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May, 2009 | Below The Fold
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Archive for May, 2009

Fifteen Minutes?

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

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I was thinking about this yesterday as I watched video of the disappointed fans of Susan Boyle – some of them with tears in their eyes after her loss on “Britain’s Got Talent” – mourning this “stunning” defeat of their hero. I was thinking that perhaps Andy Warhol was a better prognosticator than we all thought when he predicted that at some point in the future “everyone will have fifteen minutes of fame.” Maybe we’re to the point where that is down to ten minutes or less, but really, his comment in 1968 has certainly proved to be more accurate than all of the “experts” who predicted that the 21st Century would see flying cars, meals consisting of pills, and the 12 hour work week.

Well, the 12 hour work week is kind of accurate if you average in all of the unemployed and underemployed people in the country (like myself), but I don’t think that was the intent of the prediction, so again, that leaves Warhol almost alone in successful predicting.

There are plenty of stories about fame being gained on Youtube and other similar sites. Twitter is now starting to make people famous. There are also people seemingly intent on becoming “infamous” in these days of quick and fleeting fame. But to what end?

Now, of course, many embark on campaigns to become “internet famous” just for the chance to market themselves and make a lot of money. The “Octomom” now has a family of 14, but apparently the deals didn’t work as well as she thought. She doesn’t have a popular television show like Jon and Kate, and neither does she have the best selling books, the $10 million dollar, 24 acre estate in Virginia that they do, although I’m sure she was counting on that happening.

I really don’t know if someone “discovered” Susan Boyle and helped her market herself to fame and apparent fortune, but it would be sad to find out that they did. Like most people, I love the surprise celebrity of someone who has been obscure and ignored by the world and by the good things in life, the someone who when finally given the chance proves to be worth as much as the many privileged who occupy the celebrity shelf in our society.

I hope that Susan makes as much money as she can in the next year or so, and that she invests wisely, because after about a year she’s going to go from “Hey, you’re Susan Boyle!” to “Didn’t you used to be Susan Boyle?” If she’s smart, she can be set for life. I hope she’s smart.

As for me (and the rest of us)? Well, we will continue to toil away, hoping that someday, somehow we will move into the spotlight for the fifteen minutes Warhol promised.

In the mean time, at least we have each other… Don’t we?


Jeffrey Goldberg’s Jewish Exceptionalism

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

Apparently the criticism of Jeffrey Goldberg’s “Amalek defense” of Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu has gotten to the Goldblog, because his latest defense is somewhere between shrill and absurd. In short, the criticism “perverts” the story of Judaism’s obsession with Amalek because, well, because apparently it’s just not possible for Judaism to do/condone bad things:

In any case, this whole debate is a perversion, and not only because genocide is the specialty of other religions, and not Judaism. Iran has called for the elimination of the Jewish state, and seems to be building nuclear weapons that could make that a reality; Israel simply seeks to protect itself from a country that wants to exterminate it. If Israel does strike Iran, it would bomb military targets while trying to minimize civilian casualties. Iran, through its proxies Hezbollah and Hamas, already has a long and distinguished record of murdering Jewish children. There’s simply no equivalence here. Yes, Israel does various idiotic and immoral things. But it isn’t, even on its worst day, the Islamic Republic of Iran.

It’s rare to see this much deplorable nonsense rolled into one paragraph, so let’s unpack it point by point. First of all, and most obvious, is Goldberg’s overt resort to an argument of tautology. Apparently Jews do not commit genocide in the same way that Americans don’t torture; if we do it, it’s by definition not bad. But this is just, well, odd. God commanded Saul to kill every single Amalekite, man, woman, and child, as well as killing all of their livestock. Saul was removed from his kingship for taking the livestock for spoils instead of killing them, and for letting the Amalekite king live. That’s a genocidal order any way you slice it, and a divine punishment for not carrying out the order murderously enough. It would be one thing, I suppose, if Goldberg were taking the orthodox position that this was ok because it was commanded by God, but that would sound rather ridiculous, especially in the context of complaining about religious terrorists who believe they’re carrying out divine orders. So Goldberg resorts to pure Bushist tautology; Jews don’t commit genocide, so if Jews do something, it’s not genocide. And he doesn’t just leave it at that because, instead of just saying “Judaism does not specialize in genocide,” he adds the modifier “unlike other religions.” This begs the obvious question; which religions do Goldberg feel “specialiaze in genocide?” 

