Archive for June, 2010

Holding Up a Mirror

June 30, 2010

Once again, Mark Levin has taken to his Facebook page to attack me.

Moron alert & click on the 3rd article’A few final thoughts’

This guy is like chewed bubble gum sticking to the bottom of your sneaker. His references to “Manzi” are now an obsession. I guess he never read this Or doesn’t know how to respond to it. Or doesn’t care. As I said, moron.

Nixonian “moderates” like Friedersdorf not only share Nixon’s contempt for conservatives, but their character is such that they cannot be honest with themselves or those they seek to influence for they lack integrity — intellectual and otherwise. A pathetic and petulant little boy.

Intimidated by the idea of productive debate in a neutral form, the talk radio host is quick to use social media to score cheap rhetorical points. The most surprising part, if you’re uninitiated into his world, is the sycophantic reaction of his Facebook followers. Think that’s an exaggeration? Below are the comments immediately following the screed excerpted above:

Lest I be accused of failing to include the most powerful critiques of his audience:

So there you go.

On Andrew Sullivan, Jonathan Bernstein, and Trig Palin

June 28, 2010

Over at The Daily Dish, my colleague Andrew Sullivan airs criticism from Jonathan Bernstein about his coverage of Sarah Palin, specifically on the subject of her infant son, Trig Palin. Here’s a long excerpt from Mr. Bernstein:

I have to admit that I don’t understand the energy and space that Sullivan has devoted to her family, and especially to her youngest son. I can’t claim that I’ve read every word of Sullivan on Trig, but I’ve read quite a bit, and frankly I have no idea why I should care what the truth is about the situation. I get that Sullivan thinks there’s a high probability that what we’ve been told isn’t the truth. But surely pols have the right to dress up their private business in the nicest possible clothing for public consumption, as long as it doesn’t have any implications for how they would govern, or for anything else. And as far as I can see, it doesn’t. As far as I can see, none of the rumors or possible explanations for behavior Sullivan has identified as odd would really tell me anything important about Palin.

I think I have to be a little less vague about this. Sullivan believes that Palin’s birth story for her youngest son is implausible. I think he has a good case for that, for what it’s worth. As I’ve read over the last two years, I’ve seen three possible explanations. The first is the wild one, that the baby isn’t really hers; she’s covering for someone else’s inconvenient pregnancy and has adopted that child. The second is that she was an irresponsible mother, and took terrible risks given the dangerous nature of the pregnancy. The third is that she made the whole thing up, or most of it: she invented a heroic birth story, and then wound up being stuck with it when she suddenly had a massively larger audience.

So. Let’s say one of these is true. Why should I care?

I’m tempted to say that Sullivan owes it to us to explain what he thinks is at stake in the story of Palin and Trig, but I think that’s not quite right. I’ll leave it at this: as a regular reader, I would like to know what he thinks is at stake here. And I might even believe that he owes it to Palin and her family to explain why the stakes are high enough to outweigh their privacy. At least for me, it has to be more than just her habit of straying from the truth; we have more than enough examples of that. Now, granted, Palin herself has led with her family often enough that I can’t say I feel particularly sorry for her on this score, but — and again, just in my opinion — that’s not a reason to invade her family’s privacy.

What I love about The Daily Dish is that Andrew excerpts posts like this from critics (and that folks like Professor Bernstein, who gets a lot of exposure from Dish links, knows that forcefully disagreeing on a subject like this isn’t in the least seen as a betrayal that jeopardizes future links). If everyone on the right who mocks him on this issue aired dissent as openly, a lot of folks would be forced to grapple with audiences surprised at how powerful are the arguments against their least persuasive posts. And the Web would be a better place.

