come down to which team could simply cover the most ground in their allotted 8 minute speeches. So, if a couple of KU debaters were judging, you’d bust out every file you had on the given subject and just try to cram it all in, the idea being if you could read aloud faster than the other team, you’ll be able to throw more stuff at the wall.

But I always wondered, what’s the job market for somebody who is interested in the minutia of policy-making and can manage to read aloud at a rate of 450 words a minute?

Democrats in the House Energy and Commerce Committee have taken a novel step to head off Republican efforts to slow action this week on a sweeping climate bill: Hiring a speed reader.

Committee Republicans, who largely oppose the measure, have said they may force the reading of the entire 946-page bill, as well as major amendments totaling several hundred pages. So far, Republicans have decided not to use the procedural maneuver, but Chairman Henry Waxman of California is prepared.

A committee spokeswoman said the young man, who’s doing door duty at the hearing as he awaits his possible call to the microphone, was hired to help career staff. After years of practice, the panel’s clerks can certainly read rapidly, but she says the speed reader is a lot faster.

“Judging by the size of the amendments, I can read a page about every 34 seconds,” said the newly hired “staff assistant” who declined to give his name. Based on that count, it would take around nine hours to read the entire bill.

This leads to some CSPAN fun.

For the record, I think I could beat that guy, though I’m pretty out of practice.

Posted by James @ 8:33 pm on May 21st 2009

A Shotgun Wedding

Ok, like it or not, here is my take on the whole gay marriage debacle in this country. Please understand the fact that I approach this issue with the opinion that same-sex couples should have equal protection under the laws of the land.

Despite the gains that the gay marriage supporters in America might cheer of late, they have also seen major defeats in places like California. Who’d have thunk it? So what’s the problem? I think it’s all about marketing and, well, that’s what I do. So here goes.

Look, there are what should be two mutually exclusive components that make up this particular issue. Simply put, it’s obvious these two components are “Gay” and “Marriage”. Duh, right? Well, apparently not (at least to the proponents it seems). You see, while former is a lifestyle choice, the latter is a religious ceremony that has been elevated to a civil ceremony recognized by government(s). Therein lies the rub.

Unless I’m really missing something here, gays want the same civil rights as heterosexual couples under the laws of the land. The being married part is cool, and desired because that is the way it is for straight folks, but not the GOAL. Am I right? If I am not right, then I would submit the gay marriage movement needs some sound advice from a marketing guy; i.e, what’s the goal? What’s the frequency Kenneth? What do you really want to achieve? The answer should be equal rights under the law and a nice wedding. The way to achieve that is to understand that , while these two things are not yet mutually exclusive, they should be. So, my friends, if you want some advice from me, which only a gay these days wouldn’t take, I would tell you to this: “First pants, then your shoes”.

Marriage is predominantly viewed as a religious ceremony, at least by the religious, even though it can be officiated by those appointed to the task by our government(s). When you invite religion to the party first you have a serious problem because that is like inviting all the relatives who dislike each other to the family reunion to get drunk before your fiancé arrives. The problem, you see, is not gay marriage. It is that the government gives a religious rite recognition in the first place. It is this that gays should focus on first. Why? Because they will have allies in the cause from unexpected corners of America: Atheists, agnostics, you name it, if they haven’t already been supportive, would be regardless of their personal positions on the gay lifestyle.

Instead of grasping frantically or even over-aggressively for that brass (or gold) ring as you push through those riding the merry-go-round, why not take a breath and buy a ticket so you can ride one of the horses? Get marriage out of the hands of government. Get civil unions in. Our government should allow a civil union between two consenting adults, with all the rights that entails, period; whether heterosexual, homosexual, platonic– whatever. If you are an adult and want to hitch your wagon to someone’s star, then that should be your right. You should be granted a civil union. What you do after that in terms of a religious ceremony, etc, would be up to you and your church, synagogue…

I fear that any state legislative wins in favor of same-sex marriage will be fickle (e.g. CA). If gays really want the rights they deserve, then they need to stop pushing on a pull door and remember the goal. The rest is pure vanity.

That’s my two cents, and worth every penny.

Posted by Brad @ 1:08 pm on May 21st 2009

Music Video of the Week: Louis Prima and Keely Smith

When you think of big band, you might think of Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, and other practitioners of “serious” jazz and swing. In fact, most of those acts have since been co-opted by jazz snobs, and rightly so, but I feel like, in the music snob culture, that leads to a number of just as good or even better acts getting slighted because they didn’t “feel” as serious.

