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Archive for December, 2008

The Marty Problem

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

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There are a lot of very talented writers who work for The New Republic. There are many whose work I admire, and because of that both The Plank and The Stump are well worth reading. But whether we’re talkingabout Chait, Cohn, Judis, Fairbanks, Cottle, Scheiber, or any other very talented writer under the TNR banner, on some level they should always have it hanging over their heads that they worked under, and thereby enabled, Marty Peretz. Here’s Marty’s latest meandering into the Gaza conflict:

I pity them their hatred of their inheritance. Actually of both their inheritances, Jewish and American. They are pip-squeaks, and I do not much read them. But when any one of them writes a real doozey it is likely to come to my attention.

I have known one of them, Spencer Ackerman, a smart young man but, alas, not as smart as he thinks and certainly not as smart as he needs to be. He worked at The New Republic for maybe two years or even three for which I apologize; you can look up his trash by yourself.

They were brought to mind in a short piece by Noah Pollak who, although he writes for Commentary’s “Contentions” blog, is about as free of conservative cant as are Niall Ferguson, who writes occasionally (too occasionally) for us, and Christopher Caldwell, a Saturday regular at the FT.   

“Juicebox mafia,” the tag-line for the Matthew Yglesias, Ezra Klein and Ackerman trio, was provided by a regular contributor to TNR. An excerpt from Pollak:

Matthew Yglesias writes something dumb enough that it needs no elaboration:

But already the number of Israelis killed by Hamas rockets has increased (from a baseline of zero) since the retaliatory attack that was supposed to prevent such killings.

Pollak is correct about Yglesias’ flippant allusion to the killing of two Israelis by rocketry in the heat of ongoing battle, although other Israelis were sent to their deaths during the six-month “cease-fire.” Some cease-fire. The point is that civil society is impossible with 50 missiles a day raining on your head. And it is a civil society that is at stake here. Whether the Gaza Palestinians can ever have a truly civil society is another question, the answer to which — given the Arab societies that surround them — is probably “no.” Sorry to disappoint you.

There’s a lot to unpack here, and it’s probably not worth the effort, but just this once I can’t resist. For starters, Peretz basically trots out the “self-loathing Jew” line without making it explicit, which is about as low as it gets. What anyone’s ethnic “inheritance” has to do with anything I don’t really know, other than that Marty seems to think every Jew everywhere must agree with him and reflexively cheer on everything Israel decides to do, even if it’s not in Israel’s interest. It’s the same as the reflexive right-wing “love it or leave it” meme, and it makes equally little sense when given an iota of thought.

Secondly, there’s the cheap, gratuitous, slam at Spackerman. Putting aside the cheap, weak, and rather contradictory potshots, there’s something just downright low about the editor of your former magazine “apologizing” for your writing. That’s especially true at TNR, where there’s a lot of writers who should be routinely apologized for, Marty being chief among them. To put it as bluntly as I can, and to state the obvious, Mart Peretz is a racist, as evidenced by his belief that, ” The point is that civil society is impossible with 50 missiles a day raining on your head. And it is a civil society that is at stake here. Whether the Gaza Palestinians can ever have a truly civil society is another question, the answer to which — given the Arab societies that surround them — is probably “no.” In other words, Arabs are sub-human animals who aren’t cabable of civilized living. This is, of course, the same sort of logic that’s been used to justify holding Africans in slavery, criminalizing homosexuality, various ethnic wars around the world, and ironically enough, the centuries of oppression of the Jewish people. Which isn’t surprising, in so much as bigotry is bigotry no matter whom it’s directed against, and it’s at least helpful when people are upfront about their bigotry, but bigotry it is all the same.

So while Marty is in an apologizing mood, every writer under the TNR banner should be apologizing for him. Of course that won’t happen, since Marty writes the checks, but anyone who carries on silently while their boss spews blatant racism on the same webspace they inhabit should not complain if that comes back to haunt them in the future.

