Monthly Archives: August 2009

What We’ve Built Today

under-constructionWe fix build ruin update our posts.

Orange Is The Color Of My True Love’s Hair

Do/Don’t Take Your Guns To Town

The Takeaway Of The Story Is “He Began Shrieking ‘Glenn Greenwald Is EVIL! EVIL!'”

Is Blog Stipes Est In Latin

Leave a comment

Filed under Smatterings Of Nothing

The Year Of The Tiger May Bring Elephants To The District


Josh Kraushaar at Politico:

After an August recess marked by raucous town halls, troubling polling data and widespread anecdotal evidence of a volatile electorate, the small universe of political analysts who closely follow House races is predicting moderate to heavy Democratic losses in 2010.

Some of the most prominent and respected handicappers can now envision an election in which Democrats suffer double-digit losses in the House — not enough to provide the 40 seats necessary to return the GOP to power but enough to put them within striking distance.

Top political analyst Charlie Cook, in a special August 20 update to subscribers, wrote that “the situation this summer has slipped completely out of control for President Obama and congressional Democrats.”

“Many veteran congressional election watchers, including Democratic ones, report an eerie sense of déjà vu, with a consensus forming that the chances of Democratic losses going higher than 20 seats is just as good as the chances of Democratic losses going lower than 20 seats,” he wrote.

At the mid-August Netroots Nation convention, Nate Silver, a Democratic analyst whose uncannily accurate, stat-driven predictions have made his website a must read among political junkies, predicted that Republicans will win between 20 and 50 seats next year. He further alarmed an audience of progressive activists by arguing that the GOP has between a 25 and 33 percent chance of winning back control of the House.

Is Silver being an alarmist or is there really a 1 in 4 or 1 in 3 chance that the GOP can pull off a shocker?

If history is any guide, Nate may have something there. Opposition gains in off year elections are a tradition in American politics with the party out of power winning back seats in 10 of the last 12 such elections. (The average gain has been about 13 seats).

But realistically, there would have to be a huge backlash – even bigger than 1994 – for Republicans to regain control of the House. The re-election rate for modern gerrymandered congressional districts tops 98% and the GOP would have to knock that percentage down to 90% in order to gain back the House.

A tall order, that. But the Democrats did it in 2006. And given the volatility of the current political climate, it is not beyond imagining, although Silver’s estimate of Republican chances to regain control is not shared by other seasoned pros.

I think that Nate is being deliberately provocative. The stars would have to align just right for a GOP takeover of the House to materialize. A perfect storm of failed health care reform, a double dip recession, and perhaps higher than expected inflation could combine to cause the kind of collapse in the political fortunes of Democrats that would give the GOP control of the House. I would place the chances of this occurring somewhere between “Impossible” and “Highly Improbable” – say, from zero to 5%.

David N. Bass at The American Spectator:

The political climate next year could influence the Left’s fortunes on the issue. It’s early days, but indications are that the midterms will be tough for Democrats. The Politico has some observations on that, pointing out that historic trends “point to Republican House gains … particularly after facing two brutal election cycles where the party lost seats in every region and even in some of the most conservative states in the nation.”

If de-stimulus, cap-and-trade, cash for clunkers, and a health-care takeover, et al., are enough to get out more conservative voters and peel away some independents and moderate Democrats, a ballot initiative legalizing gay marriage is going to be a tough sell in 2010, even in deep blue California.

Jennifer Rubin at Commentary:

We are more than a year away from the 2010 elections, but the cumulative impact of this data will be felt by critical swing-state senators, vulnerable House members, and nearly every freshman lawmakers. If Obama is now perceived as a drag on their own election prospects, it’s every lawmaker for himself. Forget about “winning one for Teddy”; they have to save themselves.

The result may be a health-care debate that stalls before it starts. Perhaps the safest course is a slower, more deliberative one with full-blown hearings. That’s what some of the lawmakers from less secure districts and states are urging. Obama might do well to listen to the nervous congressmen and senators from his own party—or he’ll have a lot fewer of them for the last two years of his term.

Allah Pundit on Zogby showing Obama at 42%

Doesn’t this foretell a shift left, to win back Democrats, when he finally returns to D.C.? He’s already lost any little amount of trust conservatives and right-leaning independents might ever have had in him; just too much government, too soon, and no compromise “health-care co-op” is going to change that. All it’ll do is leave the left feeling they can’t trust him either, which means no money or organization next year and no one except wary centrists even somewhat pleased with health care. The smartest available move, it seems increasingly to me, is to push for a public option, make the left happy, and then throw the full weight of your propaganda machine into convincing centrists before the midterms that government health care is a genius idea. Sure, it’ll mean sacrificing a few Blue Dog seats to the GOP next year, but it looks like that’s a fait accompli anyway. And even if Republicans take back the House, they won’t have a veto-proof majority (or even control of the Senate) that they’d need to repeal ObamaCare, so the deed will be done. If you’re Barry O, you might as well get what you want, keep part of the public excited about you, and take your chances.


A savvy friend thinks 2010 will be a repeat of 1994. It’s obviously too early to say that, but these numbers can’t be encouraging for the Administration.

1 Comment

Filed under Political Figures, Politics

Playing Poker With The Gang, Sending Your Ante By Air-Gram


Ezra Klein:

The White House has, for the first time, spoken out against a member of Max Baucus’s “Gang of Six.” After Mike Enzi used the GOP’s weekly radio to attack the Democrats’ health-care plan for promoting “the rationing of [America’s] health care,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs fired back that Enzi “clearly turned over his cards on bipartisanship and decided that it’s time to walk away from the table.”

Everyone I’ve spoken to in the Senate believes, strongly, that this process is about to break down, and the Democrats are going to move forward on a more partisan basis. Presumably, the Republicans in the Gang of Six process have heard the same and have no interest in looking like fools when that happens. And so they’re beginning to use their positions in the negotiations not to further the cause of a final bill, but to enhance their stature as spokesmen for the opposition. Grassley, as noted earlier, is sending out fundraising e-mails attacking “Obama-care.” Enzi is lacerating Democratic ideas under the banner of his party. As far as I can tell, the Gang of Six process is already dead. What’s happening now is that the participants seem to be raiding its corpse.

Brian Beutler at TPM

Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:

Looks like the charade of including Chuck Grassley and Mike Enzi in the health care negotiations is over. It is not impossible that other Republicans who are not Senators from Maine can be located to support health care reform. But it’s also entirely possible that the Republicans will continue their kamikaze ways and oppose a reform that is likely to prove very popular with the American public when it’s enacted (which is why, in truth, the GOP nihilists oppose it).


Terrible Sen. Mike Enzi, Chuck Grassley’s second-in-command for reaching a bipartisan health care bill, wants to reform health care in much the same way that his superior does: by killing health care reform completely. This does not portend well for the Gang of Six! Even White House meanie Robert Gibbs admitted today that Enzi, whom Obama once praised for his good-faith negotiating efforts during a primetime press conference, has thrown his wiener in the cogs of progress one too many times now and should proceed to piss off.

Meanwhile, back to Ezra:

Chuck Grassley is facing a potentially difficult primary challenge in 2010. As such, he’s been working hard to cover his right flank. That would all be fine except for one thing: As ranking member of the Finance Committee, Grassley is responsible for developing a workable compromise on health-care reform. But as this fundraising letter (pdf) shows, Grassley is running against health-care reform back in Iowa. Here’s how the missive begins:

“I had to rush you this Air-Gram today to set the record straight on my firm and unwavering opposition to government-run health care.And ask your immediate support in helping me defeat “Obama-care.”

I’m sure you’ve been following this issue closely. If the legislation sponsored by Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the House of Representatives and Chairman Ted Kennedy in the Senate is passed it would be a pathway to a government takeover of the health care svstem. lt would turn over control of your health care decisions to a federal bureaucrat … and take it away from you and your personal physician.

It would mean government rationing in the name of cost controls.”

The emphases are in the original document. Grassley does allow that he is working on “a viable alternative that is free-market based and rejects the pitfalls of government-run insurance.” But that’s the single constructive or compromise-oriented sentence in the letter. The rest of it, as you can read for yourself, previews a campaign strategy entirely based around Grassley’s opposition to “Obama-care.” As Grassley says, “the simple truth is that I am and always have been opposed to the Obama administration’s plan to nationalize health care. Period.