What’s really odd about this whole string of posts from Goldberg though is how he’s basically trying to argue that the Amalex reference is irrelevant, even though it was his column that brought it up. Yes, it was an “aide” to Bibi, not the Prime Minister himself, who invoked the specter of Amalek to describe Bibi’s mindset, but it stands to reason that Goldberg thought there was something to that when he put it in the original column. And given this factor, it simply doesn’t make any sense to blithely declare that Israel doesn’t want to harm Iranian civilians; God’s commandment to Saul was not to kill the Amalekite king, but take care to spare everyone else, it was to kill every single Amalekite. There’s not really any way around that. Which isn’t to say that I think Israel does intend to wage some genocidal war against Iran (I don’t), it’s merely to point out how stupid the analogy was, and continues to be. Goldberg is trying to have it both ways; on the one hand, he wants to invoke the ancient bane of the Jews who, in Jewish tradition, epitomizes evil to describe Iran in maximally favorable terms, but at the same time he wants to disavow the implications of that comparison, based on a reading of the scriptures. Shorter, Goldberg is trying to invoke “Jewish tradition,” while at the same time trying to pretend the scripture says something other than, well, what it says. And the increasingly shrill tone being taken more or less belies that Goldberg knows there’s no way out of this for him, short of implied accusations of anti-Semitism, which is all the above quote represents.

Finally, as Matt Duss points out, Goldberg’s off-hand comment that Iran “seems to be e building nuclear weapons” is completely unsupported by facts, as it is the official position of the US intelligence community that Iran has not restarted its weapons program since halting it in 2003. But of course, over-hyping threats based on completely unsupported, sensationalist claims would be par for the course with Goldberg. 

Sotomayor Nomination Splitting Activists and Establishment Conservatives

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

I’d certainly have to say that the most interesting deveopment of the past few days was Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), currently chairing the NRSC, telling NPR that Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich calling Sonia Sotomayor a racist was “terrible.” That marks the first time a high profile, demonstratablu conservative Republican has criticized either since Obama took office, so far as I’m aware.

Digby thinks this is just so much kabuki, but as I said in comments, a wider reading doesn’t really seem to support that. For one thing, Cornyn’s job is to win elections for Senate Republicans, a role that requires him to be somewhat more in touch with electoral reality than your average wingnut. That’s not to say Cornyn isn’t as bad as anyone from a policy standpoint, but he does realize that it’s going to be very hard for Republicans to regain majority status if they drive their support amongst Latino voters down to the levels they get from African-Americans. And given that he comes from a state with a hefty Hispanic population himself, there might even be a bit of self-preservation going on. Cornyn also pissed of the Redstaters by endorsing Charlie Crist in Florida, and offering to go to bat for Arlen Specter in a Republican primary, until Arlen switched parties. So he’s showing some inclination to sleight the base when it’s obviously better for the GOP’s electral prospects. And he’s pronouncing her name correctly.

On the other hand, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is still articulating the rationale for a filibuster of Sotomayor, which makes no sense. Ultimately, Republicans just aren’t going to have the votes to filibuster an obviously qualified nominee, which means that they’re going to look foolish for even talking about it, and alienate Latino voters for nothing. But then, no one ever accused them of being rational did they?

Conservatives Double Down on Names

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

I, and just about everyone else, made note of Mark Krikorian’s racist/stupid argument yesterday that ethnic names should be anglicized in their pronunciation as a rule, regardless of how the individual prefers their name be pronounced. Rather than slink away hoping the incident recedes from memory sometime in the next decade, Krikorian’s back today with more, and he’s joined by Derbyshire. First, Krikorian:

Lots of the responses focused on my various bodily orifices and what should be done with them, but for those actually interested in the point, here’s what I was trying to get across: While in the past there may well have been too much social pressure for what sociologists call Anglo-conformity, now there isn’t enough. I think that’s a concern that most Americans share at some level, which is the root of the angst over excessive immigration, bilingual education, official English, etc.

Well, no. Stephen “Cole-Bear” seems like a pretty popular television show host to me, and I don’t see any outraged revolt over his refusal to call himself Stephen Cole-Bert. Similarly, the fucking President of the United States pronounces his name Ba-Rock O-Bah-Mah, as opposed to Bare-rack O-bama (as in Alabama). So this outrage is apparently limited to Krikorian’s imagination, or people who are as hyper ethnocentric as he is. What’s particularly odd though, is one of the examples Krikorian uses to back up his argument:

Some years ago when, rather late in his career, the baseball player Jorge Orta became an American citizen, he made a point of asking announcers, reporters and fans to change the pronunciation of his first name from “Hor-Hay” to “George”, as in Washington.  He said something to the effect of, I’m an American now, I should have an American name.  While I thought it a bit of overkill, I also found it very moving.

