Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Scandal is What is Acceptable

The Sotomeyor mini-dust-up over the "Wise Latina" remark has been dismissed by many on the grounds that it is perfectly normal and acceptable to talk in this way in modern legal academic spaces.  But isn't that the scandal? The fact that her racialized thinking is acceptable, even laudable, among "mainstream" legal scholars is precisely the thing that should be siezed upon by opponents of her nomination.  The point is not to defeat the candidate but the philosophy.  The American people do not believe that elites are really all that different from themselves--that is how elites maintain legitimacy.  The legal profession is far outside the mainstream of traditional american values.  That is the problem, not the particular representative of that philosophy that Obama has served up. Saying that "Well, all law professors talk like that," is not a defense of Sotomeyor but an indictment of the creeping crytocracy we live under. Those are the grounds on which her nomination should be opposed. Frankly, viewing this philosophy as a personal failing is to excuse the legal profession and trivialize the real problem.

Advice for College Grads

Apply for a government job. Neatness counts.  Pay is not bad and you can never be fired.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Support for Gay Marriage slipping

Nick Gillespie argues that part of the reason that support for gay marriage has declined is the behavior of some of the supporters of gay marriage.  Exhibit A is Rosie O'Donnell. 

I don't know if he is right but it certainly hasn't helped.

No good options in North Korea

Now that North Korea has a nuclear weapon there seem to be no good options.  War gaming the removal of NK's nuclear weapons has been tried with a range of assumptions all leading to the same bad outcomes.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

National Health Care: Labatts or Amstel

Jonathan Cohn argues that Obama care will look more like Netherlands or France than Canada or Great Britain's.  And, he says that anyone who suggests otherwise is a liar.  This seems intemperate. It may certainly be that Obama is aiming for France but he still is more likely to hit Canada, whatever the specifics of his proposal.  The culture and political institutions of a country are going to determine what a national health care system look like in the long run more than the details of the current proposal--not that those aren't bad enough.

Torture and unintended consequences

As this article notes, our high-minded stance on "enhanced interrogation" is leading to more reliance on interrogations of prisoners in their own, usually Middle Eastern, countries.  Now do you think that will lead to more torture or less?

Another reason to lament Pelosi--she is pretty good

Pelosi is doing very well so far at getting health care reform passed--a great contrast to her performance on the CIA briefing controversy.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Churchill in Command

Is it just me, or are we all having Churchill withdraw symptoms?  Ok, maybe it is just me.  But in any case here is a really cool book I just started reading. 

Reynolds, David. 2007. In Command of History: Churchill Fighting and Writing the Second World War. Basic Books. Available at: [Accessed May 26, 2009].

It is about how Churchill went about writing his history of the Second World War. I've just gotten through the first hundred pages. I thought it would be pretty dry stuff, as the first two chapters are about the legal wrangling Churchill went through and have access to his official papers and to avoid paying taxes on sales of things which he wrote during the war and which would, consequently, have been subject to the extraordinarily high wartime tax rates. But even these chapters have revealed something of substance in regard to the text itself.

One thing that is often noted is how much of the book seems to revolve around Churchill quoting himself and his own memos. It sometimes reminds one of Roosevelt's (TR, not FDR) account of the Spanish-American war which one critic said should be called "Alone in Cuba," it has so many references to his own writing. It turns out there is a reason for that, or at least another reason for that.

Normally cabinet ministers were not allowed to quote from confidential Memos they read while in office. Churchill had in the writing of The First World War had an exception made for the memos a minister had written himself. There was one other exception: a cabinet minister whose reputation had been impugned would have the right to access and partially publish confidential memos to clear his name.

If Churchill had quoted a non-Churchhill memo or cabinet document then any other Cabinet member or possibly even members of Parliament or bureaucrats would have the right to access" documents that he thought might clear his name. Therefore, to the extent Churchill referred to memos that were not written by his own hand he opened the door to having more government documents released. This was something the church will want to avoid out of his respect for government confidentiality, but, also because the current prime minister would also have grounds for vetoing publication. So, it turns out that the reason Churchill quotes himself so much owes as much to his desire to avoid legal and political complications as it does to his own ego.