Those Evil Yanks

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

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You expect a good bit of frothing from the average baseball fan who hates the Yankees and thinks they’re the worst thing in baseball evah. That;’s what fans do after all. But when you’re talking about people like Mike Lupica, who gets paid a lot of money to write newspaper columns and go on ESPN and otherwise get paid for every sports fan’s dream, you sort of expect that you’ll get better than this kind of empty preening:

It would have been ridiculous for the Yankees not to go after Mark Teixeira, to not pay him and his bag man, Scott Boras, whatever they wanted. But then it was ridiculous, and phony, of Brian Cashman and the Yankees to pass on Carlos Beltran at $100 million a few years ago. At the time the Yankees wanted you to believe that they had some kind of budget. They don’t.

Maybe now they have finally spent enough money, after eight years of the greatest financial advantage in the history of professional sports, to finally buy back the World Series.

One of these days I’m going to write an article tracing the decline on the American political media to the rise of ESPN and the deteriorating quality of sports media, but for now I’ll just deal with Lupica himself. To put it mildly, this is just brainless, empty, Mets fan feeding nonsense. Yes the Yankees have the money to buy up a lot of players, but then so do the Mets, the Dodgers, the Cubs, the Angels, and the Red Sox. The reason the Yankees had so much money this year, as the online editors of the Daily News illustrate in a sidebar in Lupica’s column amusingly enough, is because they’re shedding $82.5 million in expiring contracts this year. That’s roughly the entire value of A.J. Burnett’s contract coming off of the books in one offseason, and that frees up a helluva lot of money to do something with in the free agent market. Indeed, if the Yankees don’t make anymore big signings, they’ll come in close to $20 million under what their payroll was last year, even as they’ve added Sabathia, Burnett, and Teixeira. Lupica can mock this “budgeting” all he wants, but the simple truth is that that’s just good management, to a degree, on the part of Brian Cashman.

At the same time, it’s worth considering who is leaving. The biggest name, at least so far, is Andy Pettite and his $16 million committment from last season. You’ve also got Jason Giambi ($21m), Carl Pavano ($11), Mike Mussina ($11m), Bobby Abreu ($16m), Pudge Rodriguez ($4m), and Kyle Farnsworth ($4m). That’s 3 starting pitchers (if you count Pavano) at a total of  $38 million, and 2 starting position players at a total of $37 million. What exactly are the Yankees supposed to do to replace those players? Nothing? Pass over Sabathia and Teixeira for Ryan Dempster and Raul Ibanez? The cold reality here is math. The Yankees are going to spend about $30 million between Sabathia and Burnett next season. Andy Pettite, Mike Mussina, and Carl Pavano accounted for roughly $38 million in salary commitments next season. If you factor in Chien Ming Wang, the top of the Yankees rotation will be worth less money ($35 million) than the 3 contract they’re shedding ($38m) if Pettite doesn’t return. Similarly Teixeira’s $22.5 million is less than $2 million more than what Jason Giambi was getting paid last season, and is then offset completely by getting rid of Morgan Ensberg’s contract.

The bottom line; the Yankees were smart enough to structure their roster such that a lot of money was being freed up in a single year to allow them to overhaul the team if need be. Mussina, Pettite, and Abreu all had contracts expiring in the same year, and the contracts of Giambi and Pavano came with buyout options in that year. It’s not their fault that not every team manages their roster situations that well, and that’s not another team in the league who wouldn’t trade Andy Pettite, Jason Giambi, and Bobby Abreu for C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira while cutting payroll.

And someone who gets paid to opine on sports ought to be held to a higher level of quality in analysis than the random drunk on a barstool hating on the Yankees.

Revisiting 2005

Monday, December 29th, 2008

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It was inevitable that, at some point in this conflict, some prominent neoconservative was going to take the opportunity to criticize Israel’s pullout from Gaza in the first place, and sure enough Max Boot picks the ball up:

It’s true that Israel has managed to all but eliminate the threat of suicide bombers from Gaza. The rocket threat, however, has proved harder to eradicate. And contrary to my expectation, Israel’s right to respond to the threat of rockets raining down on its territory appears to be no better recognized today by the international community than in the days when Gaza was formally “occupied territory.” Indeed, the current use of force by Israel is meeting the same level of international condemnation as pretty much every such instance since 1973.