David Weigel at The Washington Independent:

One part that jumped out at me:

Picture 78

ACORN is not that much of a political force in Iowa. If anything, this is a nod to evolving standards in fundraising boilerplate.

Greg Sargent:

A spokesperson for Senator Chuck Grassley is clarifying his claim in a fundraising letter that he’s working for the “defeat” of “Obamacare,” saying that the Senator was only referring to defeating the public health care option.

As I noted below, a fundraising letter from Grassley to his constituents starkly proclaimed his desire to defeat both “Obamacare” and the proposal from Ted Kennedy’s committee — raising yet more questions about what, exactly, Grassley is prepared to support.

Asked for clarification, Grassley spokesperson Jill Kozeny emailed:

“The letter describes the government-run plan in the House and HELP committee bills that President Obama supports and Senator Grassley opposes.”

The fundraising letter does seem to suggest much more general opposition to Obamacare and to the Kennedy effort, and this appears to be a bit of a walk-back of that, though it’s unclear how reassured Dems will be about Grassley’s true intentions.

Either way, it’s back to the bipartisan drawing board!

Leave a comment

Filed under Health Care

Three Men And Afghanistan


Man #1: General Stanley McChrystal. Mark Tran in The Guardian:

The west must change its strategy in order to prevail in Afghanistan, the top US commander in the country said today as he handed over to US and Nato commanders a sweeping review of operations that may lead to a demand for more troops.

“The situation in Afghanistan is serious, but success is achievable and demands a revised implementation strategy, commitment and resolve, and increased unity of effort,” General Stanley McChrystal said. His findings will be submitted to President Barack Obama, who faces a public increasingly restive over a war that has lasted eight years.

McChrystal does not ask for more US troops to be sent to Afghanistan, but his grave reflections on the failure of strategy may well herald a request in a separate briefing to Obama expected later this autumn.

The deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan was graphically illustrated during the recent elections, over which numerous complaints have been filed. Results are still being compiled, but a tally released today based on 48% of polling stations gave the incumbent president Hamid Karzai 45.8% of the vote to 33.2% for his nearest challenger Abdullah Abdullah. Karzai needs 50% to avoid a second round run-off.

McChrystal has been working on the review since Obama put him in charge of the war in June after firing his predecessor, David McKiernan. The document has been sent to the US military’s central command (CentCom), responsible for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to Nato headquarters in Brussels.

Ed Morrissey:

This will present Obama with some tough political choices.  The left wing of his party wants the US out of Afghanistan, regardless of the status of al-Qaeda.  The military wants to keep pursuing AQ, and most of the country would agree with that position.  Republicans will support Obama’s effort overseas as long as he remains flexible on strategy and tactics.

On the review, Spencer Ackerman:

We still don’t know what it says. Not even Defense Secretary Bob Gates does, apparently, though it went to the Pentagon and NATO. The initial reports are that it says a lot of what it’s been expected to say: the war is hard but not hopeless; more Afghan forces are necessary; intelligence collection and dissemination needs to improve; so does military-civilian coordination; so does U.S.-NATO coordination. There are no indications as yet that it will deal with broader strategic questions of what the war aims precisely are or how the U.S. will know when they’ve achieved them. (And McChrystal is deferring a decision to request more troops until a later date.)

This, from The New York Times, struck my eye:

“Just how many more Afghan police and soldiers General McChrystal wants is unclear. In Iraq, where conditions have stabilized markedly over the past two years, the American-trained Iraqi security forces number about 600,000.”

I had thought the plan was to get those troop and police numbers up to 400,000.

Marc Ambinder:

The president and his national security team are skittish, but they aren’t looking for a way to deny McChrystal what he thinks he needs. It will be quite interesting to see how McChrystal phrases his request. It won’t accompany the report — though the report will probably imply as much.

New troops would be funded by a new congressional appropriation. But the administration has promised to Congress that it would no longer fund the war by submitting supplemental requests, and the Defense Department has already programmed funds for the 2010 fiscal year. They cannot simply move a few billion dollars from here to there. There may not be enough troops, either. Soldiers on long deployments in Iraq will, if this happens, be sent to Afghanistan for another deployment.

So, assuming that the White House doesn’t renege on their supplemental promise, the earliest that McChrystal could get his additional troops would be at least a year from now.

And that might be exactly what the White House and the Department of Defense are counting on. After all, the new Afghanistan strategy — counterterrorism using the means of counterinsurgency — is still fairly new. As painful as it is, the administration seems to want to give it a chance to succeed.


McChrystal is engaging in some sleight of hand here. The top priority for the Obama Administration, at least in the President’s public statements, has never been “protecting the Afghan people against the Taliban.” We’ve heard about dismantling Taliban safe havens, but not that our military should be used as an internal security force. We should at least have that debate if it’s the new goal.

I’m more concerned that the Administration feels it has to race to show progress, basing their continued presence in Afghanistan not on any security objective, but simply meaning to justify the presence through demonstrable benchmarks. If the benchmarks, or “metrics” in the new parlance, are not tethered to a fundamental mission or strategy, how can we possibly define success? In recent years, the success or failure in achieving benchmarks or metrics have had no impact on the larger decisions of escalation or drawdown. A benchmark strategy just looks like a justification strategy rather than any kind of real assessment.


Man #2: Anthony Cordesman, in WaPo:

The United States cannot win the war in Afghanistan in the next three months — any form of even limited victory will take years of further effort. It can, however, easily lose the war. I did not see any simple paths to victory while serving on the assessment group that advised the new U.S. commander, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, on strategy, but I did see all too clearly why the war is being lost.

The most critical reason has been resources. Between 2002 and 2008 the United States never provided the forces, money or leadership necessary to win, effectively wasting more than half a decade. Our country left a power vacuum in most of Afghanistan that the Taliban and other jihadist insurgents could exploit and occupy, and Washington did not respond when the U.S. Embassy team in Kabul requested more resources.


McChrystal has not announced a need for more U.S. troops, but almost every expert on the scene has talked about figures equivalent to three to eight more brigade combat teams — with nominal manning levels that could range from 2,300 to 5,000 personnel each — although much of that manpower will go to developing Afghan forces that must nearly double in size, become full partners rather than tools, and slowly take over from U.S. and NATO forces. Similarly, a significant number of such U.S. reinforcements will have to assist in providing a mix of capabilities in security, governance, rule of law and aid. U.S. forces need to “hold” and keep the Afghan population secure, and “build” enough secure local governance and economic activity to give Afghans reason to trust their government and allied forces. They must build the provincial, district and local government capabilities that the Kabul government cannot and will not build for them. No outcome of the recent presidential election can make up for the critical flaws in a grossly overcentralized government that is corrupt, is often a tool of power brokers and narco-traffickers, and lacks basic capacity in virtually every ministry.

Unfortunately, strong elements in the White House, State Department and other agencies seem determined to ignore these realities. They are pressuring the president to direct Eikenberry and McChrystal to come to Washington to present a broad set of strategic concepts rather than specific requests for troops, more civilians, money and an integrated civil-military plan for action. They are pushing to prevent a fully integrated civil-military effort, and to avoid giving Eikenberry and McChrystal all the authority they need to try to force more unity of effort from allied forces and the U.N.-led aid effort.

If these elements succeed, President Obama will be as much a failed wartime president as George W. Bush. He may succeed in lowering the political, military and financial profile of the war for up to a year, but in the process he will squander our last hope of winning. This would only trade one set of political problems for a far worse set in the future and leave us with an enduring regional mess and sanctuary for extremism. We have a reasonable chance of victory if we properly outfit and empower our new team in Afghanistan; we face certain defeat if we do not.

Ezra Klein:

Monday’s op-ed by Anthony Cordesman is titled “How to Lose in Afghanistan.” In it, he uses the word “victory” three times. He uses the word “win” four time. He also mentions losing, and defeat. But nowhere does he define what winning is, or what losing looks like. He’s pretty clear that we want to win and we don’t want to lose. And he’s pretty clear that victory means giving Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and General Stanley McChrystal all the resources they request and all the authority they want and protecting them from “constant micromanagement from Washington or traveling envoys.”

Cordesman and many others have certainly thought about this issue a lot and probably have working definitions of success. But there’s been a peculiar unwillingness to define any of this very clearly. Richard Holbrooke, when asked, said, “we’ll know it when we see it.” The strategy is, presumably, a little more distinct when detailed in White House meetings. But it’s hard to avoid the concern that these folks actually have a perfectly clear vision of success but recognize that it’s sufficiently ambitious that they’re unwilling to define it publicly. People like the idea of victory. But do they like the idea of trying to be the first country to ever successfully nation-build in Afghanistan?