The greater substantive point of the book though is about how Churchill's memoir shaped our understanding of World War II, and particularly of the causes leading up to it. So far, there are no grand lies exposed as much as a subtle shading and direction of attention. His account of the interwar period focuses attention on mistakes made in the 1930s by conservative leaders and draws attention away from the "contributions" of Ramsay McDonald (socialist leader from 31 to 35) and leaders in the 1920s (when Churchill himself was still in office).

The book also highlights how the history was shaped by Churchill's present. He begins work on the gathering storm soon after he has given his famous "Iron Curtain" speech in Fulton Missouri. The book is written intentionally to invite comparison to the contemporary confrontation with the Russians (or, to avoid anachronism, the Soviet Union).

Finally, the book also sheds light on Churchill's career after the war. In particular, it takes a new look at the famous Iron Curtain speech mentioned above. While it is remembered as a clarion call to the cold war, Churchill's main intention was to bolster a transatlantic alliance. Reynolds argues, "rather than prolonging an Anglo-American axis to wage the cold war, Churchill was invoking the threat of World War III to justify a special relationship."

I think this highlights an important theme in his thinking, the importance of friendships and long-term alliances among like-minded nations as the foundation for peace. This can be contrasted with the institutional -- internationalist view which views such particular and exclusive relationships as undermining international institutions. As close, personal friendships and make us violate our abstract ethical principles -- as Gandhi would argue -- favoritism and friendships among nations can make us violate international legal rules and principles. It is interesting that this emphasis on friendship between the English-speaking peoples (as Churchill referred to them) drew as much fire as his Cold War alarmism. "Churchill's thesis about Anglo-American relations was the most contentious part of his speech. In the first few days, it provoked strenuous criticism from liberal such as Eleanor Roosevelt on the grounds that Churchill was calling for a transatlantic military alliance that would break up the United Nations." (Page 44).


Great round-up of Sotomayor reactions and commentary (actually, just commentary).

Proposition 8 Upheld

The voters' opposition to Gay Marriage upheld by California Supreme Court. Well, what else could they do?  Overturning the proposition would be tantamount to ruling the constitution unconstitutional or some parts of the text more of the constitution than others.  What I found puzzling is the threat to commit acts of civil disobedience on the part of gay activists.  What could that mean?  They are going to go on being gay and living together?  Continue to introduce themselves as spouses?  Can you disobey a law that doesn't prevent you from doing anything in the first place?

Someone to the Right of Me!

Ralph Peters argues that the guys at Gitmo should have been killed before they got there.  A bit harsh even for me, though I agree with his reciprocal conception of rights.  Still, I think there is something to be said for that policy when it comes to the subset of terrorists called pirates about whom, given that they are captured on a ship that doesn't belong to them in the middle of the ocean, there is little question that they are guilty.  Though even then the Royal Navy brought most back for trial ashore.

Differences between Bush and Obama on Gitmo Explained

More guns, less crime?

Isn't this cute?

Whoops! there are cameras here.  Can't say that sort of thing in front of the help.  Our newest Supreme Court nominee (did you know that she is the first Hispanic woman to be nominated?) on the policy making role of the appeals court.  Note how she says we shouldn't say that sort of thing because it is wrong but because there are cameras here.  How much of our elite education is now just a rehearsal of euphemisms?  We are just learning a new language to not offend the gun-clinging rubs out there that still think the voters are in charge? Who still think this is a democracy instead of a crytocracy?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Krugman's forgotten man

The great Krugman manages to analyze the fiscal crisis in California without ever mentioning the increases in spending.  Applying this logic to the US as a whole he says that there is nothing irresponsible about Obama's spending increases as long as we increase our tax rate to take care of the interest payments like a responsible country--say Sweeden--would do.  If only the great paralysis could be transfered to spending rather than taxes.