So was I – and were so many others – wrong to applaud the Gaza pullout in the first place? I admit the arguments against it are stronger today than they were three years ago. I still think, however, that it was untenable to continue to allow 8,500 Jewish settlers to live among 1.3 million Palestinians. But while the settlements had to go, on balance it appears to have been a mistake to eliminate the entire Israel Defense Force presence in Gaza. Without Israeli patrols on the ground, as there still are in the West Bank, it has proved impossible to keep the Gaza Strip from becoming the Hamastan I feared.

Now, on the one hand, I can’t argue that the settlements had to go, and it’s nice that people understand that. On the other hand, this is just another instance of people misstating Israel’s intentions and incentives.

To understand the Gaza withdrawal as part of the peace process is ridiculous. Israel still blockades the territory, still makes sure that the people there are hopelessly impovershed, and still looms as an omnipresent threat to the people there. Rather, the move was nothing more than a geopolitical ploy to cover for increased Israeli expansion into the West Bank, much more valuable territory than Gaza, and for further closing off Gaza to the rest of the world. Not exactly a favorable tradeoff from a Palestinian perspective.

Race and Republicans

Monday, December 29th, 2008

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If Chip Saltsman distributing a racism filled CD as part of his campaign to head the RNC wasn’t bad enough, Ken Blackwell, the African-American former Secretary of State of Ohio, weighing in to defend him really puts the story over the top:

“Unfortunately, there is hypersensitivity in the press regarding matters of race. This is in large measure due to President-Elect Obama being the first African-American elected president,” said Blackwell, who would be the first black RNC chairman, in a statement forwarded to Politico by an aide. “I don’t think any of the concerns that have been expressed in the media about any of the other candidates for RNC chairman should disqualify them. When looked at in the proper context, these concerns are minimal. All of my competitors for this leadership post are fine people.”

Now obviously, you’ve got to start looking at this in the context of a political campaign, and with the fact that Blackwell is black in mind. And in that the thought process is pretty clear; Blackwell thinks he can score points with RNC voters by dismissing the racist actions of another candidate as media creation that, “in context” really doesn’t mean anything. This is ridiculous of course, but it’s incredibly illuminating in what it says about the GOP, or at least how some of its members see it. It will say even more if Blackwell wins now.

Bad Faith Arguing

Monday, December 29th, 2008

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I’m sure Noah Pollack mostly thinks he’s being cute here, but what he’s really doing is demonstrating how hard of a time neoconservatives, especially the Jewish neoconservatives disproportionately represented in the pundit class, have with making a good faith argument in defending Israeli actions like the rocket attacks in Gaza.

For background, Pollack is essentially belittling Matt Yglesias, Ezra Klein, and Spencer Ackerman. He takes a potshot at their age, and closes it by accussing them of trading on their Jewish surnames in order to gain some sort of advantage when it comes to criticizing Israel (I’m sensing some projection myself.) But when you break it down, this really doesn’t make any sense. Here’s how he responds to Ezra:

Ignore the fact that nobody in the history of the Jewish community has ever actually uttered the words, “Israel, right or wrong,” and ignore the disgraceful apologetic for Hamas’ rocket war (Klein should go to Sderot and tell the people living in bomb shelters to come out from hiding, because Hamas is only taking potshots).

This doesn’t really make any sense if you assume it’s a good faith argument. Obviously there’s a very real local concern with the rockets, but that doesn’t mean it’s of the nature that requires a massive disproportionate response on the larger level. Bad things happen on small scales everyday, and that’s unfortunate. But no one seriously argues that you should undertake massive retaliatory action in every circumstance, and indeed Pollack isn’t really making that argument either. Instead, he’s trying to use an emotional appeal to make the rocket attacks seem like a much larger issue than they are.