Max Boot in Commentary:

So far President Obama has heeded warnings that he needed to do more to salvage a failing war effort in Afghanistan. Let us hope that he pays attention again and takes actions that are sure to be unpopular in the short term, especially with the left-wing of his own party (which is now calling for a “flexible timetable to bring our brave troops out of Afghanistan”).

Only by adding more resources can Obama offer the prospect of long-term victory in a war effort that he himself has deemed a “war of necessity.”

Dave Schuler:

As I see it there are fundamental problems with a counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan. First, as long as the insurgents are able to flee to bases in Pakistan they will be difficult if not impossible to reduce and the Pakistani government despite brave talk has shown little inclination to eliminate these bases.

Second, there is no central government in Afghanistan to support. There is a Kabul government.

Third, there are no prospects whatever for Afghanistan itself shouldering the bulk of the burden of the counter-insurgency effort for the foreseeable future and our NATO allies have shown little enthusiasm for increasing their own commitments to the effort.

But most importantly the case has yet to be made to the American people that victory in Afghanistan is either achievable or even worth pursuing at least not in the time or at the cost that would be required. Commenters as diverse as Matthew Yglesias and Dennis the Peasant have pointed out that neither Dr. Cordeman nor Gen. McChrystal nor the Obama Administration have defined victory in Afghanistan. It’s darned hard to convince people that something is worth sacrificing for if neither you nor they know what it is. I suspect the American people are increasingly skeptical that what’s going on in Afghanistan is the war they signed on for.


Man #3: George Will:

Afghanistan’s $23 billion GDP is the size of Boise’s. Counterinsurgency doctrine teaches, not very helpfully, that development depends on security, and that security depends on development.

Even though violence exploded across Iraq after, and partly because of, three elections, Afghanistan’s recent elections were called “crucial.” To what? They came, they went, they altered no fundamentals, all of which militate against American “success,” whatever that might mean.

Creation of an effective central government? Afghanistan has never had one. U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry hopes for a “renewal of trust” of the Afghan people in the government, but The Economist describes President Hamid Karzai’s government – his vice presidential running mate is a drug trafficker – as so “inept, corrupt and predatory” that people sometimes yearn for restoration of the warlords, “who were less venal and less brutal than Mr. Karzai’s lot.”

Mullen speaks of combating Afghanistan’s “culture of poverty.” But that took decades in just a few square miles of the South Bronx. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, U.S. commander in Afghanistan, thinks jobs programs and local government services might entice many “accidental guerrillas” to leave the Taliban. But before launching New Deal 2.0 in Afghanistan, the Obama administration should ask itself: If U.S. forces are there to prevent re-establishment of al-Qaeda bases – evidently there are none now – must there be nation-building invasions of Somalia, Yemen and other sovereignty vacuums?

U.S. forces are being increased by 21,000 to 68,000, bringing the coalition total to 110,000. About 9,000 are from Britain, where support for the war is waning. Counterinsurgency theory concerning the time and the ratio of forces required to protect the population indicates that, nationwide, Afghanistan would need hundreds of thousands of coalition troops, perhaps for a decade or more. That is inconceivable.

So, instead, forces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, air strikes and small, potent special forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters.

Mike Allen at Politico:

Will’s prescription – in which he urges Obama to remember Bismarck’s decision to halt German forces short of Paris in 1870 – seems certain to split Republicans. He is a favorite of fiscal conservatives. The more hawkish right can be expected to attack his conclusion as foolhardy, short-sighted and naïve, potentially making the U.S. more vulnerable to terrorist attack.The columnist’s startling recommendation surfaced on the same day that Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, sent an assessment up his chain of command recommending what he called “a revised implementation strategy.” In a statement, McChrystal also called for “commitment and resolve, and increased unity of effort.”

In the column, Will warns that any nation-building strategy could be impossible to execute given the Taliban’s ability to seemingly disappear into the rugged mountain terrain and the lack of economic development in the war-plagued nation.

Spencer Ackerman:

I’m not really sure how many minds this will actually change. Will’s never been much of a hawk, though he does represent something of a curmudgeonly conservative establishmentarianism. Dave can correct me if I’m off-base here.


Over email, Drudgico tells me that in his next column George Will will say it’s time to start pulling troops out of Afghanistan. I don’t especially care what George Will thinks about anything, but given the way things work hopefully it’ll provide some space to make that just a little bit more possible.

Ann Althouse

K-Lo at The Corner


UPDATE: On Will, Via Allah Pundit

Frederick Kagan at The Corner

Rich Lowry at The Corner


UPDATE #2: More on Will:

Peter Wehner in Commentary

Hugh Hewitt at Townhall

William Kristol at WaPo

Isaac Chotiner at TNR

Christian Brose at FP

1 Comment

Filed under Af/Pak, GWOT

“I’m Peggy Olson And I Want To Smoke Some Marijuana.”

From last night’s Mad Men. Margaret Wappler at LA Times:

Let us hope this line goes down in the annals of memorable TV lines. It’s not extremely clever or topical or  shocking, but it’s one of the flirtiest winks “Mad Men” has ever given us. (And it had the blogs frothing last week, thanks to an iTunes mishap that allowed the show to be downloaded early.) Fifteen years ago, a dramatic program set in 1963 might have shown its characters smoking pot, but it likely would have been  treated as the first step into a writhing pit of drugs and/or moral depravity. That’s not the case now — maybe because smoking pot is becoming trendy, as The Times’ Adam Tschorn reports.

The Adam Tschorn piece referenced:

After decades of bubbling up around the edges of so-called civilized society, marijuana seems to be marching mainstream at a fairly rapid pace. At least in urban areas such as Los Angeles, cannabis culture is coming out of the closet.

At fashion-insider parties, joints are passed nearly as freely as hors d’oeuvres. Traces of the acrid smoke waft from restaurant patios, car windows and passing pedestrians on the city streets — in broad daylight. Even the art of name-dropping in casual conversation — once limited to celebrity sightings and designer shoe purchases — now includes the occasional boast of recently discovered weed strains such as “Strawberry Cough” and “Purple Kush.”

Public sentiment is more than anecdotal; earlier this year, a California Field Poll found that 56% of California voters supported legalizing and taxing marijuana. Last month, voters in Oakland overwhelmingly approved a tax increase on medical marijuana sales, the first of its kind in the country, and Los Angeles Councilwoman Janice Hahn has proposed something similar for the City of Angels. “In this current economic crisis, we need to get creative about how we raise funds,” Hahn said in a statement.

Matt Welch in Reason:

Why are people coming out of the pot closet, to a level maybe not seen since the 1970s (pictured)? The Times ignores the practical evidence in front of them–the hundreds of medical marijuana clinice operating in Los Angeles alone, after California became among the trailblazers to legalize therapeutic pot–and instead looks at the commander in chief:

“Some people point to the Obama administration as the biggest game-changer. “It was when [former President George W. Bush] and his boys were run out of office, that made the biggest difference,” Chong said by phone near the end of the “Light Up America and Canada Tour” that reunited him with Cheech Marin.

[THC Expo co-founder Brian] Roberts cited the election as the tipping point as well. “The whole show teetered on who won the election,” he said. “If McCain had won, I’d have never have put up my money. But Americans are no longer living in fear.””Jacob Sullum wrote about how the Chong persecution and related paraphernalia busts crack down on free speech here. I analogized Obama to the Mikhail Gorbachev of pot liberalization in June.

Jonah Lehrer at Sully’s place:

My hunch is that the normalization of marijuana is here to stay. In recent years, there’s been increasing interest among scientists in cannabinoid receptors, which are the cell receptors activated when you inhale some THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. (There’s a grand scientific tradition of naming cell receptors after the drugs that activate them, which is why you also have opiate receptors and nicotinic receptors. For some still mysterious reason, a chemical in the tropical shrub cannabis sativa is able to perfectly mimic our natural neurotransmitters. As Roger Nicoll, a neuroscientist at UCSF, puts it: “The brain makes its own marijuana.” Smoking a joint just helps you make more of it.) While these cannabinoid receptors have been targeted for the treatment of a wide variety of ailments and disorders, from obesity to chronic pain, I think they might hold the most promise for the treatment of anxiety. There’s now good evidence that mice lacking a normal cannabinoid receptor have difficulty forgetting or unlearning fearful memories. This suggests that endocannabinoids – the natural molecules in your brain that work like THC – help the brain get over the negative emotions  triggered by past trauma. Of course, this shouldn’t be too surprising: Despite the fact marijuana was first cultivated almost 10,000 years ago, modern medicine has yet to find another substance that can melt away our fears with such slick efficiency.