On the merits, I agree with Professor Bernstein here, even after reading Mr. Sullivan’s rebuttal, though you should go read the whole thing for yourself, because I am just going to excerpt a bit that relates to a narrow point I want to make. I should note, before I begin, that I assume Trig Palin is Sarah Palin’s son, and that I don’t think we should go down the road of demanding hard evidence on these sorts of questions (even if it meant never finding out the truth in an individual case) — it sets a precedent that would mire future elections in ever more absurd accusations and counter-accusations, all of them focusing attention on the personal history of candidates rather than their professional qualifications and policy positions, a road we’ve gone too far down already, and that benefits the least qualified seekers of office (and that is unnecessary in the case of a candidate like Sarah Palin, who wouldn’t even make it past summary judgment in a trial to gauge her qualifications for the presidency).

Here’s one part of Andrew’s post that I want to address:

It may be a loony conspiracy theory, like the 9/11 Truthers and the Obama birthers. But we have all seen mounds of evidence that prove the Truthers are out of their minds and we have seen the birth certificate that refutes the Birthers. What have we seen to back up the maternity of Trig? Nada. Not a single page from what must be a mountain of medical records, no birth certificate, nothing but a single page doctor’s note confirming the birth in passing, issued four hours before polls opened, by a doctor who once spoke freely with the local press but clammed up completely as soon as Palin hit the national stage. Yes, we have three photographs of her looking slightly pregnant (though much less so than in her previous pregnancies) toward the end of her term, but we also have photographs, like the one above, from the same period revealing almost nothing at all. The story she has told about her pregnancy, moreover, has not passed any sniff test by some of the leading obstetricians and pediatricians in the country’s leading teaching hospitals.

One explanation for the disparity in evidence: the persistence of questions about Trig helps Sarah Palin. All along, she has savvily used the notion that the media is treating her unfairly to enhance her popularity. An amoral political strategist would advise her to keep hard evidence of Trig’s maternity hidden at all costs in the hope that critics would continue questioning it — if Professor Bernstein and I, both of us huge Sarah Palin critics, doubt the merits of this line of inquiry, imagine how the average American reacts to it, and how the Sarah Palin base reacts. For better or worse, we live in a country where the politics of umbrage are very effective, and Ms. Palin is expert at them. Indeed I fear that speculation about Trig’s maternity increases the chance that she’ll win the 2012 GOP nomination. If a savvy political analyst can be found who disagrees with that assessment, I’d be surprised.

Later in his post, Andrew writes, “if Palin has lied about this, it’s the most staggering, appalling deception in the history of American politics.” I think that on reflection he’d reconsider. How staggering a lie is must relate to consequences. Consider Dick Cheney and the Iraq War, or the treatment of detainees at black sites around the world, just to name two political lies that resulted in loss of life and incalculable damage to our country. Compared to these issues, which The Daily Dish has covered so well, the saga of Sarah Palin and her son are of little consequence. I appreciate wariness about Sarah Palin as 2012 approaches, and since he conducts even inquiries to which I object with a commitment to regularly airing dissent, I can respect Andrew even when his obsessions and mine part — the Dish is a success in large part due to his obsessions and passions, and as his many longtime readers know, no one agrees with him on everything. As the Obama Administration continues to ignore Bush-era lawbreaking, assemble an assassinations list, and normalize other excesses of the War on Terrorism, however, I’d love to convince Andrew that whatever energy he spends on the Trig story is more profitably invested elsewhere.

"Each Home Lost Is Ground Zero For the Family Who Lived In It"

June 22, 2010

That’s the headline on an e-mail I just received from the National Council of La Raza, and it also appears in the text that follows:

It is estimated that more than 1.3 million Latino families will lose their homes to foreclosure between 2009 and 2012. From this financial calamity, we will see exponential consequences that will adversely affect the nation. Each home lost is ground zero for the family who lived in it, and only after years of recuperation will some individuals understand the impact foreclosure has had on their household.

The National Council of La Raza (NCLR) intends to chronicle these families’ stories. Our nation’s memory is short, and if we do not gather personal experiences, we will lose the significance of this crisis.