But his response to Yglesias is probably even more telling:

Matthew Yglesias writes something  so dumb that it needs no elaboration:

But already the number of Israelis killed by Hamas rockets has increased (from a baseline of zero) since the retaliatory attack that was supposed to prevent such killings.

Maybe it’s just me, but Matt seems to have a very good point. Before the retaliatory strikes, there were no Israeli deaths from the rocket attacks. Afterwards, the death toll rose. Now obviously that’s not necessarily a casual relationship, rocket attacks always have the possibility of killing people, but it does make the claim that the Israeli response is defensive pretty absurd on the face of it, and any idiot would have to concede that if your casualty toll rises after you took action designed to defend yourself, your strategy has, at the least, been a failure.  But Pollack doesn’t want to admit that, so he does a cheap little framing trick to avoid actually addressing it at all.

The Continued Shame of Politico

Monday, December 29th, 2008

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Continuing to be a stain on American life, Politico gives us it’s list of people that will be “missed” in 2009. Putting aside the celebrity magazine-ish feel of the very concept, the list gives you a real look into how political journalis has very much become a corrollary to celebrity gossip journalism, and why coverage of the Bush administration is so bad.

For starters, we’re apparently going to “miss” 2 felons (1 already convicted, another soon to be) as both Ted Stevens and William Jefferson check in on the list. Why are we going to miss them? Apparently they’re entertaining. And we won’t get anymore “coot-offs” between Stevens and Robert Byrd. Seriously. Also Joe Biden is on the list, even though he’s moving to a much more visible position, because apparently Politico worries he’ll be less verbose as Vice-President than he was as a Senator. I’m heartbroken.

But far and away the most ridiculous item on the list, and quite possibly the most ridiculous thing Politico has ever written, is the idea the Dick “Fuck Off” Cheney is going to be missed:

How many politicians, in either party, would respond to a tough question about public disapproval of foreign policy by asking, “So what?”?

And how many would tell a senior senator to “go f***” himself,” as Cheney notoriously did to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) in 2004? Proving his old-school ways, just last weekend the vice president said Leahy “merited it at the time.” Now that’s what we call straight talk.

For better or worse, Cheney has personified the cold-blooded, do-whatever-it-takes side of the Bush administration. Loathed by liberals and largely hidden from public view, the secretive Cheney’s influence over the policies of the past eight years may never be fully understood.

He may not miss the political arena, but it will miss him, since it will likely be a long time before we have another vice president so seemingly insouciant about his public image.

So let me get this straight, the political arena is going to miss Dick Cheney because he’s a politician in a democratic system that doesn’t give a damn what the public thinks about policy? And that’s a good thing?

To quote Brad Delong, why can’t we have a better press corp?

On Gaza

Monday, December 29th, 2008

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So Hamas was still launching second rate rockets blindly out of Gaza, and of course this time it was just too much and Israel had to respond or risk a second Holocaust. Or something like that.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is sort of a catch-22 for me. On the one hand, I’m rather obsessive in following it, for fairly obvious reasons given its implications for the rest of the world. On the other hand, I probably give it less thought than most, because for the most part I think everyone else gives it entirely too much brain power as a result of assuming good faith on the part of the players.

For starters, obviously I’ve got to say that everyone is in the wrong here. Hamas shouldn’t be firing rockets into Israel, Israel shouldn’t be launching massively disproportionate responses into densely populated areas, or blockading Gaza in ways that make mass poverty an inevitability for that matter, and the United States’s predictably one sided response is just shameful. Everyone needs to do better, and soon.