Toobin on the Rhetoric of the two speeches

Expanding definitions of torture

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Fareed has figured it out!

Fareed Zachariah has wonderful news for all of us: the Iranians aren't looking for a nuclear weapon! The evidence? They say they aren't!

Now, Fareed is no misty eyed fool. He recognizes that "…of course, they could all be lying." The "them" being the last two grand ayatollahs who pronounced nuclear weapons as "un-Islamic." But then, since the regime relies on its fidelity to the Islamic principles for its legitimacy, reminding people of the illegitimacy of nuclear weapons would not be in their interest. It would be far more “shrewd” to

Fareed goes on to adduce other reasons that the Iranian would not want nuclear weapons. Pursuing a civilian nuclear program would have great benefits, such as making them more popular among the Europeans and international lawyers. They can get all of the benefits of having a nuclear program by simply maintaining a "breakout capability."  And it would make international sanctions almost impossible to enact.

Finally, the oracle of Armani tells us, intones, that the Iranians are rational.  They respond to costs and benefits. They are not suicidal. 

Where to begin?

What they say. There are several interpretations of what they say.  Denying that they want a nuclear weapon is consistent with not wanting a nuclear weapon.  It is also consistent with not wanting to have your nuclear weapons program bombed to smithereens. 

It is “unIslamic” and they wouldn’t say it was unIslamic if they didn’t mean it because otherwise they would undermine their own legitimacy. 

There are plenty of things they do that are “un-Islamic” but they do them anyway. Ask the 241 Marines killed by Hezbollah in Lebanon 1983.  It might be un-Islamic to have nuclear weapons but does that seem like a statement that would really box them in?  “Sure it is un-Islamic, but when the infidels leave us no choice…?” 

Moreover, aren’t there plenty of incidents in the Koran where the Prophet deceives the infidels for a higher cause?  And don’t the fans of the regime seem like they care more about being able to dictate terms to the infidels than to be in line with the Koran’s principles on nuclear weapons? 

Maybe they want to win?  Maybe they want to dominate?   Remember in the Spielberg movie about the dinosaurs?  The guy says that T-Rex doesn’t want to be fed, he wants to hunt.  They don’t want to be given, they want to take.  They want to dictate.  They want to wipe away a couple centuries of inferiority and humiliation by standing strong and showing that they will not parle with their enemies but dominate with their will and power.  They don’t want be the objects of beneficence, they want to be masters.  They don’t want their enemies to be cut a deal, they want them to cower. 

Hitler was not irrational, he just took big risks and valued deaths in battle of his own country men at a very low price.  Once you understand his utility function he is very easy to understand.  Chamberlain’s mistake was not in assuming that Hitler was rational, it was in misjudging his utility function.  Being told someone is rational is practically useless, if by “rational” we mean utility maximizing.  It matters the world what gives them utility.  The assumption that they are as rational as we are is not a warrant for taking a walk in the other guy’s shoes.  That procedure is only informative if the other guy is walking in the same direction as we would. 

Missing the point

One in a long line of stories making the point that water boarding is highly unpleasant. Isn't this missing the point?  The whole advantage of water boarding is that it has all the pain of torture but none of the damage AND is over as soon as it stops.  Unlike actually causing physical trauma it is unpleasant without having long term (or even medium term) effects.  Demonstrations that people "can't stand it" are besides the point, or rather, are making the point.

Solution to Judicial mess? More judges!

It is not enough that we have problems with the Gitmo detainees, now we have to have the courts weigh in at Bagram! One nice thing about this editorial from the Washington post is that it agrees with Cheney's argument that the changes to the Bush policies in dealing with enemy combatants are mainly cosmetic, or, more precisely, rhetorical. 