Neuroscientists now believe that a faulty endocannabinoid system might play a part in all sorts of anxiety syndromes, from post-traumatic stress disorder to irrational phobias. The Holy Grail of Big Pharm would be a THC compound targeted to the specific parts of our brain—like the amygdala—that modulate our sense of fear. Such a pill would give us the anti-anxiety effects of pot, but without the giddiness, hunger or irrational urge to watch The Big Lebowski. While scientists still don’t know if such a site-specific pill is possible—can we just get our amygdala high?—experiments done in the next few years should help resolve the issue. If such a pill ever hits the market, of course, I think it would dramatically alter the way in which most Americans (and not just those in my liberal zip code) think about marijuana. Weed would no longer be synonymous with Cheech and Chong, or Jeff Spicoli, or Harold and Kumar. Instead, it just might be the new Prozac.

Ann Althouse:

Back to the LA Times hallucination:

“Richard Laermer, a media and pop culture trend watcher and author of several books, including “2011: Trendspotting for the Next Decade,” … points to a … subtle shift: aging baby boomers — a generation famous for tuning in, turning on and dropping out — who are keeping their party habits going into their golden years.

“It’s hard to fathom that the fifty- and sixtysomethings would be against pot after all the pot they smoked,” Laermer said, “Their kids would laugh them out of the room if they started telling them not to smoke pot.””
Hello? The Boomers have been in power for decades, so I guess we are hard to fathom. Hey, we’re deep and complex and… just as hypocritical as every other generation that ever flowered and went to seed. You can laugh at us all you want, but you actually can’t laugh us out of the room… or out of Congress.

Now, from across the pond, get the other side of the coin, Dominique Browning in the NYT:

Any parent who has had to confront a child’s drug abuse is familiar with the drawn-out agony of despair, impotence, fear, grief and, while there is still a chance for recovery, hope. That last is perhaps the most ravaging of all. Hope means you aren’t yet numb enough, not yet at peace with the chaos into which life has spilled, not yet so defeated and angry that you’re unable to try to help. Julie Myerson, a novelist living in London and the mother of three children, was finally forced to throw her eldest son out of the house — and change the locks — when his cannabis habit so deranged him that he became physically violent. He was 17 years old.

“I am flattened, deadened. I have nothing in my mind except the deep black hole that is the loss of my child,” she writes in “The Lost Child: A Mother’s Story.” Myerson undergoes a crash course in drugs. Her son is smoking skunk, she learns, a strain of cannabis whose THC content is much more potent than garden-­variety pot — except that it has become garden variety. I had never heard of skunk either, but a quick search online led me to a souk of seeds for the home farmer, advertising up to a toxic 22 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content in some strains. My shopping cart remained empty as I browsed in disbelief. Even as stronger varieties are being bred and marketed, medical research is linking cannabis use to behavioral and cognitive changes reminiscent of psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression and anxiety disorder. And yet we find ourselves arguing about whether pot is addictive or a gateway drug or should be legalized. We are collectively losing our minds. “The Lost Child” is a cry for help and a plea for a clear acknowledgment of the toll this drug is taking on our children.

Patricia Cohen in the NYT:

In a March interview with The Daily Mail, though, Jake Myerson, then 20, was quoted as saying he opposed the publication and discussed blocking it with a lawyer. “What she has done has taken the very worst years of my life and cleverly blended it into a work of art, and that to me is obscene,” he told The Daily Mail, which reportedly paid him for the interview. “I was only 17; I was a confused teenager.”

He rejected the addict label: “I just like smoking cannabis. Today my drug use is frequent and enjoyable.” Mr. Myerson could not be reached for comment.

In “The Lost Child” Jake, who is identified only as “the boy,” metamorphoses from a loving, cheerful and hard-working student into a surly, violent, foul-mouthed liar and thief who is hooked on skunk, a potent, addictive form of marijuana that experts say can cause paranoia and psychosis. At one point he strikes his mother hard enough to perforate her eardrum.

In the article Mr. Myerson did not deny that specific incidents in the book occurred, but he said that the book exaggerated and distorted what actually happened.

Rod Dreher

Skunk? I had no idea. I confess I almost never think about drug policy, and probably exist in a blithely ignorant world, thinking that my kids will stay away from drugs, because we’re raising them to do the right thing. But this review was startling, and makes me realize that it’s time to start talking to No. 1 Son seriously about drugs.

Hamilton Nolan at Gawker:

In the UK there’s a magical strain of skunk weed: It addicts teenagers, turns them psycho, prompts their mom to write a tell-all book, and then sends the nation into an uproar over said book. And it’s coming to America!

The uproar, that is! And the book. But not the weed, as far as I know, because this Crrrrrrazymaking skunk only exists in Cheech & Chong movies and the imaginations of lightweights. (And in England).

Julie Myerson is a British author. She had a teenage son. He started smoking skunk and acting progressively more crazy and unmanageable, until she had to kick him out of the house. In America this is known as “being a teenager.”

Then she wrote a book about her son’s crazy life-destroying skunk addiction. In America this is known as “capitalizing on your own brand.” Reality TV has mastered this domain! So who’s to say Julie Myerson cannot tell her son’s story, as unlikely as it may seem to your average American weedhead?

The British media, that’s who! There was a huge uproar over whether Myerson was exploiting her kid (he said she was) and whether she’s a terrible person, etc. Which, hey, helped her sell a lot of books!

Conor Friedersdorf at The American Scene:

So the current drug policy, where narcotics are illegal, produces a world where particularly potent strains of marijuana are being produced, an evolution incentivized by the need to smuggle it. A teenager, who wouldn’t be able to get pot legally even if drug prohibition ended, gets it under the current regime, and does damage to his life. This anecdote is cited as an obvious argument against legalizing pot.

I am unaware of evidence linking particularly potent marijuana to psychiatric disorders, but if that kind of reaction were happening, due to a particularly virulent strain seeping into the enormous market for illegal pot, there would seem to be two options — continue the failed policy of prohibition as though it might magically start working, or enact a regime of legalized marijuana where dangerous varieties could be mostly regulated away.

Maia Szalavitz at STATS:

In her Times review, Browning also cites a litany of anti-marijuana propaganda. She says:

“stronger varieties are being bred and marketed, medical research is linking cannabis use to behavioral and cognitive changes reminiscent of psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression and anxiety disorder. And yet we find ourselves arguing about whether pot is addictive or a gateway drug or should be legalized. We are collectively losing our minds.”

That paragraph contains so much misinformation it will take several to unpack.

For one, the old saw about stronger marijuana has been continually repeated since the dawn of the drug war; but if potency had actually increased at the rate claimed by the press, we’d have over 100% THC marijuana by now. Although potent “skunk” does seem to be somewhat more common than it used to be, the earliest potency studies were marred by the fact that they looked at unusually low quality weed, thereby suggesting that what the boomers smoked didn’t actually contain enough THC to get anyone high at all.

Nonetheless, higher potency isn’t even necessarily bad: typically, users smoke smaller quantities of stronger pot, exposing their lungs to less smoke and rendering the argument, um, less potent than it appears without mentioning that fact.

Further, what Browning also doesn’t note is that the new research linking marijuana to behavioral and cognitive changes only refers to short term changes: In other words, marijuana can make you spacey and paranoid while you are high. This is hardly news. Long term cognitive changes appear to be reversible with abstinence, according to reviews of the research.

