Of Tempests and Teapots

July 8, 2010

Climategate, the pseudoscandal du jour of last fall, was, after all the hoopla, much ado about basically nothing. Whoops. If you’ve studied climate issues over the past few years, (and I have), this probably doesn’t come as a surprise to you. I was wont to defend the East Anglia researchers at the time this was breaking, as their evasiveness and lack of transparency was troubling, even to someone relatively certain of the basic validity of their results. The Russell review basically confirms my suspicions, though: right on the science, wrong on the PR. I have to admit, I enjoyed¬†this mea culpa by lead inquisitor George Monbiot.

Climate science isn’t perfect. It’s not even very good. But the basic theme is pretty clear, and denying it at this point should seem pretty absurd. Climate policy — certainly open to debate. I personally favor a carbon tax. But the science, the part that says that manmade carbon emissions are already impacting the earth’s climate and will do so to an increasing degree as carbon builds in the atmosphere? Difficult to dispute.


Pick Six for July 7, 2010

July 7, 2010
  • Harold Pollack basically summarizes my thoughts on the Donald Berwick recess appointment at RGC.
  • Yglesias discusses a ‘should liberals be unhappy with Obama?’ debate, contributes.
  • A good summary of the DOJ challenge to the Arizona immigration enforcement law. (SCOTUSBlog)
  • Hawaii’s legislature votes for civil unions, but governor Linda Lingle vetoes. (Volokh)
  • Evolution in action on a non-prehistoric timescale. (NYT)
  • John Kerry on Strategic Arms Reduction. (WaPo)

Tony Blankley Oversimplifies Afghanistan

July 7, 2010

Conservative columnist and Heritage Foundation affiliate Tony Blankley has a column up on RCP today that troubles me. The column relies on the old rhetorical trope that liberals (in this case, the Obama Administration itself) are aiding our enemies in Afghanistan with their rhetoric on the war. Though Blankley suggests that this “may be the first [war] we lose” this way, this is a sleight of hand, as he doubtless knows similar charges have been thrown at the feet of any politician questioning any aspect of any war the US has been involved in since time immemorial. (To cite one example, although what most people remember about LBJ’s Vietnam policy is escalation, he was routinely criticized from the right for an unwillingness to commit to indefinite or all-out warfare.)

Let’s ignore the flawed premise underlying the article, though, and address the substance. Is Obama waffling on Afghanistan, and if so, will waffling be the reason we ‘lose’ the war?

On the first point, I would argue that Blankley is on to something. Maybe not as much as he believes he is, but something. It is certainly true that announcing a surge and a fairly brisk timeline for withdrawal in such close proximity sent a mixed message. What’s more, it’s a mixed message that never could have made anyone happy, since the timeline is mostly unpalatable to the people who support the surge and vice versa. The Administration’s true priority, I suspect, may be drawing down forces, and officials would probably argue that explicitly laying out the details of any drawing down of forces so far in advance of the intended date would have the effect Blankley ascribes to existing policy, frustrating our allies and encouraging the insurgency to bide its time. Whether this alternative is any better is unclear, though.

On the subject of how much any of this really matters, I find Blankley’s position much more untenable. The current situation in Iraq, even if it can be sustained, is far from an ideal outcome, and we appear to be pursuing something similar or perhaps slightly worse in Afghanistan as our absolute best-case scenario. Though Blankley criticizes the Obama Administration’s portrayal of Karzai as corrupt, it’s an indisputable fact that this characterization is something with which a large segment of the Afghan people themselves agree. What’s more, they consider governmental corruption, which is something the US has very little control over, a significantly more important problem than the Taliban, whom we ostensibly remain in the country to fight. And unlike Iraq, where much of the political opposition to the current government seems willing to attempt to continue to operate within a democratic system for the time being, it is not at all clear that this is the case in Afghanistan.

The President is in a lose-lose situation regarding Afghanistan. The hawkish elements of the right will never approve of his policies there. The portion of the left who makes up his base would like to see us gone, leaving behind only residual forces to train an Afghan force and help maintain order in the cities. Unfortunately, as with many other policies, in walking the tightrope, Obama seems to be pleasing no one.

