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“By the time I’m getting out of prison, hopefully, you’ll be done with the presidency. And guess what? I’m gonna make another shitty movie about you again. That’s my business. That’s what I do.” – Dinesh D’Souza


I really think that the tradeoff for a Clinton presidency has to be considered this way. On the one hand, having a successor to Obama that consolidates his health and environment reforms rather than one who dismantles them is invaluable. FDR and Reagan both burnished their legacies by having their successors installed in the presidency, who in turn protected their legacies, and while LBJ did not get his preferred successor Nixon was uninterested in domestic policy, so the Great Society reforms generally stood. On the other hand, the real gains of the Clinton years vanished when G.W. Bush “won” the presidency, though he kept many of the worst parts of the Clinton years, to everyone’s detriment. Also, the de-conservativation of the courts would be nearly complete under eight years of Clinton II. It would ensure that the great bulk of Reagan and Bush I judges are replaced by Democratic appointees, including on SCOTUS. Hell, after sixteen consecutive years of Democratic presidents, we might even be able to claim a majority on the Eighth Circuit. (I’d probably give that 50/50 odds.) And while it’s naive to think that Republicans will substantially moderate by 2016, being out of power for sixteen years could make that process inevitable.  All this would be more than enough to justify a HRC Administration, in spite of the inevitable humanitarian interventions of whichever less powerful and poorer countries Secretary of State Samantha Power and Defense Secretary Susan Rice decide must be subjected to Freedom Bombs so that they can feel better about themselves.

The danger, I think, is more long-term. Having another president committed to liberal interventionism poses a real threat as this cause commands almost no support among the public, and foreign policy interventionism in general is in decline. Outside of some wealthy donors there’s no real support for this kind of stuff among the Democratic base. Politically, one can see Republicans using this to weaken a Clinton Administration in much the same way they have weakened the Obama Administration, by entrapping a chief executive who does care about hawkish pundits and elites into getting involved in no-win scenarios on foreign policy. Obama has been blindsided by this more than once (he still, after all, wants to believe that Republicans care about country first and that there is common ground to be found), and given Clinton’s record I suspect she would be vulnerable to this as well. The danger, in other words, is in having yet another Democratic Party leader who came of age politically during an era where Republicans had 2-to-1 polling advantages on foreign policy, and where Democrats were widely believed to be weak and feckless on the subject, requiring ambitious pols to make sure everyone knew they were “tough” like Reagan. And in general, the need to, Newland Archer-like, continue to respect and respond to a conventional wisdom and a social context that has stopped existing everywhere except for that person’s head is the most frightening prospect of a second Clinton presidency. It’s easy to imagine her as Lyndon Johnson in more ways than one I think.

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I’m not sure which is the bigger tipoff that Duck Dynasty is done: the mountains of Duck Dynasty crap I see at the local dollar store when I visit it for cheap laundry detergent, or that Sarah Palin thinks the head Duck would make a good president.

Relatedly, I don’t think even she knows when she’s trolling anymore.

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Yeah, it’s most of what I “know” about Mississippi, and probably the same for you too.

I have to admit that the prominence of the Mississippi Senate race baffles me a bit. I found the “Constitutional Clayton” saga as entertaining as anyone, but come on. It’s not that there are zero stakes, really, so much as that the stakes are fairly low relative to the hype. Yes, Thad Cochran is probably the best we could hope for of a Republican Senator from Mississippi, and seems like an okay guy who occasionally (though rarely decisively) reaches across the aisle. And Chris McDaniel seems like a neo-Confederate creep. But does anyone really think there will be a huge difference between their voting profiles come, say, the end of 2015? Probably the biggest difference is that McDaniel seems to be a conscientious noninterventionist in the style of Ron Paul while Cochran is just a standard-issue hawk, which is a difference but not one that cuts for Cochran in my opinion, and that a McDaniel win might actually make the seat competitive and I’m not entirely sure who to root for. As James Murphy says, there are advantages to both, but the focus on it simply for the question of, “Is the Tea Party still relevant?” seems a bit pointless.