And while heavy marijuana use has indeed been linked with increased risk of psychotic disorders, there is no consensus suggesting that this is causal. People prone to psychosis may seek to medicate themselves with marijuana but if marijuana use were causing psychosis, we should have seen an increase in psychosis paralleling the massive worldwide rise of marijuana use since the 1960’s. Over that time, however, psychotic disorders have actually been stable or may have even declined. As a recent review of the data noted:

“Only a very small proportion of the general population exposed to cannabinoids develop a psychotic illness. It is likely that cannabis exposure is a ‘component cause’ that interacts with other factors to ‘cause’ schizophrenia or a psychotic disorder, but is neither necessary nor sufficient to do so alone”

In terms of the research on major depression, at least one study found that cannabis use is linked with lower rates of that disorder and the leading researcher on the epidemiology of depression says that the data doesn’t support the idea that marijuana is a major cause of depression.  Research on the other conditions is ongoing—but there’s little evidence to suggest that marijuana is a major cause of either.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, TV, War On Drugs

We Gave Out The Underpants And Now We Collect Them


Zachery Kouwe in the NYT:

Nearly a year after the federal rescue of the nation’s biggest banks, taxpayers have begun seeing profits from the hundreds of billions of dollars in aid that many critics thought might never be seen again.

The profits, collected from eight of the biggest banks that have fully repaid their obligations to the government, come to about $4 billion, or the equivalent of about 15 percent annually, according to calculations compiled for The New York Times.

These early returns are by no means a full accounting of the huge financial rescue undertaken by the federal government last year to stabilize teetering banks and other companies.

The government still faces potentially huge long-term losses from its bailouts of the insurance giant American International Group, the mortgage finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the automakers General Motors and Chrysler. The Treasury Department could also take a hit from its guarantees on billions of dollars of toxic mortgages.

But the mere hint of bailout profits for the nearly year-old Troubled Asset Relief Program has been received as a welcome surprise. It has also spurred hopes that the government could soon get out of the banking business.

Daniel Gross in Slate:

The exhaustive spreadsheets at document the status of the 667 investments made under CPP since last fall. To date, 21 institutions have repaid the principal amount and repurchased the warrants, and 15 more have repaid the principal. Morgan Stanley, which borrowed $10 billion in October 2008, redeemed the preferred shares in June and purchased the warrants for $950 million on Aug. 12, giving taxpayers a return of 12.7 percent, according to SNL Financial. For the 21 companies that bought back the shares and the warrants, the taxpayer received an annualized return of 17.5 percent—which is better than most hedge funds have done in the past year. Since many of the largest financial institutions raised private capital to substitute for government capital, the 36 “exits”—a tiny fraction of the transactions—represent 34 percent of the total. The bottom line: Taxpayers put $204.4 billion into the banks through CPP and have received $70.2 billion in principal, plus about $10 billion in dividends and warrant payments. The repaid money goes back into Treasury’s general fund, while a small amount has been put back to work. On Aug. 21, AmFirst Financial Services in McCook, Neb., received $5 million from the CPP. Today, 633 banks still owe the Treasury $134.2 billion.

Naked Capitalism:

In a simply remarkable coincidence of timing, the New York Time running a story with the very same message, namely that bailouts are good for taxpayers because the Treasury has made money on the TARP.

If you believe that, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you. The fact that we have such patent garbage running as a front page New York Times story says either the reporter and his editors lack the ability to think critically (or find sources who could do that for them) or that we have a controlled press. Given that subscriber-driven Bloomberg has even fallen in line, I am inclined to the latter view, but I am still curious as to how this has been achieved. Is this the price of access journalism, or is something more pernicious at work?

Now to the intellectually bankrupt New York Times story. Here is how it determined the TARP was making money:

The profits, collected from eight of the biggest banks that have fully repaid their obligations to the government, come to about $4 billion, or the equivalent of about 15 percent annually, according to calculations compiled for The New York Times.

Help me. Credit 101 is that your best borrowers repay first (unless you gave them overly generous terms, of course, then they might hang on to the proceeds). A quick but not conclusive search suggests that only a small portion of the TARP has been retired, so it is wildly premature to declare victory.

In fact, another source looked at the TARP as of June and estimated that it had lost $148 billion, and had lowered loss total as a result of the repayments. Now bank stocks have rallied since then, but the biggest contributors to the red ink, namely AIG and Citigroup, are not in any better shape fundamentally than they were then. Indeed, the fact that new AIG CEO Robert Benmosche has in a remarkable show of hubris, effectively told the US taxpayer to stuff it, AIG has the dough and is in no particular hurry to return it, nor does it care what the public or Treasury wants, its demands are unreasonable. I wouldn’t hold my breath about having the loans repaid.

James Kwak:

There is also an ongoing debate about whether Treasury is getting full value for its warrants, which we’ve covered previously, but let’s leave that aside for now. The bigger question, I think, is this: Did Treasury get a fair deal for its investments at the peak of the crisis?

At the time I said no, and I still think the answer is no. The most important principle to bear in mind is that how a decision turns out has no effect on whether it was a good decision to begin with. In honor of the changing seasons, imagine it’s the first quarter of a football game and you have fourth-and-one at the other team’s 40-yard line. Anyone who studies football statistics will say you should go for it; it’s not even close. (Some people have run the numbers and said that a football team should never – that’s right, never – kick a punt.) If the offense fails to make it, the announcer, and the commentators the next day, will all say that it was a bad decision. That’s completely wrong. It was a good decision; it just didn’t work out.

Arnold Kling:

Profit from bank bailouts–so far. The profits come from banks that have paid back the government, and recall that some banks were forced to take bailout funds in the first place. We will see what happens to the full sample.

Suppose in the end that the government makes a profit of $50 billion on banks, but loses $100 billion on Freddie and Fannie. How should we count that? I would be inclined to count it as a loss on bank bailouts, because the subsidies to Freddie and Fannie end up bailout banks, which were creditors of those institutions.

Matthew Yglesias:

Two things happen in a panic. One is that huge profit opportunities arise for anyone who has a giant pool of cash or the ability to raise it. The other is that thanks to the “flight to quality” it’s suddenly very easy for the government to raise cash. Hence, profit. Which isn’t to say that we’ll see a profit overall, lots of opportunities for losses still exist:

“The government still faces potentially huge long-term losses from its bailouts of the insurance giant American International Group, the mortgage finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the automakers General Motors and Chrysler. The Treasury Department could also take a hit from its guarantees on billions of dollars of toxic mortgages.”

This should be a real worry. That said, it’s worth noting that none of this is core TARP. AIG, Fannie, and Freddie are all separate initiatives. The Fannie & Freddie bailouts were inevitable and anyone would have done them. GM and Chrysler represented diversion of TARP funds away from their main purpose (banks) toward something progressives were more friendly to. It’s really only AIG on this whole list of bailouts were I think clearly condemnation-worthy recent policy mistakes were made. The underlying situation at Fannie & Freddie was a horrible policy blunder, but it evolved over the course of decades so it’s hard to point the finger at anyone in particular.

Kevin Drum:

The money that’s being paid back first comes from the very strongest banks — mostly the ones that really didn’t need capital injections in the first place.  They were always the ones who were likely to cash out first, cash out completely, and therefore provide the government with its highest rate of return.  In other words, looking at the results of TARP so far is as distorted as if you tried to get a sense of how an election was going by polling only your own guy’s strongest precincts.  You’d just be kidding yourself.

TARP won’t end up costing $700 billion.  But these early paybacks account for only about 10% of the total and really don’t provide a very good sense of how the program as a whole is likely to turn out.  It’s more like an absolute upper bound.

Derek Thompson at The Atlantic:

Here’s what I still find incredible. In twenty years, we’ll likely look back on Obama’s first term and praise or criticize him for a swift or stalled recovery. But what’s amazing is that some of the most important and lasting decisions were made in the waning months of a lame duck presidency. TARP was a Paulson/Bernanke brainchild. The AIG bailout was a Paulson/Bernanke production. The takeover of Fannie and Freddie was in September 2008. The first-round auto bailouts were one of Bush’s final contributions. When history’s verdict on the recovery plans emerges, it focus on two months — September and October — during which time the public was arguably more focused on a campaign. Pretty amazing.

Justin Fox at Time

Meg Marco at The Consumerist

1 Comment

Filed under Economics, The Crisis

Cohabitators, Homosexuals, And Fornicators, Oh My!


Robert F. McDonnell is running for governor of Virginia. His college thesis is making the rounds.

Amy Gardner (presumably not the character from “The West Wing”) in WaPo:

At age 34, two years before his first election and two decades before he would run for governor of Virginia, Robert F. McDonnell submitted a master’s thesis to the evangelical school he was attending in Virginia Beach in which he described working women and feminists as “detrimental” to the family. He said government policy should favor married couples over “cohabitators, homosexuals or fornicators.” He described as “illogical” a 1972 Supreme Court decision legalizing the use of contraception by unmarried couples.