And this:

"The president's suggested reforms are useful. But voluntary, nonbinding
reform by the executive branch isn't enough. The administration should
actively support legislation, originally backed by Sen. Edward M.
Kennedy (D-Mass.) and recently reintroduced by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy
(D-Vt.), that would give judges more discretion in weighing executive
secrecy claims and more leeway to exclude some evidence without tossing
out entire cases."

It isn't enough to do the right thing, the right thing has to be done by domestic judges!  That way, whatever decisions made by judges now will be binding on future governments and--oh, what are those things called again? Oh yeah!--voters.  You know, after the Obamasiah is gone we might change our minds. That is, no changing our minds because the facts might change.   It is perhaps a step forward, though.  Instead of the usual route to the expansion of judicial power the people's representatives are being asked to request being neutered. It is an improvement over the normal procedure for the judiciary to simply usurp and dare the legislature to do anything about it. 


If his predecessor's policies were driven by "fear rather than foresight,"  could his speeches be characterized by "alliteration rather than logic?"

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Obamism of the Day

If his predecessor's policies were driven by "fear rather than foresight,"  could his speeches be characterized by "alliteration rather than logic?"

Friday, May 22, 2009

Resource Dependency Theory of Power

The rd-power theory predicts that those with discretion over a vital resource stream will have power.  Public pension funds buying newspapers' bonds--forget about separation of church and state: the thing to watch out for is state sponsored press.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Rationing by any other name

The government has chosen the most "efficient" procedure for you.  A small preview of Obama care in the government's decision to deny medicare funding for the newly developed technique of "virtual" colonoscopy.  They are no better than the good old-fashioned stick a camera up your ass variety.  That is unless you value avoidance of pain and preservation of dignity.  But, Obama knows best. All the people that complain about trying to negotiate with your insurance company have fun talking to the government.

That Hopey Changey Feeling

So Congress has increased Obama's spending request by 12 billion (that 17 billion in "savings" didn't last long, did it?) but will not give him the money he asked for to close Gitmo.  I love responsible (in the political scientist's sense of knowing who to blame) party government!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Ignore your friends; suck up to your enemies

Tunku Varadarajan wonders why Obama has neglected India, particularly in light of his otherwise "deft" handling of foreign policy. It is simple, ignoring our friends and kissing up to our enemies is Obama's policy. 
Mr. Varadarajan happens to like the second half of the equation and doesn't realize its connection to the first: our enemies are bad, they have merely been mistreated.  Our "friends" are the countries that have stood by us in confrontations--that makes them in Obama's eyes accomplicies in our misdeeds. Dissing them and showing them that we are not going to reward thier enabling behavior is merely a part of the larger policy of appeasing our enemies.   As Neville Chamberlain discovered, appeasing your enemies at some point requires you to sell out not only your own interests but those of your friends as well.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Fake moderation

Listen closely to what Obama says, especially when he is trying to be "moderate." At the Notre Dame commencement ceremony he says he is looking for common ground, but all of the common ground will serve only as justifications for liberal policies when it comes time to put them into action.  He says that we will make adoptions easier--read, open the way for gay adoptions; he says that we should all agree to offer more support for those women that chose to bring their children to term--read increase welfare payments; he says that we can all agree to help prevent unwanted pregnancies--read more sex end and increased availibility of contraception in schools.

Torture memos

The actual torture memos make a compelling case for waterboarding the three hard cases even without the memos Chaney is trying to have released.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The "You can't make this up" department:

Pediatric hospital wing in Yemen opened named after Palestinian bomber who murdered two little girls. Here is an account of the attack.  In an especially nice touch, the terrorists entered in an ambulance.

I blame bush

This is going to be the challenge for conservatives: to avoid the blame for the consequences of Obama's policies.  I doubt that it will be as bad as the Yuan becoming the world's reserve currency, but a bad round of stagflation is surely in the works.  We have to be ready with our answer because the other side is surely going to have the media mouthing its party line--that it was all made necessary by the Bush financial crisis--as incontrovertible fact.  Obama did have to stimulate the economy to deal with a once in a century liquidity crisis, but he did not have to put that spending in the form of unsustainable and "unpaidfor" (I think this should be a new word going forward into the Obama era) set of social programs that attempt to transform us into Sweden in a sort of political bait and switch play. 