But the larger issue here, and the one that never gets any attention at all, is the incentive structure of the parties involved. Obviously there’s a very real interest in establishing peace for the people of Israel and Palestine, but unfortunately the incentives for the people in power are to keep the conflict going. For Hamas, the conflict creates a reason for power, even for existence. In the event of a peaceful solution, the Palestinian people are going to want to focus on building a decent place to live, as opposed to fighting against Israel, and Hamas will either have to adapt or lose popular support. Obviously this would seem to create an even better reason for Israel to coe up with a way to create a 2 state solution, but to assume that is to misunderstand the concious decision to sacrifice some internal stability and security for regional hegemony Israel has been operating under for decades. To make a long story short, the main lever of power in the region is control of the Jordan River’s headwaters, and the way to control them is to control the West Bank and Golan Heights, something Israel has done since 1967. To come to a peaceful settlement means a West Bank that is part of an independent Palestine, and returning Golan to Syria, something that gives the Arabs control of the Jordan. Now there’s reason enough for Israel to worry about this, obviously, and a good international effort to bring peace would be looking for a way to give Israel some guarantees about the security of their water supplies. But that doesn’t mean there’s any reason not to understand how the various players are making decisions, or to accept that Israel wants to bring about a peaceful solution to the problem when they very simply do not.


Saturday, December 27th, 2008

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I appear to have contracted a rather nasty stomach virus, and frankly lack the energy to do full posts at the moment, but upon regaining something like health I’ll have some things to say about Ken Blackwell defending racism in the Republican Party as a part of his campaign to be RNC chairman, Israel launching rockets into Gaza, how utterly ridiculous Politico really is,  and I’ll respond to Amanda Marcotte as well.

Tear it Up!

Friday, December 26th, 2008

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Populism is bad. You’re not really supposes to say that, mostly because it’s hard to put together an argument against it that’s not easily branded as elitist, but there it is. The problem with populism is that it rests on the idea of a very wise and dependable mass when, for the most part, the masses are largely ignorant on matters of nuts and bolts policy, influenced by self-interest in ways that make them incapable of setting good macro policies, or just generally prejudiced towards minority members. And so when you let populism run wild, you get situations like this:

But the problem isn’t just the economy, and California’s need to balance its budget. It’s Proposition 13. Proposition 13 was cleverly designed to make it virtually impossible for California to raise taxes. Any tax increase requires a supermajority. Property taxes are fixed at 1% of assessed value, and assessments themselves are fixed at the time of purchase, and can rise only very slowly thereafter.

This leads to all sorts of idiotic consequences. Back when I lived in California, one of the few ways of raising taxes available to cities and towns was to increase the sales tax by some fraction of a percent. Result? Cities and towns did this, and then tried desperately to induce people to set up car dealerships and other places where people sell big, expensive things. Did it make sense to have so many car dealerships? Who cares! It’s revenue!

Likewise, people in California don’t always sell their houses when it would normally make sense to do so, because as long as they stay in their existing house, the assessment will not rise much and their taxes will stay low, whereas if they buy a new house, it will be assessed at its purchase price, and their taxes will go up.

“Free markets”, indeed.

Now I genuinely detest the practice of popular initiatives, elitist as that may be, and Prop 13 is about as good of an example why as you’ll ever find. On it’s face it sounds like a great idea. Who doesn’t want to keep their property taxes low after all? And hey, since if there’s a really serious problem for which raising taxes is essential, surely a 2/3 majority could be found, right?

Well no, because in the real world the legislature is hampered by a minority party who simply refuses to raise taxes for any reason, even if it means bankrupting the state. And there’s nothing anyone can do of it, short of a repeal of Prop 13 which would require a full campaign to do. And this is the inevitable conclusion of a system that heavily features popular refererendum on public policy as a major feature of the governing system. The simple fact of the matter is that most people simply don’t think through the ramifications of a particular proposal, nor do they know enough about current policy to even begin thinking about how a proposal will act with the current budgetary reality. And so you get a lot of spending measures that sound good in their own right (and to be fair many of them are very good policies) coupled with a handful of measures that decrease revenue and limit the states ability to raise future revenue as needed. The predictable result is a budget mess, but one the legislature can’t work its way out of with so many expenditures appropriated at the ballot box.  The main reason for a representative system is to create a political structure that acts as a check on the whims of a largely ignorant public by establishing an occupation of governing. And if we’re going to pay people for something, we ought to at least let them do what we’re paying them for should’t we?