The 93-page document, which is publicly available at the Regent University library, culminates with a 15-point action plan that McDonnell said the Republican Party should follow to protect American families — a vision that he started to put into action soon after he was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates.


In his run for governor, McDonnell, 55, makes little mention of his conservative beliefs and has said throughout his campaign that he should be judged by what he has done in office, including efforts to lower taxes, stiffen criminal penalties and reform mental health laws. He reiterated that position Saturday in a statement responding to questions about his thesis.

“Virginians will judge me on my 18-year record as a legislator and Attorney General and the specific plans I have laid out for our future — not on a decades-old academic paper I wrote as a student during the Reagan era and haven’t thought about in years.”

McDonnell added: “Like everybody, my views on many issues have changed as I have gotten older.” He said that his views on family policy were best represented by his 1995 welfare reform legislation and that he “worked to include child day care in the bill so women would have greater freedom to work.” What he wrote in the thesis on women in the workplace, he said, “was simply an academic exercise and clearly does not reflect my views.”

Ben Smith at Politico:

The DNC is going after Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell in a kind of homage to Ted Kennedy’s famous attack on Robert Bork.

The new line of attack — drawn from McDonnell’s deeply socially conservative Regent University thesis — offers Democrats hopes of redefining a race that seemed to be slipping from their grasp.

The statement from DNC national spokesman Hari Sevugan raises the themes likely to wind up on Northern Virginia television screens some time soon:

In Bob McDonnell’s preferred Virginia, women would be stigmatized for choosing to work outside the home, access to contraception would be all but banned and women would be denied equal pay for equal work. In Bob McDonnell’s preferred Virginia, the medical decisions of women and their doctors would be criminalized and the victims of rape and incest would have no medical recourse. While Virginians want to keep the Commonwealth moving forward, these devastating revelations prove that Bob McDonnell wants to take Virginia backwards.

And to be clear, these were not the musings of young student, but rather a 34-year old married man on the cusp of elected office who would go on to doggedly pursue the extreme agenda he called for once in that office.

By undermining his main argument that he’s in the main stream of Virginians, not only has this revelation laid bare McDonnell’s real agenda, but is nothing short of a game changer in this election.

Eric Kleefeld at TPM:

On a conference call with reporters just now, the campaign of Democratic nominee Creigh Deeds laid into McDonnell.

On the call, Deeds senior adviser Mo Elleithee dismissed the push-back by McDonnell, who said that “Like everybody, my views on many issues have changed as I have gotten older,” and that the paper was “simply an academic exercise and clearly does not reflect my views.”

But Elleithee would have none of it. “This paper, which was written when McDonnell was 34 years old and months before he began his first campaign for office, this paper served as a blueprint for governing,” said Elleithee. “This paper drew out very explicitly his vision of a role for government…and it went beyond a personal philosophy, it had a 15-point action plan for how to implement that philosophy. And as the news accounts have said over the last 24 hours, he spent his public life working to implement those 15 points on that action plan.”

Elleithee also pointed out that 54% of Virginians are women — and that a “full assault on the role of women in the workplace” would not go over well with voters.

Jim Geraghty at NRO:

Well, that’s clearly an important and relevant piece of information about the candidate. For historical perspective, in 1989, Barack Obama had been cocaine-free for about ten years and was seven years away from running for public office.

Among the controversial views laid out in the piece: “He argued for covenant marriage, a legally distinct type of marriage intended to make it more difficult to obtain a divorce.”

Hey, you know who else has that far-out view? Current Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine. “Kaine announced yesterday a package of family-friendly proposals that include creating a voluntary ‘covenant marriage’ option in Virginia—an issue usually championed by conservatives.”

More Geraghty

Erick Erickson at Redstate:

So, McDonnell says people should judge him based on his record, not a thesis he wrote twenty years ago in an evangelical college. The Washington Post has decided that what he did in office was consistent with what he wrote about.

You mean to tell me we actually have a politician running for office in the United States who keeps his word? We actually have a man running for office who said if he got into office he would do certain things and then actually factually did them?! How dare Bob McDonnell be honest.

And so, if we are to believe the Washington Post — that McDonnell wrote a thesis twenty years ago and has, in his legislative career, kept his word — let’s look at McDonnell now. He’s committed to improving Virginia’s economy. He’s committed to cutting taxes. He’s committed to improving education for Virginia’s children. He’s committed to being tough on crime. He’s committed to Virginia.

If the past is the best indicator of future performance, then we have here a candidate who actually intends to keep his word to Virginia and fix things.

Then there’s Creigh Deeds. He’s made so many inconsistent and broken promises, all he’s left with is giving McDonnell’s college thesis from twenty years ago to the Washington Post and hoping they’ll do something with it.

They have. They’ve proven McDonnell keeps his word.


The dispatching of interns to college campus for purposes of digging up politicians’ old papers, newspaper columns, and self-effacing submissions to really radical but also really, like, awesome poetry ‘zines is a sacred tradition of journalism. And it is this custom that has made it possible for America to now enjoy the senior thesis of Virginia gubernatorial candidate/former attorney general Bob McDonnell, a 93-page musing on the fairer sex that is now forcing McDonnell to perform the PR equivalent of fellatio on fornicators, cohabitators, working mothers and other types of fallen women.

McDonnell didn’t take too kindly to feminists in college, especially not employed feminists, who bitch about equal pay and then use their riches to buy condoms in order to have hypersexualized types of sex.

UPDATE: Steve Benen

Will at The League

Gateway Pundit

Legal Insurrection

UPDATE #2: Hanna Rosin at Double X

Reihan Salam

Kevin Drum

Ezra Klein

Ramesh Ponnuru at WaPo

Christian Toto at Human Events

1 Comment

Filed under Families, Feminism, Political Figures

He Thought He Was The King Of America, Where They Pour Coca Cola Just Like Vintage Wine


Glenn Greenwald:

We’re obviously hungry to live with royal and aristocratic families so we should really just go ahead and formally declare it:

Bush daughter Jenna Hager becomes ‘Today’ reporter

NBC’s “Today” show has hired someone with White House experience as a new correspondent — former first daughter Jenna Hager, the daughter of former President George W. Bush. . . . She “just sort of popped to us as a natural presence, comfortable” on the air, [Executive Producer Jim] Bell said.  Hager will work out of NBC’s Washington bureau.

They should convene a panel for the next Meet the Press with Jenna Bush Hager, Luke Russert, Liz Cheney, Megan McCain and Jonah Goldberg, and they should have Chris Wallace moderate it.  They can all bash affirmative action and talk about how vitally important it is that the U.S. remain a Great Meritocracy because it’s really unfair for anything other than merit to determine position and employment.  They can interview Lisa Murkowski, Evan Bayh, Jeb Bush, Bob Casey, Mark Pryor, Jay Rockefeller, Dan Lipinksi, and Harold Ford, Jr. about personal responsibility and the virtues of self-sufficiency.  Bill Kristol, Tucker Carlson and John Podhoretz can provide moving commentary on how America is so special because all that matters is merit, not who you know or where you come from.  There’s a virtually endless list of politically well-placed guests equally qualified to talk on such matters.


Just to underscore a very important, related point:  all of the above-listed people are examples of America’s Great Meritocracy, having achieved what they have solely on the basis of their talent, skill and hard work — The American Way.  By contrast, Sonia Sotomayor — who grew up in a Puerto Rican family in Bronx housing projects; whose father had a third-grade education, did not speak English and died when she was 9; whose mother worked as a telephone operator and a nurse; and who then became valedictorian of her high school, summa cum laude at Princeton, a graduate of Yale Law School, and ultimately a Supreme Court Justice — is someone who had a whole litany of unfair advantages handed to her and is the poster child for un-American, merit-less advancement.

I just want to make sure that’s clear.


today’s post is about a particular strain of royal succession:  those who inherit their position and and whose achievement is attributable to their mommies and daddies and yet ludicrously purport to be Stern Advocates for (and Beacons of) Meritocracy and become righteous opponents of “unfair” affirmative action on the ground that only merit should determine advancement.  Not everyone who inherits their influence is guilty of that.

James Joyner:

Some of the examples are more egregious than others.  Murkowski is the most outrageous; plucked out of nowhere to be appointed to fill her father’s vacant seat by her father. Arguably, at least, those elected to public office to follow in the footsteps of famous fathers have to stand the scrutiny, such as it is, of the voters.  And Chris Wallace at least legitimately worked in the news business for years before getting tabbed to host a show.  Jenna Bush and Megan McCain seem to be celebrities solely because of who their dads are.