Also, I’m also baffled by the notion that the Tea Party is this big incumbent-shredding machine when really what they’ve mostly done is to challenge tired, really old men like Mike Castle, Bob Bennett, Dick Lugar and Thad Cochran, regardless of being relatively moderate or basically acceptably conservative. No challenge has been mounted to more RINO-type Republicans under 80 like Scott Brown or Susan Collins. They’re just using anti-Washington sentiment to cut down a bunch of past-their-prime old guys, which somehow doesn’t bother the geriatric club that is the GOP base. Incidentally, even though he should be perfectly acceptable to Republicans because he’s a total asshole, I take dibs on Chuck Grassley as the next Tea-target in 2016. He fits the profile all too well.

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While one could easily (and fairly) gripe about how the Obama Administration has been delaying EPA regulations on power plants for political reasons for such a long time, from what I read they seem pretty good. And this is a good political analysis of them. Never easy to predict what history will find most relevant about a presidency, but I do think that climate change and the ACA implementation will be the things the public remembers about Obama (in addition to that, you know, whole historic first non-white president thing), and in time the middle one will come to be appreciated for just how well done it was in spite of considerable obstacles. The financial rescue will ultimately be forgotten I think because there’s no particular group of people with an interest in pushing it as a major accomplishment, and because the subsequent recovery was, it’s safe to say, pretty shitty. And while the first debt ceiling was a true disaster–it emptied out the cupboard and locked in an austerity budget in such a way that many liberals, including the president, didn’t see just how thoroughly they’d been whipped until a year and a half later when the damn thing was implemented–it’s seemingly already forgotten by most people.

On a personal note, I am someone who supported Obama in the primaries almost exclusively based on his focus on energy and climate issues (he was a slightly weaker on health care and slightly stronger on climate than the other two lest we forget), as well as his different-sounding take on foreign policy. The latter wound up being nothing, watered down Clinton-hawk soup served with extra ambivalence and an unwelcome trace of self-pity. But enacting these regulations at least makes it feel like the entire thing wasn’t a complete waste of time.

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If it’s a year divisible by six plus two, it means that Susan Collins is getting yet another free ride for a six-year term in very blue Maine. She is what passes for moderate Republican these days, which is to say that she votes with her leadership on nearly everything. Even on disastrously unpopular measures like the anti-contraception Blunt Amendment. She is an utter phony, but she has the endorsement of the state’s other senator, a nominal Democrat. It’s telling that this local article written ostensibly as a case for non-Republicans to support her mostly just talks up her perfect attendance record, as if anyone who went to high school doesn’t know that the one who gets the perfect attendance award is rarely the most talented student, as well as how enduringly popular she is, which is a self-fulfilling prophecy that keeps Democrats from attacking her when she, say, supports the Blunt Amendment, or fully supports the Bush Tax Cuts, or collaborates with Joe Lieberman on national security.

Admittedly, in situations where the Democratic incumbent runs in tough territory, it makes perfect sense to play this kind of all-politics-are-local stuff. But this is a supremely tough cycle for Democrats, and popular former Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee was felled essentially by making the case that, regardless of his personal moderation, his vote for a GOP Senate leader would only hurt the policies they like and help the ones they don’t. Collins is a tough target but there’s just no excuse not to try. Republicans don’t just back off when the shoe’s on the other foot. I truly do believe that Democratic elites give her a pass because they don’t want to lose one of the few moderate-ish Republicans left in Congress, but it deserves constant reminding that the results of this plan continue to be shitty (and if the GOP gets to 51 next year, Democrats will have to live with having passed up this opportunity).


cooking-dogI’ve finally found the perfect encapsulation of why I’ve never learned to cook anything.  It captures my myriad overanalytical geek neuroses nicely:

Here is a simple recipe for cooking ground beef. I plucked it randomly out of Google because it looked easy. But right away, it’s filled with things that either require you to already be familiar with cooking or that will send you down endless rabbit holes of additional research. The recipe’s introduction talks about how to pick fresh beef and how you may or may not want slightly fatty beef. But how do you know? What effect does that have on flavor? Is it important? Can it be quantified? How do you make an informed choice about what you want your food to taste like based on these kinds of squiggly, soft parameters? Further, there are steps in the recipe labeled as “optional.” How do you know whether or not you need those steps? What are the parameters defining optional, and what effects on the outcome of the recipe will they have?