But what, exactly, does this prove. If Orta chose to start pronouncing the name in an Anglicized way, then where, exactly, is the point of this? To the extent that the main criticism of Krikorian’s point, from an etiquette standpoint, is that you should pronounce a person’s name however they prefer, there isn’t anything to disagree with here. It’s also has nothing to do with Krikorian’s original argument, which was, essentially, that sportscasters should have been calling him “George” even if he preferred “Hor-Hay.” Which, I suppose, is an indication that Krikorian realizes, on some level, what an idiot he sounds like, and is trying to walk this back. Which brings me to Derbyshire who, in trying to defend Krikorian, winds up proving far too much:

Each language has its own repertoire of sounds, that cannot be matched up exactly with those of any other language. The human vocal tract — throat, nose, tongue, teeth, lips, cheeks — can make sounds in an infinity of ways; or if not an infinity, certainly a much larger number than any one language needs. Each language picks a selection from all possible sounds, and builds its spoken words around that selection. No two languages use the same selection. A French “t” is by no means the same as an English “t.”

But, of course, what goes unsaid here is that, with regards to proper names, Americans use the French pronunciation all the time. I very much doubt that Derbyshire has ever discussed the French impressionist Mon-net with anyone, or that he makes an exaggerated effort to pronounce the Cole-burt Report. It’s true, of course, that most people wouldn’t affect a French accent for these sounds, and it’s also true that East Asian sounds are extremely difficult for Anglicans to pronounce but, again, this proves too much. The reason it’s hard to pronounce Asian names is because the alphabets are different, and in many cases there simply are no phonetic equivalents in the basics of the language. But the various Western languages don’t really have problem. All of the phonetics involved in the pronunciation of Mo-Nay or So-To-My-Or exist within te English language. It’s not hard to pronounce at all. Which means thi is just more ethnocentric hackery, arguably even worse than Krikorian’s.

On a more general note, is this really what the supposed flagship of conservative intellectualism has come to?



Thursday, May 28th, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

I had thought that Mark Krikorian was a shoe-in for the title of Most Absurd Thing Written About Sonia Sotomayor, but I must confess, this Daily Beast column from Elaine Lafferty, arguing that Republicans shouldn’t attack Sotomayor’s intelligence because that’s what sexist Democrats did to Sarah Palin, is going to be incredibly hard to top.

To wit, Democrats didn’t “attack” Palin’s intelligence because they think women are stupid, but because she herself proved, over the course of two months of national campaigning, that she wasn’t that smart. She gave answers like “what the bailout does is help those people who are concerned about the healthcare reform we need” and “in the great history of American rulings there have…of course…been rulings…” She didn’t know what the Bush Doctrine was, indeed, didn’t even seem to know that it related to foreign policy. She couldn’t name a single media source, not even a local one, she reads regularly. Perhaps unintelligent isn’t the right way to describe this, but at the very least she proved to be deeply ignorant about national issues. And, in any event, it certainly seems bizarre to say that Democrats made a mistake in attacking Palin since, obviously, Palin’s ticket lost, and exit polls suggest Palin lost McCain more voters than she gained him.

On the other hand, maybe Sotomayor really isn’t that intelligent. I don’t know her, I’ve never spoken to her, so I’m not really in a position to make broad conclusions regarding her intelligence. But what evidence I do have available to me suggests that she is, in fact, incredibly intelligent, and a very competent jurist. She has, after all, already been confirmed for a spot in the federal judiciary twice, both points involving Republicans in some way (she was appointed by George H.W. Bush to the District Court, and confirmed to the Circuit Court by a Republican Senate). If anyone has counter-evidence I’m open to evaluating it, but there really hasn’t been anything of this nature presented. And that’s the crucial difference between attacks on Palin and attacks on Sotomayor; Democrats were basing their critiques on Palin’s statements and actions, whereas conservatives are arguing that since she’s a woman and an ethnic minority, she must necessarily be less intelligent.

Conservatives Making the Case for Affirmative Action

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

I think Adam Serwer is on to something here, but I don’t think he’s really got the right angle. It’s true that conservatives are employing an obvious double standard with regards to Sotomayor, and in theory that proves the continued need for affirmative action, but at the same time, I really don’t see the same conservatives having any problem employing the same double standards in the event that Obama had nominated a center-left white male for the Court. The media perhaps, but conservatives were going to pull out the knives regardless.

On the other hand, it does seem to me that if you believe a student who graduated summa cum laude, received the highest award Princeton bestows on an undergraduate, and edited the Yale Law Journal never would have even been admitted were it not for affirmative action policies, then you’ve made about as solid a case for the efficacy of affirmative action as anyone ever has.