There’s really no foreseeable way out of this for California, which means there’s at least a very good chance the state government is literally going to go broke. And when the federal government bails them out, we really should demand that the propositions that created much of the mess be rescinded in some fashion, and that the initiative system be aboloshied entirely, at least with respect to appropriating state funds. Otherwise we’ll just see the same situation repeated in the future.

Merry Christmas

Thursday, December 25th, 2008

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Kathy G lives!

Myself, the wifey got me the Coppola restoration set of The Godfather, so, uh, don’t expect much blogging tomorrow.

Ho, ho, ho!

It’s the Congress Stupid

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

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Continuing on his quest to convince everyone that Barack Obama is a Republican or something, Chris Bowers compares the new administration to Congress:

In the 110th Congress, there were 236 Democrats in the U.S. House, 49 in the Senate, and two “Independents” who caucused with Democrats. Of those 287 congresscritters, 74 were members of the New Democratic Coalition, which is affiliated with the DLC. Overall, 25.8% of the Democratic members of the 110th Congress were openly affiliated with the DLC. An additional 31 members of Congress are affiliated with the Blue Dogs, but not with the New Democratic Coalition. If the Blue Dogs are included, the overall DLC-Blue Dog membership in of Democratic congresscritters increases to 36.6%, and 38.1% in the House.

Now, compare this to Obama’s cabinet selections. Of the eighteen cabinet members (not counting Joe Biden, who I have seen listed as a cabinet member at times), sixteen are Democrats. Of those sixteen, eight are affiliated with the DLC, or 50%. Obama’s Democratic cabinet selections have twice the DLC representation of the Democratic membership of Congress. This list does not include Rahm Emanuel, who will be the first White House Chief of Staff during the Obama administration. Nor does it include national security advisor Jim Jones, who supported McCain during the election.

Naturally Bowers’s takeaway from this is that Obama is an evil Republican lite centrist, but it seems to me that that pretty drastically misses the point. Obama’s administration is largely stacked with mainline Democrats heavily identified with the establishment. That they’re to the right of the Congressional median isn’t nearly as important as the fact that the Congressional median is to the left of them. And this is another example of the politics watchers at Open Left curiously displaying very little understanding of the way politics works. Presidential watching is the easy, simplistic venture of pundits and people who don’t really pay much attention to the nuts and bolts of governing. But while the President has a lot of power and autonomy on matters of foreign policy, they have very little as it relates to domestic policy. Obama can unilaterally decide when to withdraw troops from Iraq, and Congress really can’t do anything about it. Indeed, Republicans could have 300 House seats and 60 Senate seats, and they couldn’t force President Obama to keep troops in Iraq if he chose to remove them.

But similarly, the President really can’t force Congress to do anything they don’t want to do in the realm of domestic policy. This is the mistake governors almost always make when they come to the White House, as their experience with line item vetoes accustoms them to having a large degree of control over their legislators (I mean you wouldn’t want some vital spending for your district getting vetoed, or having your constituents singled out for a year would you?) and by extension largely being able to bend the legislature to their will. But Presidents just don’t have that sort of power, and their domestic policy agenda often gets bogged down early in Congress. That’s certainly the lesson Bill Clinton learned when Republicans and conservative Democrats blocked his healthcare bill. And it’s not exactly clear how Bill Clinton being more liberal could have changed that. A more left leaning Congress, on the other hand, would have made the outcomes much different.

So the fact that Congress is currently positioned to the left of the Obama administration, and certainly to the left of where Congress was in 1993, is actually a very positive development.

Shut Up Moron

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

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So over the last month or so, I’ve basically managed to cut cable news out of my life, mostly thanks to the internet. I still read MSNBC.com and CNN.com but I don’t watch them blather all day. Unfortunately, it’s quite a bit harder to do that with ESPN, as they have a lot of exclusive content like Monday Night Football.