Liz Cheney is an especially odd case.  She is genuinely well qualified to comment on a variety of issues owing to having served for years in very important public policy posts.  Alas, it’s doubtful whether she’d have been appointed to said posts were her last name Smith or Jones.

I’m also a bit dubious of the inclusion of Goldberg, Kristol, and Carlson on the list.    Carlson and Goldberg had ever-so-modestly famous parents who presumably helped them get a foot in the door.  But it’s doubtful that Carlson got on TV based on who his parents were. Nor is it obvious why being a literary agent is of great help in launching a son as a conservative pundit. Kristol’s father was a giant and certainly helped launch his son’s career but he’s not in the same category of Podhoretz, who essentially inherited his dad’s magazine.

Dan Riehl:

However, with a Delaware Senate seat now being kept warm for the VP’s son, more Kennedys than one can shake a stick at over the years (Ted’s wife as an interim is being talked up), Bill and now Hillary having her day in the sun, Conyer’s crooked wife as a local pol, Pelosi’s daughter doing political media for bucks, Michelle Obama’s six figure slip into a position that never existed before, the Daley’s of Chicago, so forth and so on – even when Greenwald mentions Democrats, they tend to be of a more centrist, or moderate stripe.

I think were his outrage just a bit more politically balanced, I’d take it as more honest. For the most part, his list seems to have more to do with a political agenda, more so than it does a respect for meritocracy. Or, maybe he’s just pissed that, as a gay liberal, there won’t be anyone there to take the baton after he’s had his run.

Jules Crittenden:

The lefty sockpuppet also known as Glenn Greenwald is right. This nation might as well embrace royalty and be done with it. The only part I don’t get, is how he can get snarky about the fact that Jenna Bush just got a part-time TV gig, without once mentioning the colossal royal funeral we just witnessed or the subsequent succession struggle now starting to play out in the Party of the Little Guy.


And so, the ranks of our popular meritocracy continue to swell. (Glenn: you forgot America’s sand-topped devil, Peter Doocy!)

UPDATE: Adam Sewer in Tapped

Andrew Sullivan

Ta-Nehisi Coates

Leave a comment

Filed under Families, Go Meta

What We’ve Built This Weekend

construction mobile

The Dog Days of Updating:

Do/Don’t Take Your Guns To Town

The Beard Was A Scandal In And Of Itself

The Troy Davis Case

Does The Fed Keep Its Receipts In A Little Shoebox? Probably Not

A Sensitive Subject… A Very Sensitive Subject

It Was One Year Ago Today, Milton Friedman Taught The Band To Play

Talkin’ European Revolution Reflection Blues

Four Politicians And A Funeral

“And You Will Know I Am The Lord When I Lay My Vengeance Upon You”- Ezekiel 25:17, Samuel L. Jackson-Style

Leave a comment

Filed under Smatterings Of Nothing

The First Rule Of The Conservative Movement Is That Everyone Gets Read Out Of The Conservative Movement, Eventually


Richard Gamble in TAC with a provocative essay, “How Right Was Reagan?” An excerpt:

Doubting the depths of Reagan’s conservatism sounds akin to doubting FDR’s liberalism. We are so accustomed to thinking of Reagan as the pre-eminent conservative statesman of our time that any shadow on that reputation seems nonsensical. But some conservative dissidents have recently blamed Reagan for giving his benediction to the most culturally corrosive tendencies in the American character. In his recent bestseller, The Limits of Power (2008), Andrew Bacevich harshly criticizes Reagan for just this failing. Bacevich notes the irony of Carter’s seemingly more conservative plea for limits juxtaposed against Reagan’s boundless optimism. “Reagan portrayed himself as conservative,” Bacevich writes of the campaign underway in 1979. “He was, in fact, the modern prophet of profligacy, the politician who gave moral sanction to the empire of consumption. Beguiling his fellow citizens with his talk of ‘morning in America,’ the faux-conservative Reagan added to America’s civic religion two crucial beliefs: Credit has no limits, and the bills will never come due.” Bacevich charges the “faux-conservative” Reagan with nothing less than undermining America’s moral constitution, its adherence to such timeless “folk wisdom” as “save for a rainy day.”

Dissent about Reagan among conservative intellectuals goes back surprisingly far, back even to Reagan’s first term. Historian John Lukacs, writing in Outgrowing Democracy (published in 1984 and later reissued under the title A New Republic), found it necessary to put Reagan’s “conservatism” in quotation marks, calling it “lamentably shortsighted and shallow.” He conceded that much of Reagan’s rhetoric was conservative and that it spoke to certain durable conservative instincts in the American people. But overall, Reagan preached yet another version of sinless, progressive America that had more in common with Tom Paine and Woodrow Wilson than with Edmund Burke. In a chapter added in 2004, Lukacs attributed the record budget deficits of the 1980s in part to Reagan’s populist message that demanded no self-sacrifice or hard choices from the American public. They could have it all. He also credited the collapse of the Soviet Union to the Russian people’s own loss of faith in Communism and to the political skills of Mikhail Gorbachev, not to Reagan’s military build up.

In a further criticism, Lukacs traced the “militarization of the image of the presidency” to Reagan. It was Reagan, after all, who began the practice of returning the salutes of the military—a precedent followed by every president since. While doing so may seem to honor the military, it in fact erodes the public’s understanding of the presidency as a civilian office, Lukacs argued. Indeed, Fox News bears out Lukacs’s warning. The cable news giant got into the habit during the Bush II administration of referring to the president as commander in chief no matter what story they were reporting, seemingly unaware that the nation’s executive is the commander in chief of the Armed Forces of the Untied States and not commander in chief of the American people at large. If the president visits a city ravaged by a hurricane, he is emphatically not there in his role as commander in chief. If every American thinks of the president—of whatever political party—as my commander in chief and not narrowly as the Army or Navy’s commander in chief, then we have taken another decisive step from republic to empire. If every American expects the president to be the commander in chief of the economy, then we can’t be surprised by nationalized banks and corporations.

Peter Lawler at PomoCon (read the comments for the meat of the discussion):

Is the pope Catholic? Well, some think not. According to the erudite Richard Gamble, ol’ Ronald was too Puritanical in the wrong way to be conservative. He gave us irresponsible tax cuts and a “Wilson” or evangelical, transformational foreign policy. His speeches were full of an “expansive liberal temperament” that flowed from Reagan spending his wonder years in “the pietistic, revivalist world of the Disciples of Christ.” His activist faith morphed into a Christianity without Christ that became our optimistic civil religion. He had nothing but contempt for any talk about limits to our power and wealth. Real Puritans talk about original sin, personal and national guilt and all, but not the selective Puritanical civil theologian Reagan. Gamble thinks we should return, instead, to the malaisian wisdom of the 1979 Jimmy Carter, a far more authentic Christian conservative who knew that patriotism wasn’t really about getting and spending.

This article was recommended to me by the porcher page and was published in THE AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE. It goes without saying that I don’t agree with most of it, but why don’t all of you divide up into small groups and discuss. (Hint: One possible criticism is that there’s no talk about the defeat of COMMUNISM and all.)


James Poulos at PomoCon:

A semi-tangent apropos of the thread developing below on Reagan’s is-it-or-isn’t-it conservatism: it’s true that Reagan’s public brew of conservative moralism and vigilence combined with western-libertarian free-range thought, inclusive of religion, reflects in telling or cautionary ways his hodgepodge of a private life. But this has been old news since Constant, whose long tormented relationship with Germaine de Stael surely sucked more out of a man’s marrow than Reagan had lost by the time he made President. There does seem to be an inevitable — and in quarters left and right disturbing — link between the politics of independence and a culture of incoherence. The glorious jumble of conservatism, liberalism, and libertarianism on display in America since its most hashed-out Constitutional coming of age (I’ll have to leave the Civil War out of it for now) is the political byproduct and reinvestment of a culture ever without, as Philip Rieff says Tocqueville showed us, an officer class.

Mark T. Mitchell at Front Porch Republic (look at the comments there, too).

Fast-forward 29 years. Sam Tanenhaus has a new book out called The Death of Conservatism.