Jeffrey Goldberg: Still a Warmongering Wanker

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

I was going to write a nice long post about this drivel from “Goldblog,” but ultimately, it’s just not worth the time. Anyway I’ll just note that Goldberg resorts to the typical neocon tropes of implying that Iran was the aggressor in the Iran-Iraq war in order to paint their extraordinary measures vis-a-vis the civilian population in that conflict as somehow unusual, and responding to evidence casting doubt on Iran’s desire to develop nuclear weapons with nothing more than a completely speculative claim that they’re lying.

I’d also point out that Goldberg is just completely misrepresenting scriptural references in calling God’s command to commit genocide against te Amalekites an “inoperable commandment, never to be carried out.” TO be sure, Saul found himself unable to commit the brutal act, but in response, God stripped him of his kingship in favor of David, who waged a continuing war attempting to exterminate the Amalekites. Which really just leaves one question; is there anything Jeffrey Goldberg won’t lie about to agitate for war against Muslim countries?

Racists? What Racists?

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

One great thing about the nomination of a Hispanic to the Supreme Court is that Mark Krikorian’s head was more or less guaranteed to explode, and that’s exactly what happened. He started by wondering how we should pronounce her name, and then doubled down on that today with a full throated defense of unilateral Anglinizing of the pronunciation of names, whether or not the individual likes it:

Deferring to people’s own pronunciation of their names should obviously be our first inclination, but there ought to be limits. Putting the emphasis on the final syllable of Sotomayor is unnatural in English (which is why the president stopped doing it after the first time at his press conference), unlike my correspondent’s simple preference for a monophthong over a diphthong, and insisting on an unnatural pronunciation is something we shouldn’t be giving in to.

For instance, in Armenian, the emphasis is on the second syllable in my surname, just as in English, but it has three syllables, not four (the “ian” is one syllable) — but that’s not how you’d say it in English (the “ian” means the same thing as in English — think Washingtonian or Jeffersonian). Likewise in Russian, you put the emphasis in my name on the final syllable and turn the “o” into a schwa, and they’re free to do so because that’s the way it works in their language. And should we put Asian surnames first in English just because that’s the way they do it in Asia? When speaking of people in Asia, okay, but not people of Asian origin here, where Mao Tse-tung would properly have been changed to Tse-tung Mao. Likewise with the Mexican practice of including your mother’s maiden name as your last name, after your father’s surname.

This may seem like carping, but it’s not. Part of our success in assimilation has been to leave whole areas of culture up to the individual, so that newcomers have whatever cuisine or religion or so on they want, limiting the demand for conformity to a smaller field than most other places would. But one of the areas where conformity is appropriate is how your new countrymen say your name, since that’s not something the rest of us can just ignore, unlike what church you go to or what you eat for lunch. And there are basically two options — the newcomer adapts to us, or we adapt to him. And multiculturalism means there’s a lot more of the latter going on than there should be.

This is, of course, completely fucking ridiculous. For one thing, Sonia Sotomayor is not a “newcomer,” she was born and raised in The Bronx, which is in New York City, which is in the United States of America. But she has an ethnic name, and she, and her family, prefers to pronounce it based on the rules of its original language. Any decent person ought to respect that, but Krikorian is obviously not a decent person. He’s a shameless hack who heads an anti-immigration special interest group, and opposes all forms of immigration, including legal immigration, and has a particular problem with Hispanics. He is, in other words, a pretty blatant racist (or at the least, an extreme ethnocentrist), who is extremely bothered by the correct pronunciation of ethnic words, like Senator Geary, insisting on calling the Corleone family the “Cor-lee-ons.” 

Because obviously that is the most important issue facing America today.

I’m Old Enough to Remember When George Will Was Respectable

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

It seems that, in addition to having a bit of a problem with honesty, George Will is also something of a racist, as evidenced by his latest column denouncing the Sotomayor nomination as “Identity Justice.” Publius already addressed this, but he was far too nice about it for my liking.

First of all, let’s establish one thing; anyone who tries to argue that Sotomayor is not qualified for the court should not be taken seriously, and is unquestionably attempting to construct the affirmative action appointment talking point. Anyone doing that is either, a) a racist, b) attempting to cultivate racial resentment in others. That’s because there’s no contemporary standard by which Sotomayor is not qualified from the court. She has an undergraduate degree from Princeton and a law degree from Yale, the exact same educational resume of one Samuel Alito. She first became a judge when George H.W. Bush appointed her to the District Court in 1991, then was promoted to the 2nd Circuit i 1998, meaning she’s been a federal judge for 18 years. Chief Justice John Roberts, by contrast, had all of 2 years of judicial experience when George W. Bush nominated him to replace William Rehnquist, who had no prior judicial experience whatsoever before joining the court in 1971. The Justice Sotomayor would replace, David Souter, spent less than 5 months on the 1st Circuit before being elevated to SCOTUS in 1991, although he did have 7 years eperience on the New Hampshire state Supreme Court.