Step one says to “film the pan with a little” oil. How much is a little? It says “film,” so does “a little” in conjunction with “film” mean to ensure the entire bottom of the pan is covered in oil? If so, to what depth, exactly? Or does “a little” semantically override “film” and you really only need a few millilitres? If so, how many?

Step two says to “warm the pan over medium to medium-high heat.” Which one is it? What set of initial conditions are we attempting to achieve? “Medium” isn’t a temperature, so exactly how hot should the pan be? How do we know when it’s hot enough? Should we get a thermometer and attempt to measure when the pan has reached thermal equilibrium with the burner beneath it?

Steps three and four are even more problematic. Step three says to break the meat into “several” pieces, but then step four says to “continue breaking the ground meat into smaller and smaller pieces.” Why are these two discrete steps? Is there supposed to be a delay between steps three and four? What constitutes “several” pieces? How do we know when the beef is sufficiently broken up?

And then, worst of all, we have to “sprinkle with salt and any spices”—how much salt? Is there a preferred ratio of salt to beef? And what kind of spices? There’s a tremendous variety available—how are we supposed to know, based on this recipe, which ones to use and in what quantity?

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Robert Kagan’s absurdly long hawkish treatise is generally not worth reading–it’s as leaden and arrogant (“Americans have been Atlas carrying the world on their shoulders. They can be forgiven for feeling the temptation to put it down.” Really Bob? Oh Jeepers, thanks for giving us permission!) as one might imagine, and riddled with factual inaccuracies ranging from misinterpretations to flat-out whoppers (implying that U.S. power critic Reinhold Niebuhr is an antecedent to Kagan’s own views, for example). What is interesting about it are two things. Firstly, that it exists. Admittedly, publishing an insanely long article that’s mostly history we all know is as smarmy as one can get, but the obvious intent to crush readers under a ton of words tells us something about where he thinks things are at. Secondly, that it bends over backward to try to be nice. Kagan goes out of his way not to use the “isolationist” smear–in fact, he goes out of his way to rebut the charge. He avoids the easy slurs and cliches. He’s as nice as can be, and at times he even manages to reasonably simulate affect.

However, while hawks can pretend, Walter White style, to be decent, humane people who just care about the world and stuff for a short time, the inner Heisenberg can’t wait to burst out and start scaring the shit out of people. Fear is the only real way to talk the American people into continuing a foreign policy that is both morally unsatisfying and substantively unsuccessful. The only real criterion as to whether a hawkish argument is successful is in how much fear it generates in the audience. How does Kagan do? Not. Well. At all:

But who is to say that Putinism in Russia or the particular brand of authoritarianism practiced in China will not survive as far into the future as European democracy, which, outside of Great Britain, is itself only a little over a century old?

A liberal world order, like any world order, is something that is imposed, and as much as we in the West might wish it to be imposed by superior virtue, it is generally imposed by superior power. Putin seeks to impose his view of a world order, at least in Russia’s neighborhood, just as Europe and the United States do. Whether he succeeds or fails will probably not be determined merely by who is right and who is wrong. It will be determined by the exercise of power.