Radio Masochism

July 6, 2010

For reasons not interesting enough to explain here, I found myself stuck with a bit of Mark Levin‘s radio program earlier this evening. If you’ve never encountered Levin’s work, consider yourself lucky. A former Reagan administration lawyer and friend of Sean Hannity, Levin broadcasts from an alternate universe where using nu-metal bumper music is still socially acceptable. In his world, this quasi-gaffe by a relatively minor Obama Administration official is a sign of the apocalypse.

Which is not to downplay its gaffeyness. Bolden’s characterization of his outreach to Muslim countries is definitely one of the more uncomfortable non-Biden utterings of Obama’s term. It’s more than a little condescending to the Muslim world, and it makes the Administration look weak on an issue that most people would never pay attention to otherwise. But if we characterize the policy more charitably, akin to the clarifications issued recently by both NASA and the White House (described in the previous link), it seems fairly obvious that it’s about scientific collaboration with countries we often neglect in our scientific endeavors. Though NASA is often wasteful, this seems like a worthy endeavor.

…unless you make your living on talk radio. In that case, it’s a conspiracy designed to undermine freedom and coddle tacit sponsors of terror who are Our Enemies, by jingo! Elevating the discourse beyond ‘gotcha!’ is off the table.

(Postscript: Normally I try to avoid the Levins of the world. There are plenty of people with similar views who are more articulate and better able to keep their polemical tendencies in check. However, since I happened to catch some of his broadcast today, I felt like using his show to set up this post.)

Pick Six for July 6, 2010

July 6, 2010
  • Jon Taplin notes the unusual antiwar alliance between Barney Frank and Ron Paul. (TPM)
  • Interview with former astronaut James Bagian on risk and being wrong. (Slate)
  • The final word on seeing the Great Wall of China from space. (James Fallows)
  • Richard Thompson Ford reviews Stuart Buck’s Acting White. (Slate again)
  • John Zogby takes some shots at FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver in the guise of sage advice. Silver responds. (HuffPo, 538)
  • Prince has been on the wrong side of history regarding music technology for quite awhile now, but the quotes everyone is pulling from this recent interview really do make him sound like he’s living in an alternate reality. (Daily Mirror)

A New Constitutional Convention?

July 6, 2010

Over at Balkinization, Sandy Levinson points out that residents of Maryland will have the opportunity this fall to vote on a new constitutional convention for the state. Evidently a number of US States (Levinson mentions New York and implies there are others) have a similar clause allowing the public to vote on a new constitutional convention once per generation.

Levinson is in favor of a new constitution for Maryland, and I’m inclined to agree. The underlying WaPo article provides a much clearer justification than the blog post. In a nutshell, Maryland’s Constitution dates to the Reconstruction era, includes a vast number of amendments, some dealing with issues that can only be described as minutiae, and spans a word count nearly eight times that of the combined US Constitution + Bill of Rights. Levinson uses this particular issue as a springboard ¬†for a discussion of his belief that states have proven they require an fairly robust federal government to remain viable. I think that perhaps he overreaches here — the problems with, say, California’s Constitution, or New York’s, are fairly unique. The former is crippled by the ballot initiative system, while the latter suffers from gridlock due to disproportionate representation of its less populous regions.

Though Maryland’s Constitution is not as broken as either of these examples, I believe an opportunity to update a vast, unwieldly document reflecting all of the state of the art political thinking of 1867 would prove fruitful. I’ll throw a plug in here for unicameralism while I’m at it, but I won’t hold my breath on that.

Pick Six for July 3, 2010

July 4, 2010

I never really liked “The Rundown” as a title for my links posts, and so now I’ve decided to go with “Pick Six”. Without further ado, six links I’ve enjoyed recently:

  • Brad DeLong on how Obama’s mixed macroeconomic messaging is not a good thing.
  • David Byrne talks about his ideal city in the Wall Street Journal. I love America. (via MR)
  • Jonathan Adler points out some sniping at the Senate by Jack Goldsmith, testifying on Elena Kagan’s behalf on Volokh.
  • Former Post reporter Garrett Epps runs down the Kagan hearings for The Atlantic.
  • Jack Balkin writes on Viacom v. YouTube.
  • Alex Hart makes some good points about public benefits at Citizen Cohn.