What’s even more telling than the denigration of what, were Sotomayor a white male, would undoubtedly be considered an impeccable set of credentials is that, in all of 18 years, apparently the only case of Sotomayor’s that the right-wing can find to disagree with concerns affirmative action, and is about as textbook of an example of judicial restraint as you could find. But here’s how Will describes it:

Before Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings begin, the Supreme Court probably will overturn a ruling she supported on the 2nd Circuit — the propriety of New Haven, Conn., canceling fire department promotions because there were no African Americans (although there was a Hispanic) among the 18 firemen the selection test made eligible for promotion. A three-judge panel of 2nd Circuit judges, including Sotomayor, affirmed a district court’s dismissal of the firemen’s complaint, doing so in a perfunctory and unpublished order that acknowledged none of the large constitutional questions involved[…]

Perhaps Sotomayor subscribes to the Thurgood Marshall doctrine: “You do what you think is right and let the law catch up” (quoted in the Stanford Law Review, summer 1992). Does she think the figure of Justice should lift her blindfold, an emblem of impartiality, and be partial to certain categories of persons? 

 Except, as one should probably expect from Will, this isn’t an accurate representation of the Ricci case, or the 2nd Circuit’s ruling whatsoever. In Ricci, the city of New Haven decided to throw out promotion tests for the fire department after a disproportionate number of minorities failed to pass on the basis of counsel from the city attorney, who warned that using the tests could leave the city open to a lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. After the city did so, a dyslexic white male sued, claiming this was a violation of his Civil Rights. The 2nd Circuit’s ruling essentially affirmed two things; first, that discarding the first test and requiring all participants to take a new test was not a violation of anyone’s civil rights. Secondly, they found that the city was perfectly within their authority to attempt to comply with existing federal law, because the city attorney was absolutely right; the city almost certainly would have been sued, successfully, had they used the tests. The outcome certainly may not be optimal from a social policy standpoint, but if you feel that way then your problem is with the law, not tht court that applied the law as it is written. This is nice, however, because it blatantly affirms the obvious; conservatives don’t want “judicial restraint” or “strict construction,” they want very, very activist judges. They just want them to reach outcomes that they prefer. And they have no problem distorting facts either.

And The Washington Post will happily give them the media space to do so.

It’s Sotomayor

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

President Obama announced that he would, in fact, be nominating Judge Sonia Sotomayor of the 2nd District Court of appeals to replace retiring Justice David Souter on the United States Supreme Court. Sotomayor had faced the most push back of any of the potential nominees rumored to be on Obama’s short list, punctuated by Jeffrey Rosen’s article in The New Republic arguing, based entirely on anonymous sources, that Sotomayor is “not that smart,” degrees from Princeton and Yale notwithstanding. If confirmed, Sotomayor would become the 3rd woman to ever sit on the Court, and the first Hispanic.

The question now, of course, is how the confirmation battle will shake out. Democrats have a large majority in the Senate, although Ben Nelson of Nebraska has indicated that he may be open to filibustering the nominee. Still, it seems likely that Sotomayor will easily have more than 60 votes in favor of confirmation. 8 current Republican Senators voted to confirm her when President Clinton nomiated her to the 2nd district in 1998, after 7 years on the Circuit Court, and a reversal now would be pretty hard to square away on the merits. Moreover, Sotomayor’s race makes it somewhat complicated to oppose her too vigorously. Hispanics are growing rapidly as a voting demographic, and represented the most dramatic shift in the 2008 election from 2004 (Obama bested Kerry’s performance amongst Hispanics by about 20%, whereas he improved on Kerry’s total with white voters by a mere 2%), and Republican Senators in the Southwest will have a particularly difficult time being overly aggressive in their opposition.

The conservative base will, of course, make a lot of noise (and raise a lot of money) over the prospect of opposing Obama’s nominee, but at the end of the day, the votes are just there to confirm, and Senate Republicans on the whole are unlikely to go all in on something of a landmine topic if they know there’s little to no chance of winning.

Does the New York Times Have Standards?