Thursday, May 14, 2009

It appears that the thuggery at Treasury pre-dates the Obama administration

Documents show Treasury and the Fed bullied people into taking the TARP money and into "liking it."

More evidence against anti-oxidants

My advice: stick to bacon.

It makes me feel all hopey changey inside...

So closing down Gitmo isn't as simple a proposition as was thought.  Now, instead of indefinite detention in Cuba they get indefinite detention in Kansas.  You know where this is all heading.  Someday, a few years from now, they will go on a hunger strike to be sent back to Gitmo.  Public relations disaster for whatever state they are sent to.  Who knows, it could be so embarassing that it could even reflect poorly on his oneness?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Rasmussen note a trend toward Republicans on the issues

While the MSM are all swoon all the time over Obama's approval ratings the numbers on issues are going the Republicans' way. Pretty impressive given Republican ineptitude.  This has to be seen as a vote of no confidence in the Democrats themselves.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Insider Outsider

The real distinction is between insider and outsider, not debtor and creditor (thanks to Megan McArdle for bringing this article to my attention).  It is like the private sector is being taken over by the mandarinate.  The more government moves in the more who you know trumps what contracts your contract--or that law, for that matter--says.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Man defends home with gun

Fannie and Freddie: the dog that didn't bark

Fannie and Freddie still not a story.  Apparently 400 billion lost to the taxpayers is not longer news in the age of Obamanable deficits.  Proof, as if any was needed, that the press is in the tank for the democrats and they know that the democrats are culpable.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Business tracking government

Here is a free website that tracks how the stimulus is being spent.  Unfortunate, isn't it, that the government can't do this itself. Oh, wasn't there something about having transparency once Obama was in office? Oh, never mind.

Monday, May 04, 2009

International Law: America's calling Harry Truman! Better get a lawyer

Our allies in Europe are trying to have CIA agents involved in extraordinary rendition extradited.  That is only the first step toward having the Administration officials on up to the former President charged.  We supply the army that defends them, they supply the lawyers that imprison our people for doing so. In a related story (at least I see it as related) the Germans have given up on plans to liberate the hostages held by Somalian pirates. Taking on the US is easy but the Somalian warlords are too tough for Germany's sorta-kinda army. I wonder if the people being held by the Somalian pirate will be able to sue anyone?

Disappointed Germans

It seems the Germans are disappointed at the Obama administration's decision to try some of the prisoners at Gitmo in military courts.  The curious thing is that some of the commentators talk as if they understand these characters are guilty but don't care: the important thing is to have a trial in a civilian court even if that is sure to let the guilty go free.  We must go through the "purification process" regardless.  Let justice be dammed as long as there is a civilian court trial.

It is also interesting to see the honeymoon ending with the Europeans, who seemed to have noticed that on the war on terror many of the differences between the Obama administration and its predecessor are only sound-bite deep.  Will the same dissolution someday spread to our press corps?  Or will they be a little less ready to piont out these discrepancies betwen Obama's rhetoric and actions since they had some hand in hiding them?  After actively painting the Bush administration as some sort of mad cabal for thier conduct of the war on terror they may not be able to so easily admit that much of what they denounced as monstrous is actually necessary.

William of Orange, What would you advise?

It seems that Obama has forgotten the lesson of the Glorious Revolution: a king that can break contracts has trouble getting people to lend him money.  Michael Barone's book on the Revolution of 1688 explains that one of the consequences of the weakened position of the king was that the king paradoxically became more powerful.  Why?  He was not able to walk away from deals with creditors and confiscate the assets of anyone that went into business wiht him.  Result?  A lot more people were willing to give him credit and go into business with him.  Royal borrowing went from under 5% of GDP to almost half while interest rates went from around 17% to under 7.  Of course such debt could have weakened the kingdom but for the fact that the King made productive investments-He invaded France.