I’ve no objection to this project — may it inspire a modern day Dorothy Lange — but I can’t help but find the 9/11 allusion creepy — not to mention overwrought, an assessment I make fully understanding how awful it is to have one’s home foreclosed upon. As a beat reporter, only the homes I saw destroyed by fires left the families that inhabited them more devastated.

This use of “ground zero” is reminiscent both of our longstanding national affinity for proclaiming wars on various abstractions to lend a cause rhetorical heft, and the more recent co-opting of 9/11, terrorism, and all things related to them. In a foreclosure, a family is forced to move from their home, sometimes with nowhere else to go, other times to burden family or friends. That is sufficiently sad and powerful, and it need not be embellished with allusions to national tragedies or nuclear blasts.

The Daily Show on President Obama's Broken Promises

June 16, 2010
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Patriots Can Commit War Crimes

June 9, 2010

When the American Enterprise Institute hired Marc Thiessen, I argued that the organization suffered a blow to its credibility — it employs so many top-notch thinkers, and they deserve better than to have the reputation of their think tank sullied by its association with a man whose work frequently fails to meet even minimal standards of factual accuracy.

Those complaints stand, but today I want to focus a different flaw revealed in Mr. Thiessen’s latest post at the AEI blog. It is titled Hero or War Criminal, and the sloppy thinking on display is an intellectual embarrassment.

He writes:

The Washington Post reports today on Monday’s memorial ceremony at the CIA, at which a dozen new stars were placed on the wall honoring CIA officers and contractors who have given their lives in defense of our country—including those killed by an al Qaeda suicide bomber at a CIA base in Afghanistan.

One of those stars commemorated a CIA officer whose identity was only made public yesterday—Jennifer Lynne Matthews, a mother of three from Northern Virginia who was the chief of the CIA base struck by the terrorists. According to the Post, Matthews “had been one of the CIA’s top experts on al-Qaeda and a veteran targeteer in the agency’s air war against terrorist groups.”

As I point out in the Washington Post today, in the eyes of the American Civil Liberties Union and the United Nations, this makes Matthews not a hero, but a murderer. According to the ACLU, Matthews was engaged in a “program of long-premeditated and bureaucratized killing” and that “violates international law.” According to the UN special rapporteur, her actions “constitute extrajudicial executions.” In fact, neither is true. Matthews was not a war criminal; she was a patriot who gave her life so that the rest of us can live safe from terror. She deserves better.

As commentary on the Sean Hannity show, this would do well to rile up the least thoughtful members of the audience by appealing to their jingoism instead of there brains. That Mr. Thiessen is offering it up to AEI’s audience ought to be insulting to them. The phrase “war criminal” is loaded with negative connotations and often used pejoratively in political discourse, but that doesn’t change the fact that whether or not someone has committed war crimes is a legal question, not a moral one. A patriot is someone who loves their country. It is perfectly possible to be a patriot, to perform patriotic acts in a war, and to commit a war crime in the course of doing so. A dispassionate analysis renders the point rather obvious, which is why Mr. Thiessen’s readership at AEI should be insulted by the post. Apparently he thinks that by using loaded terms like “war crimes” and “patriot” he can write a post that makes no sense without anyone noticing. Indeed, if you click over, via the link Mr. Thiessen provided, to his Washington Post column, part of his argument is that President Obama is exposing patriots in the CIA to legal jeopardy by conducting assassinations by drone without appropriate legal cover. In other words, they may be guilty of war crimes, even though Mr. Thiessen believes that this would be deeply unfair, and could be remedied if only President Obama would conduct things differently.

Now consider another part of the AEI post. Stipulated is that the tragically deceased CIA patriot, Jennifer Lynne Matthews, was a targeteer in the CIA’s drone war against Al Qaeda. Mr. Thiessen writes:

According to the ACLU, Matthews was engaged in a “program of long-premeditated and bureaucratized killing” and that “violates international law.” According to the UN special rapporteur, her actions “constitute extrajudicial executions.”