“Putinism” is an empty phrase, as it implies that Putin is an ideologue, which he is not at all, though Kagan clearly thinks he is. The politics Putin represents–nationalism, populism, the authoritarian ethos conservatives tend to mean when they refer to “strong leadership” in a person–is not novel. It is, in fact, extremely common in particular circumstances, circumstances hardly unknown in the West. The irony is that the recent European elections have empowered people across the continent with similar politics. Kagan sees a world in which American power is what keeps the next Hitler at bay. I see a world in which the global middle class keeps the next Hitler at bay–economics, not warmongering, being key. Europe’s far-right has become empowered as much of the continent has seen depression and the middle classes have been gutted there, which leads to furious anger, going after scapegoats, instability joined with violence and the corresponding desire for order, administered brutally. America has seen something similar, though so far on a lesser scale. There’s simply no precedent for a prosperous, successful country with good income distribution electing anyone in the neighborhood of a fascist. But countries that had a vibrant middle class and lost it? That, dear sir, is where these folks are bred. With respect to Russia, anyone who knows the history of post-Soviet Russia knows that the Yeltsin Administration’s goal of creating a stable middle class never happened due to terrible economic advice from the U.S. Treasury Department and other international finance bodies, and after the failures of Yeltsin’s rule on many fronts but particularly in terms of economics–culminating in the country’s debt default in 1998–autocratic rule was inevitable. People were tired of the violence, tired of the lack of positive change, tired of irrelevance and impotence. In fact, it had inarguably begun before Putin–Yeltsin’s shuttering of opposition newspapers, shelling of the Russian Parliament building and his bombing of Chechnya were signs of increasing authoritarian tendencies. I’m no Putin fan but I do have some inkling of what he offers to Russians: he’s globally assertive (though vastly less so than the former USSR), he’s done a better job managing economic growth, and he’s done a better job of maintaining order. That he’s done this by destroying nearly every vestige of democracy in his country is deeply sad, though given that democracy and capitalism in Russia basically meant oligarchy and cronyism amidst a backdrop of tragic poverty, it’s hard to judge the Russian people for making this trade. I don’t think they’re special, in any case, as it is human nature. Plenty of other countries have responded similarly to similar situations, not the least of which was Weimar Germany.

There’s a flip side to that coin as well. Tunisia has been the only Arab Spring revolution that seems to have worked out. As soon as Ben Ali was deposed, Tunisians swiftly went about the business of setting up democratic institutions. It has not been an entirely smooth process at all, but it’s nearing a fairly successful completion. What’s more, the country defies the neoconservative assumptions completely. Both the Afghan and Iraq Wars were sold in part on helping the women there, though without much in the way of results. In Tunisia, though, women make up a larger percentage of legislators than the United States and abortion is legal. Women actually hold power and exercise it there. This is a tremendous accomplishment, a decided contrast to the tragic, endless setbacks in Libya, Egypt, Iraq and Afghanistan, all countries in which U.S. power has been deployed to varying levels. America had nothing to do with Tunisia’s transition into a very promising democracy. Why is that? Could it be perchance that Tunisia is a middle-class country with only moderate levels of income inequality, while the other four are not? Couldn’t be. After all, “Putinism” has to be defeated by freedom bombs, because as we know, the best way of dealing with ideas is with arms. If a country’s political orientation can basically be predicted by its fundamentals, what role does that leave for navel-gazing proponents of endless war like Bob Kagan? Because let’s be honest, nobody in the MSM is publishing twenty pages of ruminating on other countries’ GINI indexes.

I have to say, much as I hated Kagan’s piece, I mostly just found it sad. His theory of how the world works is just so inadequate, so impossible to square with the real-world disasters that have resulted from its use, in need of so many caveats in order to deal with all the outliers it can’t cover. While his fellow hawks–whether dressed up in conservative or liberal clothing–still believe in the old creed completely, the fear is quite simply gone in the people. I have no doubt that elected politicians will lag behind where the public is for some time, but fundamentally, this is an ideology that is sentimental, wrongheaded and deeply dangerous, and the preconditions for its continued existence are eroding fast. Within a few decades it’ll be as embarrassing as Rudyard Kipling’s worst output. One wonders why Barack Obama keeps hoping to associate himself with it.