Monday, May 25th, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

Clark Hoyt is the omsbudman at The New York Times, a fact which may explain why the intellectual standards of that paper have slipped so badly. Given the recent criticism and scandals surrounding the paper, it was inevitable that Hoyt would weigh in, and his effort is both infuriating, but at the same time telling of the way elite media thinks about both itself and its critics, as Hoyt strikes a dismissive tone right from the beginning. This is the column’s opening:

IT has been a busy week or two for the ethics police — those within The Times trying to protect the paper’s integrity, and those outside, ready to pounce on transgressions by Times journalists.

Did you catch that? If your concerned about the intellectual standards of prominent writers and the influential corporations that publish them, you’re the “ethics police,” which I suppose is sort of like the grammar police. It’s an incredibly dismissive way to treat critics that more than implies that you don’t really take them, or their criticism, seriously. And the rest of the column flows in essntially the same manner, as Hoyt is arrogant, dismissive, defensive, and downright misleading throughout. Here’s how Hoyt addresses McMegan’s recent reporting that Times business writer Edmund Andrews omitted the very relevant facts of his wife’s poor financial history and his own prior tenuous footing from his book detailing his struggle with subprime mortages:

Andrews is an excellent reporter who explains complex issues clearly. There are plenty of them to cover without assigning him to those that could directly affect whether he keeps his own house. He is too close to that story.

He can’t be too cautious. On Thursday, he came under attack from a blogger for The Atlantic for not mentioning in his book that his wife had twice filed for bankruptcy — the second time while they were married, though Andrews said it involved an old loan from a family member. He said he had wanted to spare his wife any more embarrassment. The blogger said the omission undercut Andrews’s story, but I think it was clear that he and his wife could not manage their finances, bankruptcies or no. Still, he should have revealed the second one, if only to head off the criticism.

Here’s Brad Delong’s response, which I basically agree with 110%:

  1. “a weblogger” has a name: Megan McArdle of the Atlantic Monthly. She deserves credit for her work.
  2. “a weblogger” has a reputation–a considerably better reputation at this point than Clark Hoyt or the New York Times, I believe. When something appears attached to Megan McArdle, I know that she is smart, has worked hard, and is trying her best to get the story right. Readers deserve to know who Clark Hoyt is pitting himself and his organization against so that they can make their own assessments of credibility. I know that Megan McArdle tries (if not always succeeds). I don’t know about the reporters and editors of the New York Times–indeed, I know that at times they work hard to get the story wrong, witness Elizabeth Bumiller, “1 in 7 Detainees Rejoined Jihad”.
  3. At the time when Hoyt wrote he knew or ought to have known that Patrica Berreiro’s second bankruptcy discharged $29,000 in family loans, $7997.25 in lawyers’ bills, $3604 in telecommunications bills, $9065 in medical bills, $5377 in credit-card debt, $188 in veterinary bills, and $83 in fines from the Los Angeles Public Library. To write that it “involved an old loan from a family member” is remarkably incomplete.
  4. Megan McArdle’s point is that dysfunctions in mortgage lending have next to nothing to do with Edmund Andrews’s personal financial crisis. The crisis comes from the radical disjunction between the style of life Andrews and his wife expect and Andrews’s income–$10,000 a month, $3,500 in taxes, $4,000 (in the book; $5,000 in the bankruptcy filing) in alimony and child support, leaving $2,500 a month to live on for all expenses. If Andrews hadn’t bought his house in Silver Spring he would, McArdle believes, be in a worse financial position right now–for one thing, his landlord would have evicted him. I think she is probably right, and that Patricia Berreiro’s second bankruptcy is telling evidence for McArdle’s position. Hoyt’s claim that “I think it was clear that [Andrews] and his wife could not manage their finances, bankruptcies or no” appears to me to be a deliberate attempt to miss the entire point.

I would just highlight the way in which Hoyt defers to what Andrews claims to be the case, without so much as noting that his claims have been disputed. You only do that if you’re trying to mislead your readers. Period.

Hoyt then moves on to the Maureen Dowd plagiarism issue:

I do not think Dowd plagiarized, but I also do not think what she did was right.

Andrew Rosenthal, the editorial page editor, said journalists collaborate and take feeds from each other all the time. That is true with news articles, but readers have a right to expect that even if an opinion columnist like Dowd tosses around ideas with a friend, her column will be her own words. If the words are not hers, she must give credit.