So because I don’t really have much of an option, I’ve had to endure Tony Kornheiser ruining an otherwise pretty good Packers-Bears game by blathering endlessly about Brett Favre, just like he did when the Packers played the Vikings and the Saints earlier in the year on MNF. After a while, you’d think we could maybe get the point; Tony Kornheiser thinks that the Packers should have kept Brett Favre, doesn’t think Aaron Rodgrs is as good, and is going to pass off his obsession, much like a cable news talking head, by insisting that it’s “the fans” who will forever compare them and wonder if the Packers made the right decision.

And while I’m on the subject, is there anything more annoying in sports than ESPN’s Brett Favre worship? I mean seriously, what the hell is it even based on? Favre’s thrown more interceptions (19) than any other QB in the league this season. Rodgers has only thrown 12. And Rodgers has more touchdowns (23) than Favre (21). More passing yards too. In fact, in every meaningful statistic other than completion percentage, Rodgers is better than Brett Favre this season. But the Packers have a very crappy defense that can’t stop anyone, especially when they’re protecting a late lead, and so they’ve lost a lot of games. But obviously that has nothing to do with Aaron Rodgers, and if you’re actually paying attention to the NFL season, only an idiot like Tony Kornheiser could actually wonder if the Packers might maybe be better if only their quarterback had thrown 2 fewer touchdowns and 7 more interceptions over the course of the first 15 games of the year.


Monday, December 22nd, 2008

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I don’t really have much to say about the dustup over the “editorial note” left on Yglesias’s blog. On the one hand, Ezra baiscally said everything I was thinking, so if you’re interested in my opinion, just go read his. On the other hand, if Matt doesn’t think there’s any there there, then far be it from me to care. But I do take a big issue with Andrew Sullivan’s take on the matter:

What happens when someone mistakes a journalist for a member of some dumb-ass Politburo[…]

Jennifer Palmieri clearly misunderstands the nature of her business (or perhaps she understands it too well). I’m glad I still work at the Atlantic.

Let’s get something clear; Matt Yglesias is not a journalist, and Jennifer Palmieri is certainly not in the journalism business. CAP is not a media outlet or, as Ezra says, a blog hosting site, they’re a political think tank. Yes they’re unique in the sense that they maintain a certain amount of messaging apparatus that operates daily, and they’re certainly unique in hosting a personal blog like Matt’s that contains independent material, but they are still a policy think tank and an explicitly political organization. Their president is, after all, running Barack Obama’s transition at the moment. Because of that, CAP is not going to do anything that could cause friction with other aspects of the Democratic establishment including Third Way. If Matt has a problem with that (which he clearly doesn’t seem to) then the answer would be for him to take his blog elsewhere. But there’s absolutely no reason to fault CAP for being political about things when they’re a political organization, and misconstruing what CAPAF does as journalism significantly defines journalism down. Of course, that’s right up Andrew’s alley.

Talk Radio Liberals Watch

Sunday, December 21st, 2008

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I don’t want to make this the “Respond to Open Left” blog, but this post by Matt Stoller is way too ridiculous to let go. Arguing that Caroline Kennedy is “no liberal:”

This is where Kennedy really shows her colors. 

She did not provide answers about other issues that may prove more controversial. Ms. Kennedy did not say whether she supports a cap on local property taxes in New York, something that has sharply divided Democrats and Republicans in Albany. And she did not say whether she supports raising state or federal income taxes for the rich to help balance the budget and pay for government programs.In her responses, Ms. Kennedy expressed strong support for Israel and said an undivided Jerusalem must be the country’s national capital.

New York Governor Patterson just proposed a cruel and regressive budget that closes a massive budget gap without raising taxes on the wealthy, a budget Kennedy endorsed.  I get that Kennedy can’t go against Patterson, but refusing to answer a question about Federal income taxes is a pretty clear indication that her instincts are not yet honed enough for a major political seat.  And you can throw in the deeply problematic answer on Jerusalem for good measure, which I see simply as evidence that her campaign is being entirely driven by a center-right aristocratic New York consulting class.

This is why elections are useful, though to be fair, they do have those pesky voter people.