Obama is ignoring this lesson on the profitability of governmental good faith. His "offer" to Chrysler's bond holders amounts to breaking a contract and confiscating their assets. Like the kings of old, he is taking the property of the group that backed the wrong side in the succession battle and using it to reward royal favorites. This is probably isn't even penny wise (there is little chance the UAW will do anything so productive as invading France) but it is certainly pound foolish. Someday Chrysler will need to borrow again. It will be a brave creditor or fund manager who will put his clients assets at such risk. What retiree would again think of corporate bonds from an auto maker as a safe investment?

The thing I can't understand is why are Republicans so dumb about this?  Why aren't we seeing commercials of the little old ladies going to thier mailboxes only to find them empty like we do when anyone talks about the slightest change in Social Security?  I know lots of relatives back in Dayton that had corporate bonds as part of thier retirement portfolios. They don't look much like corporate fat cats and they were all Democrats. Why aren't they being put in commercials and juxtaposed with Obama declaring them "greedy speculators" and enemies of the people?  It makes you wonder: maybe the Republicans are a bunch of country club types?

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Principle Agent Problem

Here is Warren Buffet explaining the principle agent problem in the context of executive salaries. But, as Megan McArdle explains, there does not seem to be a lot of support for the "agent capture" theory of excessive executive compensation.  We do not observe the predicted effects for recruiting outside CEOs or privately held companies. It may just be that CEO's are that (or close to that) valuable.  Especially if they are a proven commodity.  Here is a link to the Economist's report on the topic.

Saturday, May 02, 2009


Here is Jake Tapper's story on the Obama administration threatening Chrysler bond holders that don't accept the administration brokered deal with ruining retaliation. The administration's denial seems to ring rather hollow given the President's attack on those bond-holders and the fact that the bond-holders that did go along were all politically connected and big recipients of bailout money. It is not just bad for our budget to have the government having discretionary control over such a large stream of resources, it is bad for our freedom.  This is positively creepy:

"While many stakeholders made sacrifices and worked constructively, I have to tell you some did not," the president said. "In particular, a group of investment firms and hedge funds decided to hold out for the prospect of an unjustified taxpayer-funded bailout. They were hoping that everybody else would make sacrifices, and they would have to make none."

It is like the great leader designating someone as enemies of the people or something.  You are for us or you are against us kind of language--not appropriate for use with foreign states that support and harbor terrorists but fine to use against the feduciaries of pension funds who want thier contracts honored even if it goes against the interests of politically connected unions. 

Goodwill Ambassador

Olbermann and some sort of gay spokesman congratulating themselves on their public relations "victory" in the Miss America/Gay marriage affair.  Somehow, I don't think she lost or that this episode made the gay community look good.

Revenge of the Political Class

There seems to be a new willingness to denigrate citizen demonstrators on the part of the mandarinate.  The "tea-bagging" jokes and the dismissive condescension of the President seems to have breached a certain un-spoken floor on the respect that citizens are entitled to.  The poor little scared "gun-clingers" are getting a bit uppity for his oneness. It is one thing for them to vote down gay-marriage in a episode of atavistic religoiocity, quite another to show ingratitude to the policies of the messaih himself.

Friday, May 01, 2009

With Victories Like These

Al-Marri has plead guilty.  I have seen this touted as a success for the criminal justice system and an argument for treating the war with terrorists as a law enforcement problem to be dealt with through the criminal justice system.  My opinion is that he should have been hanged as an enemy spy long ago, but this view does not seem to find much support in the legal community.  The thing is, if he pleads to 15 years and gets credit for all the time he has been in custody--almost 7 years--won't he be out soon on parole?  Is his student visa still good? Maybe he can finish his degree before Obama leaves office?