I don’t know whether Ms. Matthews violated international law — let’s say for the sake of argument that she did not, and that she is not a war criminal. Let’s further stipulate that in her duties she only killed Al Qaeda terrorists, never harming so much as a single innocent person. It is nevertheless obvious that a targeteer in a CIA drone war is engaged in “long-premeditated and bureaucratized killing.” What other fate could possibly befall a bureaucrat after her bureaucrat bosses assign her to killing-people-by-drone duty in the bureaucracy responsible for such things, and she follows the orders?

As obvious is that her actions “constitute extrajudicial killings.” She killed people outside the judicial system. That is what CIA assassins do.

Is Mr. Thiessen uncomfortable defending long-premeditated, bureaucratized, extrajudicial killing, and so trying to change the name? Is he savvy to all this and just trying to distract the reader with illogical rhetoric? I cannot say, never having been able to understand what it is that goes on inside the mind of Mr. Thiessen. But I do know that AEI should be above blog posts of this kind appearing under its banner, and that if I were one of their scholars I’d be furious. Unless I were Lynne Cheney, in which case I’d probably love that blog post.

It Depends Who Writes the News

June 7, 2010

An article in the Columbia Journalism Review explored the differences between political journalism and political science. As a result, Chris Beam wrote about what would happen if academics started writing the news. It’s a wonderful piece, but Mr. Beam frames it as if all academics are political scientists.

What if sociologists wrote the news instead?

Untangling Race & Gender from Catastrophic Incidences of Corporate Exploitation In Semi-Natural Ecosystems: A Case Study

by Tenure C. King, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Tulane University

NEW ORLEANS — Absent from the dialogue surrounding the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which began on April 20, 2010 following an explosion that killed eleven workers, are the roles of class, race and especially gender. Due to the environmental devastation wrought by the catastrophe, which is likely to fall heaviest on the working poor, it is understandable that attention is largely focused on efforts to plug the oil well undertaken by British Petroleum, a corporation founded in imperial Britain to exploit the oil resources of people of color.

It is not insignificant to cleanup efforts, however, that even today BP’s leadership lacks adequate gender diversity, its board of directors being made up of fourteen persons, only one of them who self-identifies as a female, and all of whom earn significantly more than the median income in Louisiana, Alabama, and even the relatively privileged residents of coastal Florida.

Among other things, this raises important questions as to whether Gulf Coast populations most affected by the spill will see mitigation efforts as legitimate. Asked about this issue, Mijntje Lückerath-Rovers, a legal researcher at Erasmus University Rotterdam, noted that “any comprehensive investigation of the impact of providing legitimacy by female board members on corporate performance should not be limited to profitability (which is mostly concerned with shareholders profit), but should include, for example, social and market performance and the satisfaction of relevant stakeholders.”

Thus far, however, neither a protocol for evaluating the satisfaction of stakeholders nor a safe space where they might be interviewed has been established by the disproportionately white, male pubic servants with a responsibility to respond..

Despite the fact that the United States has institutional frameworks insufficient to adequately safeguard environmental assets through federal intervention, other observers are calling for President Barack Obama to assume a greater role over efforts to stop the spill. While his participation would certainly improve upon the actual and perceived diversity of oil mitigation efforts, a long pattern of institutional racism in American history and the resulting exclusion of African Americans and other people of color from the Oval Office means that scholarly data cannot predict how an increase in racial diversity would impact performance in mitigating the environmental impacts of an oil spill.

“Diversity scholars have argued that demographic heterogeneity in work groups is associated with decreased job satisfaction and organizational commitment of employees,” said Sungjoo Choi of Southern George University. “As a result, employees in the diverse work groups tend to show higher probability of turnover.”

Asked for comment, a White House staffer who requested anonymity out of habit said that Barack Obama has no intention of resigning from the presidency due to job dissatisfaction or any other reason. “The President has a long list of agenda items that he is eager to accomplish,” said the staffer, alluding to the recent re-articulation of policy proposals made as an attempt to aggregate together into a cohesive whole the disparate discourses of Democratic candidates competing in the mid-term elections.