Let’s unpack that for a second; Hoyt thinks writers must give credit for words that are not their own, which Dowd did not, but he doesn’t “think” that Maureen Dowd plagiarized Josh Marshall. But of course, passing off someone else’s words as your own without citation is the very definition of plagiarism. This is nothing more than an instance of argument-by-denying-English, a rather strange thing for a print journalist to do. It’s entirely possible that Dowd unintentionally plagiarized Marshall, but unintentional plagiarism is still plagiarism, and to make such an assumption you have to concede that Dowd plagiarized Marshall by definition.

The larger point here is simply to note that, in addressing some legitimate issues that have come up recently, Hoyt does the reading public a great service. Not because he’s keeping journalists honest or looking out for the ethical and intellectual standards of the paper, but because it’s plainly obvious that the point of the column is to dismiss, denigrate, and white-wash the criticisms leveled at the Times, and to “defend” the corporation by sheer spin.

Very Serious People these are.

Mittens Needs Writers

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

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Apparently Mitt Romney is writing for NRO now (oh joy!), and he conveniently reminds me that he really sucks at canned lines:

Barack Obama is still hanging on to the campaign trail. He said that the last thing he thinks about when he goes to sleep at night is keeping America safe. That’s a big difference with Vice President Cheney—when it came to protecting Americans, he never went to sleep.

You know another difference between Barack Obama and Dick Cheney? Cheney was never President. You caught the “vice” part of Vice-President right Mitt?

It is interesting to note, however, that it seems the right has dropped any pretense that George W. Bush was running the show.

Bibi’s Epic Fail, The Israel Lobby Gets Shrill

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

The entire article is well worth a read, but this bit from Gideon Levy’s Haaretz column really stood out to me:

Suddenly all of Israel’s “friends” in Washington have shed their skin. They, too, sense a rare opportunity in the Middle East. They, too, are tired of what Netanyahu has tried to peddle. They, too, understand that the Yitzhar settlement in the West Bank must precede Iran’s nuclear reactor in Bushehr. How pathetic and heartrending was the sight of the Israeli prime minister, sitting tense and sweaty, next to the new American president, confident, stylish, and impressive, without all the jokes and back-patting of Ehud Olmert and George W. Bush. The latter was in fact the least friendly president to Israel – one who allowed it to carry out all its violent madness.

How pathetic was the sight, yet how encouraging; perhaps Netanyahu learned something during his short and dramatic visit. The visit has already made one contribution: Obama tore off the mask of so-called peace-loving Israel. If Netanyahu really feared for the fate of the country he would have immediately agreed, in the Oval Office, to all the ideas put forth by this fantastic president. If Israel does not respond, we, the Israelis, will know, the U.S. president will know and the entire world will know that Israel does not want peace.

I don’t know how accurate the line about “Israel’s friens in Washington” is. AIPAC is more or less unchanged in position, and the rest of the usual suspects are similarly consistent. There’s perhaps a growing awareness that further settlement activity will impede the peace process, and even be bad for Israel’s interests in the long run, but there seems to be little desire to emphasize the point amongst right-of-center Israel watchers, and even less desire to push for the dismantling of existing settlements.

Still, the point about Bibi’s failure in Washington is well taken. Netanyahu was clearly hoping to force Obama into a concilliatory position with regards to Likud, a posture Obama rather easily brushed off, leaving Bibi looking rather ridiculous in places. I’m actually sort of surprised this happened, actually, given Bibi’s reputation for handling Western sentiments, and, putting aside the possibility that this is exaggerated for a second, this sort of makes you wonder if 8 years of an extremely deferential American administration hasn’t made the Israeli state somewhat delusional in regards to the special relationship. After all, great powers rarely like being pushed around geopolitically, and certainly don’t take kindly to being pushed around by a much smaller state that is much more dependent on us than we are them.

And you can almost sense the realization of the worm turning amongst the usual suspects. Jeffrey Goldberg, for one, is barely even trying anymore (apparently, writing hagiographies to Bibi couched in little more than ancient superstition as if it’s a positive aspect to Bibi’s personality will suck the intellectual will right out of you), and it’s almost hard to follow his thought process at this point. Does Goldberg think it was a mistake to normalize relations with Vietnam? Does he think the US, or vital US interests, have been adversely affected by this move? I mean, Cohen’s point in relation to Vietnam is so benign a sto almost be inarguable. Which, I suspect, is why Goldberg has to attack it in such irrelevant terms; too much reminding people that normal relations with “mean” people doesn’t, in fact, lead to buildings blowing up in Omaha and the AIPAC line will seem even sillier than it does right now. (Also, does Goldberg really think he’s insulting Cohen by linking him and one of the most respected International Relations scholars alive?) 