But to me, big band was always, in its essence, high-end nightclub acts. Part variety show, part club DJ, part revue, and part theater. It was intended as a night’s entertainment, not like going to the opera, but like going to a party that was there every night, and indeed the best of them essentially were exactly that; you could practically build the brick and mortars around them to make the club, and people would show up not just once, but over and over again. Nothing against the big band leaders who were composers and true students of music and who pushed the boundaries, but there’s something, to me, to be said for the acts that were totally unpretentious and just there almost like fellow party-goers and, at most, MCs. Acts you could imagine just as easily doing their thing at the piano in a really hoppin’ party as you could with 20-piece bands behind them. The best practitioners, then, were acts with enormous charisma that didn’t take themselves too seriously and just had an infectiously good time doing their thing, night in and night out.

So my favorites were always more of the Cab Calloway school (some, like Louis Armstrong, managed to straddle both worlds), and if I had to pick an all-time favorite big band act, I’d have to go with Louis Prima and Keely Smith.

Louis Prima and Keely Smith – Hey Boy! Hey Girl!


Posted by Brad @ 8:23 pm on May 20th 2009

Same Sex Marriage Just Killed in the Cradle in New Hampshire?

As you’ll recall, both houses of the legislature passed a same sex marriage bill. It went to the Governor’s desk, who had in the past opposed gay marriage, but who this time said that he would only sign it if the legislature added a superfluous but still inoffensive “exemption” for religious groups. Most people thought “whatever”, and counted the whole deal as a sure thing.

Well, the Senate said “fine, whatever”, it went to the House, and a few hours ago, the New Hampshire house voted against the proposed additional language, 186-188 (the house passed the original bill 186-179). Nobody seems sure what just happened, and a resounding “wtf?” just went through the liberal blogosphere. Did enough liberals and libertarians bristle to adding a pointless religious exemption that they actually may have just wound up killing the bill entirely? Was there some kind of backroom deal from the Governor twisting some arms to get himself and his state out of this particular spotlight? My own guess is that, state legislatures being even more wonky and prone to erraticism than the federal legislature, that enough people found enough different and probably wholly singularly idiotic or singularly principled reasons to vote against the proposed additional language or to change their minds on whether they wanted the bill passed at all that, given the margins, it flipped. Heck, there’s probably even a decent chance that if they just ran the vote on the exact same bill twice it could have turned out differently both times.

For now, I think it goes to a committee, and back to the Governor’s desk. If he does indeed veto it, the whole thing is dead at least for this legislative session, and the hill has to be climbed anew again next go-around. Talk about disappointing.

N.B. I found nothing wrong with the religious exemption clause, save that it was a do-nothing feel-good redundancy that would maybe spur a stupid lawsuit or two in the future (which would then lose). And those dumbf*$#k legislators that voted for the same sex marriage bill but against the additional language deserve to be tarred and feathered. But the Governor will still be the one ultimately vetoeing the thing, so he’ll still deserve the lion’s share of blame.

Posted by Jack @ 8:36 pm on May 19th 2009

Piracy and “The Market”

Peter Leeson, author of the 18th century pirate history The Invisible Hook, and currently guest blogging at The Volokh Conspiracy, alleges many risible things in this post, but the very first deserving criticism is the idea that “The market has spoken” regarding the wisdom of putting guards on the commercial shipping in that area:

The Market Has Spoken Despite the surge in Somali piracy and encouragement from some employees of the U.S. government, commercial ships aren’t choosing to put armed guards on their vessels. And with good reason: given present conditions, anyway, it’s a bad idea.

The profit-driven behavior of commercial shippers corroborates this possibility. Like pirates, commercial shippers also have strong incentives to keep merchant sailors alive and well: insurance costs. If armed guards reduced the dangers of piracy instead of increasing them, commercial shippers’ insurance costs would fall by employing guards instead of rising. But in this case commercial shippers would have hired armed guards already, which they haven’t. Commercial shippers don’t need government to encourage them to undertake the most profitable course of action.

The market has spoken: Even in today’s pirate-infested waters off Somalia, the low probability of being captured by pirates, together with the fact that pirates release their hostages unscathed, means it’s cheaper–and safer–to go without armed guards.

Putting aside the very questionable utility of referring to a sliver of one particular industry as “the market”, I would contend that if it is a market at all, it is hardly a free market. The security costs of the shipping concerns transiting the Horn of Africa are heavily subsidized by numerous governments in the form of continuous and highly expensive naval patrols, over flights, and tactical response units. This is not to say that international naval involvement is a bad thing; shipping route security is a perfectly valid naval mission, but let us not get carried away with appeals to free market effectiveness under present conditions.

And Leeson goes significantly further, taking this supposed market decision as the final word in whether private guards should be used. He bases this opinion on the nature of Somali pirate economics and patterns: they rarely kill or hurt any of the hostages, because it does not pay to do so. This is all good to a point: we should recognize the internal economic model that drives the pirate actions, acknowledge the limited loss of life, reign in excessive demonization of what are, essentially, thieves, and view with skepticism overly ambitious military proposals from armchair generals and admirals. Maintaining sea lanes free from piracy ought to be a naval mission, but one might enquire as to how long, and to what extent I, the taxpayer, should subsidize the international shipping industry, even accepting some significant form of public good argument. Is there no responsibility placed upon the industry? Is the entire burden to be born, forever, by the taxpayers of the various countries providing protective units? And is the limited loss of life the only marker of importance? What of the loss of cargo, shipping days, and ransom payments? Surely one so respecting of “the market” recognizes that these costs are passed on to the consumer, doubling our economic burden? What of the slippery slope? What of signaling? What of principal? Nothing, for the market, as Leeson envisions it, has spoken.