Both the textual and sub-textual paradigms emanating from the White House are likely to shift after election day.

Rush Limbaugh + Andy McCarthy = Obligatory Blog Post

June 4, 2010

Former federal prosecutor Andy McCarthy, whose error prone book is titled “The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America,” went on the Rush Limbaugh show Wednesday to discuss his argument that the American left is allying itself with our Islamist enemies. near the beginning of the segment, Mr. McCarthy described his biography for the talk radio audience. “I was a federal prosecutor for close to 20 years. Back in 1995 I was the lead prosecutor on one of our first big terrorism cases in Manhattan federal court,” he said. “That was the case against the blind sheik and 11 other jihadists, who not only had carried out the bombing of the World Trade Center but also were plotting something even more ambitious, a simultaneous attack on New York City landmarks — The Lincoln and Holland tunnels, the FBI’s lower Manhattan headquarters, and the United Nations.”

I found this particular exchange noteworthy:

RUSH: Andy McCarthy, and the book is The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America. I’ve got about 30 seconds. Have you gotten any threats or any sort of negative reaction, anybody trying to intimidate you yet?

MCCARTHY: No. There’s negative reaction to the book. I didn’t exactly write the left and the Islamics a love letter so you sort of expect that, and as for the rest of it that die was cast long ago in my case so I don’t really pay it much case.

RUSH: That’s true. I mean when you prosecute the blind sheik, you can’t go much farther than that. Well, Andy, thanks very much and good luck with this. It’s great that you did the work and I know that your family is going to be extremely proud of you.

Interesting, isn’t it? “…when you prosecute the blind sheik, you can’t go much farther than that.” It seems as though Mr. Limbaugh is asserting that prosecuting a terrorist in a Manhattan federal court is basically as far as a man can go in establishing his anti-Islamic terrorism credentials. Is that right? Some would argue that trying an unrepentant terrorist in federal court would inevitably “prompt a hugely costly three-ring circus of a trial, provide a soapbox for al-Qaeda’s anti-American bile, and create a public-safety nightmare for New York City.” Indeed, these same critics say, a federal prosecution would be “a years-long seminar, enabling al-Qaeda and its jihadist allies to learn much of what we know and, more important, the methods and sources by which we come to know it,” laying the ground work for “an unprecedented surrender of our national-defense secrets directly to our most committed enemies.”

In fact, come to think of it, Andy McCarthy himself asserts all this. His interlocutor, Rush Limbaugh, is also on record against trying terrorists in federal court, characterizing it as a “disgusting travesty.” Quoth the talk radio host, “This is more insidious than you can possibly imagine. I’m talking about bringing these terrorists up from Gitmo and trying them in New York City.”

You’d think Mr. McCarthy and Mr. Limbaugh’s position is basically than when Andy McCarthy and his colleagues tried terrorists in federal court, it was a laudable endeavor that establishes their anti-terrorist bonifides, whereas when Barack Obama and Eric Holder take the same approach, it proves their complicity in a “Grand Jihad” against America.

Astonishingly, even that would underestimate the mendacious hackery of Rush Limbaugh. Why? Because when former prosecutor Andy McCarthy comes on his radio show to plug his book, the prosecution he helped lead in Manhattan is cast as a praiseworthy endeavor and a victory against the jihadists. But what does Mr. Limbaugh say about that trial when the rhetorical advantage at another moment is best served by being against it?

True to form, Mr. Limbaugh plays the terrorism card. That is to say, he implies nothing less than that Mr. McCarthy’s trial was to blame for the September 11 terrorist attacks.

There have been all kinds of people on television today being asked, “Bringing them into New York, doesn’t that make New York a bigger terrorist target?” Hey. And they all say, “Well, no, no. New York’s always a terrorist target. Look at ’93. We tried those guys in 1993, and nothing happened.” What do you mean, “Nothing happened”? You ever heard of 9-11? We tried these guys and convicted the blind sheikh in 1993 and nothing happened except 9-11.

You can listen here for yourself.