There’s not much to unpack there, but it’s just so ridiculous I almost don’t know where to start.

First of all, lets make sure we note that Stoller makes no mention whatsoever of Kennedy articulating unambiguous support for gay marriage, a position that would put her in the minority of the Senate Democratic caucus, and is a departure not just from Hillary Clinton, but from Barack Obama as well. That would seem pretty relevant in judging Caroline’s progressive credentials, but Stoller just ignores it. And that he ignored it is really the only conclusion you can come to, since it’s the position given the most prominence in the Times article he cites.

On the “merits” of his complaint, Stoller is just flat out self-contradicting. In regards to the tax question, he acknowledges that it’s problematic to go against the position of the person who is going to make the appointment, but he deems this evidence that Kennedy’s political instincts are lacking. Most people, I think, would see that such a quick recognition of the precarious nature of the question is a strong indication that she’s got very good political instincts. It’s certainly what I take away from it. On the second point, though Stoller goes on to snark about elections, he chalks up Kennedy’s support for an undivided Jerusalem to the “Democratic Consultant class,” the Snowball of the the netroots, as opposed to, say, the large Jewish population of New York. I’ll say without equivocation that I support making Jerusalem an international city outside the jurisdiction of either Israel or Palestine, but I understand that a Senator from New York is going to run into problems if they’re on the record agreeing with me on this matter. And that’s fine, because that’s democracy.

The point of the “talk radio liberal watch” is to catalogue instances in which the “netroots” demonstrates characteristics of the talk radio right-wing. Far from being designed to run them down, it’s meant to be a constructive excercise, to keep the left from cocooning themselves into total irrelevance and detachment from reality the way the right did over the past 8 years. But in this instance, it’s something more entirely, because the only way to understand this instance is through the prism of complete hackery. Stoller is far too smart not to realize he’s contradicting himself, and certainly has to realize, in the wake of the Rick Warren controversy, that he’s completely ignoring the fact that Kennedy is willing to go on record supporting same-sex marriage at a time when most Democratic politicians still are not. So it seems to me that the point of this posting is simply to cover for the people at Open Left and elsewhere who have been pushing against Kennedy for so long, which was always going to be interesting if and when Kennedy largely aligned herself with progressives on the issues. But instead of acknowledging the obvious, that Kennedy cast her lot with progressives on a major issue very few Democratic politicians are willing to stand up for Stoller bent way over backwards to use the same article to proclaim a Kennedy isn’t a liberal.

Hannity couldn’t do better.

Trolling for Experts

Saturday, December 20th, 2008

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This is good stuff:

Attention Economists: Are You A Stimulus Spending Skeptic?

A recent Associated Press article quoted transition officials for President-elect Obama as saying “[o]nly one outside economist” contacted by the President-elect’s advisors had “voiced skepticism” about the President-elect’s emerging plans for an economic “stimulus” spending bill with a price tag as large as $1 trillion, with the vast majority of that number going to new spending on government programs and projects.

House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-OH) is compiling a list of credentialed American economists who would like to add their voices to the list of stimulus spending skeptics. If you are an economist who would like to be added to this list, you can join the list here and provide your comments.

Now, there’s a couple of levels to this. On the one hand, it’s a pretty clear signal that House Republicans are going to oppose an economic stimulus package when it comes up in January or February. Now whether that’s because they think the economy is dandy and doesn’t need stimulus, because they’ve decided to go full blown neo-Hooverite, or because they just want the economy to flatline I’ll let you decide, but there’s the tip off nonetheless.

On the other hand, it’s sort of nice to see Boehner put the conservative formulation right out there for everyone to see. On the right, the arguments and the “evidence” flow from the conclusion. Instead of processing evidence, theories, arguments etc. and then forming a conclusion based on data, the right works in reverse; they decide what they believe (and believe is the very best word for it), and then they work backwards in their argument, looking for ways to validate their positions. Which explains why so much of their belief system is built on completely inaccurate points of fact; without them the house of cards couldn’t stand.

Not that it would change the believers anyway.

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