Leeson seems to take it as given that armed resistance by the shipping industry will result in significantly increased crew death and injury, while providing a limited deterrent result. This is a highly dubious assumption. Imagine hot combat between a large vessel and the types of open topped outboard boats used by the Somali pirates. The pirates must keep the target ship sufficiently undamaged such that it may be boarded and sailed back to their home port. This limits their choice of arms to small caliber weapons, and a very judicious use of RPGs. Given the required success criteria of the attackers, their only useful target would be the actual armed resisting guards and to a lesser extent, the crewmembers in the pilot house. Now consider how difficult it is to aim a small caliber weapon while driving on a bouncing motor boat in open seas, at what will likely be high speed due to the evasive maneuvers of your target. Under thse conditions, tt is quite hard to hit anything smaller than a barn. Contrast this with the armed guards’ situation: a nearly rock steady platform, elevated firing position, sandbagged and armored firing point, and mounted machine guns. These guards are under no restriction as to what they can hit. Their target is anything on the boat: people, engine, controls, tanks.

Having practiced this type of defense, I believe the large vessel has a supreme advantage. Let me make it absolutely clear that many of these advantages evaporate when facing attacks from small boat attacks that are not weapons or mission limited. Given more high powered weaponry and no damage constraint, especially a suicide bomb attack, small boats are extremely dangerous foes. But that is not what we are talking about here.

Armed guards are not a panacea, they are but one tool, one option, and they are certainly not mutually exclusive with continued naval patrols. But the utility, cost benefit-wise, of the significant military presence is really limited. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of square miles of ocean, and it must not merely be patrolled, but all boats have to be “deconflicted,” which frequently requires actual eyes on contact to determine if it is a pirate mother boat or just a fishing vessel. It is a bit of a fools mission. We can, at best, reduce the frequency of some attacks. Given our obvious limitations in the naval arena, the unlikelihood of any near-term diplomatic solution, the unsuitability of a land invasion, and the cost of the whole venture, should we not at least consider incentivising commercial shipping to take on some active role?

Posted by Cameron @ 7:04 pm on May 19th 2009

Goat + Airplane = Recession

Hat tip to Freakonomics for this awesome short story which will be available for just a few more days as an audio edition on the BBC iPlayer. The original text version is available should stick around for longer than the audio edition. This short story has the honor of being the first ever short story to be published in the Financial Times. It’s a pretty clever explanation of our current economic predicament, though it comes down decidedly on the regulation side of the argument. Regardless, I encourage our seven readers to take 45 minutes and listen to the entire story written by Julian Gough entitled The Great Hargeisa Goat Bubble.

Posted by Brad @ 6:16 pm on May 19th 2009

Music Video of the Week

The Seldom Scene – After Midnight

Posted by Brad @ 11:41 am on May 19th 2009

Things are Tough All Over

Gallup’s poll showing the loss of Republican support, broken down by demographics, is pretty devastating.

We know, of course, that since 2001, party ID has swung 13 points away from the GOP. That’s bad enough. But what ought to terrify GOP analysts is how comprehensive that swing has been. Meaning, it’s not just that, say, liberals or yankees or minorities or whatever have swung a lot (thus pushing up the average) but other groups have remained stable or even increased their GOP. Virtually no group has remained stable with their identification with the Republican party. That 13 point swing looks as much like a median as a mean.

The four biggest groups to swing most heavily away from the Republican party? College graduates, youth, The Midwest, and those making under 30k a year. The first two are generally areas of Republican weakness, but a collapse of nearly 10 points across the Midwest? Losing the working poor (a very big component of the Reagan Revolution and Republican rural strength)? Losing 7% of voters making over 75k? 5 points for married folks? The only group that has remained even are those who attend church weekly, but even that is belied by the falk that less-frequent (but still frequent) church goers have moved 6% Democrat and self-described evangelicals only slightly less. Ironically, the groups which Republicans lost the least amount of ground with (but still lost ground) are 65 and overs, self-described “conservatives”, and nonwhites, the latter being the only relative bright spot, losing only about 1% of their nonwhite and only 2% of their black support (though translated to gross support, that probably amounts to many hundres of thousands of voters, and it’s not like the GOP has a lot of minority support to spare).

Still. We all know the country has swung Democratic. But that’s not the whole story. The whole story is how homogeneously it has done so.

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