Also, via Yglesias, I see that David Ignatius, for one, has finally realized that Israeli “peace offers” are shot through with ridiculous demands the Palestinians must accept, even though no rational actor would ever accept such an egregious encroachment upon their sovereign rights. Now if only Ignatius (or Yglesias, for that matter), would notice that the Israeli center-left, as represented by then Prime Minister Ehud Barak, made exactly the same demands and then some at Camp David in 2000. It’s not ust Likud that’s imposing a barrier to agreement on the Israeli side of things.

Huntsman’s Future

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

At Foreign Policy’s frankly disappointing “shadow” blog, Christian Brose offers up an analysis of Jon Hunstman’s move out of the GOP Presidential candidates field and into the Obama administration that is both reasonable, and yet highly absurd at the same time:

He probably assumes that the GOP will spend the next few years banging rocks together in the wilderness, throwing moderates like Colin Powell out of the party, and trying to wind the clock back to the early 1980s while the rest of the country moves on. He probably assumes that he’s already established himself as “a different kind of conservative,” that the domestic policy fights he’ll face as governor will be frustrating and possibly fruitless, and that the GOP will need a few more electoral thrashings before it is ready to buy what he’s selling. What’s more, he probably assumes that, while the rest of the GOP tears itself apart in naval-gazing fights about the meaning of “true conservatism,” he can go off and pad his resume with several years of experience managing America’s largest (and increasingly, its most important) bilateral relationship, and that when he returns in, say, 2014, not only will the GOP primary voters not punish him, they’ll welcome him as a practical, reform-minded leader, attuned to the problems of the 21st century, who puts the national interest above partisan politics — that is, just the kind of guy to lead them to victory in 2016.

From a general standpoint, I think there might be some meat here. If the GOP base nominates a candidate in 2012 that gets shellacked by Obama, there’s going to be an opening for a more “apostate”candidate to change directions in 2016. This will probably have to be someone we haven’t heard of to this point, because there’s really no one in the current GOP who can fit this bill. But let’s be clear about something; it’s most certainly not going to be Jon Huntsman.

At the end of the day, political parties just aren’t that accepting of people who worked for administrations of the opposition party. It’s one thing if you were a member of the other party at the time, and have since changed your ideas, but to work for the other party and then try to come back and seek a leadership role, to say nothing of the Presidential nomination, of your party is just simply not going to happen. I think Huntsman knows this and, moreover, I think he realized that he was never going to get anywhere in the current national GOP. I think his decision to accept the ambassadorship reflects, more than anything else, that that was a job he really wanted to have, and realizing that his ceiling was rather low, he jumped on the opportunity.

Not every move is pure Machiavelli.

John Roberts: Unsurprisingly Conservative

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

Jeffrey Toobin’s New Yorker article on John Roberts is, on the one hand, quite an interesting profile of the man who may shape the court more than any other justice over the next 30-40 years. But at the same time, there’s something painfully obvious about it. Consider, for example, the passage that seems to be getting quoted most often:

Roberts’s hard-edged performance at oral argument offers more than just a rhetorical contrast to the rendering of himself that he presented at his confirmation hearing. “Judges are like umpires,” Roberts said at the time. “Umpires don’t make the rules. They apply them. The role of an umpire and a judge is critical. They make sure everybody plays by the rules. But it is a limited role. Nobody ever went to a ballgame to see the umpire.” His jurisprudence as Chief Justice, Roberts said, would be characterized by “modesty and humility.” After four years on the Court, however, Roberts’s record is not that of a humble moderate but, rather, that of a doctrinaire conservative. The kind of humility that Roberts favors reflects a view that the Court should almost always defer to the existing power relationships in society. In every major case since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff. Even more than Scalia, who has embodied judicial conservatism during a generation of service on the Supreme Court, Roberts has served the interests, and reflected the values, of the contemporary Republican Party.

It’s very nice prose, and at first blush it’s a devastating, succint, critique of the court’s “stealth conservative,” but at the same time, it sort of falls apart under the weight of its own conceit. Roberts invocation of umpires as a model for judges wasn’t, for example, developed in a vacuum, nor aimed into the ether, it was intended exactly as a dog whistle for conservative activists and ideologues, a made-for-cable rendering of “strict constructionist” legal theory. Indeed, it’s really not hard at all to imagine, say, Sean Hannity making essentially the same point, albeit probably much less eloquently and with decidedly less charisma. So with that in mind, I don’t think it ought to surprise anyone that a justice who deployed rhetoric straight out of the talk radio world in his confirmation hearing is using made-for-Rush rhetoric on legal issues regarding race, or that Roberts essentially votes the way you’d expect a Justice Hewitt to.

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