Lee Siegel at Daily Beast:

For Tanenhaus, the conservatives have abandoned their core values of respect for tradition and sensitivity to the necessity of change—of pragmatic, principled adaptability—for a rigid absolutism that expresses itself in a politics of destruction and mechanical negativity.The party that once stood for governmental ballast and probity in the ’50s, and for governmental order and responsibility in the late ’60s—as the liberals’ well-intentioned war and their well-intentioned welfare state came crashing down on society—now identified government itself with the forces of evil.

An interesting consequence followed. Since political power can only operate through government, the conservatives had chosen to exert their power more directly, around politics, as it were, by means of cultural confrontation, personal attack, and reflexive stonewalling. This is why conservatives seem most politically organized when out of power, and why when they attain political power, they immediately begin to act like apolitical outlaws.


What is most fascinating about Tanenhaus’s fascinating book is his nimble grasp of what Hegel called “the cunning of history.” He is ultra-sensitive to the social-psychological aspect of American politics, to the way opposing factions project themselves onto their adversary, covet and envy the opponent’s principles and social position, express antagonism by impersonating and/or parodying the enemy’s most successful values.

So, as Tanenhaus writes, the liberal rhetoric of compassion and the state’s responsibility to its most hard-pressed citizens—the poor—which led to the New Deal became the Reagan conservatives’ rhetoric of compassion and the state’s responsibility to its most hard-pressed citizens—the middle class—which led to tax cuts that undid or diminished many of the New Deal’s social programs.

Tanenhaus himself embodies this ironic complexity. He writes with warm admiration of the Ur-conservative Edmund Burke’s “distrust of all ideologies, beginning with their totalizing nostrums.” He glowingly describes how Burke “warned against “the destabilizing perils of extremist politics of any kind.” This conservative credo seems to be the root of his revulsion against today’s conservative extremists.

Jon Meacham in Newsweek:

Meacham: So how bad is it, really? Your title doesn’t quite declare conservatism dead.
Tanenhaus: Quite bad if you prize a mature, responsible conservatism that honors America’s institutions, both governmental and societal. The first great 20th-century Republican president, Theo- dore Roosevelt, supported a strong central government that emphasized the shared values and ideals of the nation’s millions of citizens. He denounced the harm done by “the trusts”—big corporations. He made it his mission to conserve vast tracts of wilderness and forest. The last successful one, Ronald Reagan, liked to remind people (especially the press) he was a lifelong New Dealer who voted four times for Franklin D. Roosevelt. The consensus forged by Buckley in the 1960s gained strength through two decisive acts: first, Buckley denounced right-wing extremists, such as the members of the John Birch Society, and made sure when he did it to secure the support of conservative Republicans like Reagan, Barry Goldwater, and Sen. John Tower. This pulled the movement toward the center. Second: Buckley saw that the civil disturbances of the late 1960s (in particular urban riots and increasingly militant anti-Vietnam protests) posed a challenge to social harmonies preferred by genuine conservatives and genuine liberals alike. When the Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan called on liberals to join with conservatives in upholding “the politics of stability,” Buckley replied that he was ready to help. He placed the values of “civil society” (in Burke’s term) above those of his own movement or the GOP.


Is there an analogous historical moment? Conservatives argue that this is 1965 and that a renaissance is at hand.
I disagree. Today, conservatives seem in a position closer to the one they occupied during the New Deal. The epithets so many on the right now hurl at Obama—”socialist,” “fascist”—precisely echo the accusations Herbert Hoover and “Old Right” made against FDR in 1936. And the spectacle of citizens appearing at town-hall meetings with guns recalls nothing so much as the vigilante Minutemen whom Buckley evicted from the conservative movement in the 1960s. A serious conservative like David Frum knows this, and has spoken up. It is remarkable how few others have. The moon party is being yanked ever farther onto its marginal orbit.

Daniel McCarthy in TAC:

In this interview with Jon Meacham, Tanenhaus makes like Basil Fawlty and doesn’t mention the war — the Iraq War, that is, which “serious conservatives” like David Frum supported. Tanenhaus had no problem criticizing the war until now and tying it to the Republicans’ dwindling electoral fortunes. But now that a Democrat is in office, suddenly health care is the thing that conservatives are supposedly screwing up. Even though attacks on the president’s plan have so far been rather popular.

But let’s go back to the idea that Republicans have somehow drifted away from the “conservatism” of TR. There’s a deep body of literature out there — Gabriel Kolko’s Triumph of Conservatism is perhaps the best known specimen — making the case that trust-busting actually favored big business. So perhaps Teddy and Enron’s recent man in the White House have something in common. And there’s another, more obvious sense in which movement conservatives are very much in the mold of Teddy Roosevelt — they are heirs to his machismo, nationalism, and militarism. Tanenhaus would probably agree that these are qualities which have not served the con movement well over the last four years (at least). But TR embodies them. He was the first to thump the pulpit for 100 percent Americanism, and he was much more eager to intervene in World War I than Woodrow Wilson was. TR is a great inspiration to neocons today: there’ s a reason the summer books issue of the Weekly Standard bears a cover image of Teddy in an inner tube. Yet Tanenhaus, who knows the neocons had something to do with the Iraq War and the Iraq War has something to do with conservatism’s death, praises TR and calls David Frum a “serious conservative.” The conclusion one is lead to is that Tanenhaus is so sympathetic to the social-democratic tilt of the neocons and economic interventionism of TR that he absolves them of the blame he knows they deserve for the Right’s ruin. Conservatives would be ill served to heed him. What’s needed is exactly the opposite of what Tanenhaus prescribes: the Right should sharpen its economic differences with the big-government Left while repudiating the catastrophic foreign policy promulgated by the likes of David Frum.

More McCarthy:

If all a Tanenhaus wants is a Right that is a.) a little abashed about how Iraq turned out, but not really repentant, and b.) in favor of a “pro-family” welfare state, then he already has much of what he wants, since Ramesh Ponnuru, David Frum, Ross Douthat, David Brooks, and a host of neoconservatives already affirm a program exactly like that. Hell, Karl Rove belongs in that category, too. These are the most prominent names in “conservative” print media, and fairly influential voices within the Beltway. They would all complain that the grassroots aren’t on board with their “moderate” military welfarism — the grassroots are too brusque, too bumptious, too worked up about Obama’s birth certificate and illegal immigration. But the grassroots Right is in the state it’s in thanks in no small part to the likes of Ponnuru, Frum, Douthat, and Brooks. Since their program of welfare for families doesn’t inspire anyone, their political allies wind up having to whip up enthusiasm for the military side of the program, and have to throw in some red meat about gays, immigrants, and abortion. But the NY-DC axis have no cause to complain, since that’s the only way to sell the public on their insipid welfare-warfare program. He who wills the end must will the means. The only means toward getting the Right to embrace the welfare state is to get the Right hopped up about real wars or culture wars. But that’s precisely what has cost the Right political power over the last four years.


Andy McCarthy at NRO links to James Piereson in The New Criterion. Piereson:

Tanenhaus argues that conservatives failed because—well, because they did not act like conservatives at all but rather as extremists and radicals out to destroy everything associated with modern liberalism. The paradox of the modern right, he says, is that “Its drive for power has steered it onto a path that has become profoundly and defiantly un-conservative.” According to Tanenhaus, conservatives have been divided since the 1950s between their Burkean inclinations to preserve the constitutional order and their reactionary or “revanchist” impulses to tear up and destroy every liberal compromise with modern life. “On the one side,” he writes, “are those who have upheld the Burkean ideal of replenishing civil society by adjusting to changing conditions. On the other are those committed to a revanchist counterrevolution, whether the restoration of America’s pre-New Deal ancient regime, a return to Cold War-style Manichaeanism, or the revival of pre-modern family values.” In recent years, he concludes, the “revanchists” have gotten the upper hand over the Burkeans, and have thereby run the conservative juggernaut over a cliff and into irrelevance. In an entry that gives the reader a flavor of some of the exaggerated rhetoric contained in the book, Tanenhaus writes that, “Today’s conservatives resemble the exhumed figures of Pompeii, trapped in postures of frozen flight, clenched in the rigor mortis of a defunct ideology.”These “exhumed figures” are presumably free-market economists and conservatives like Jonah Goldberg and Amity Shlaes, whose books have been critical of the New Deal, neo-conservatives who supported the war in Iraq, and social conservatives who have opposed abortion, easy divorce, and gay marriage. In Tanenhaus’s view, genuine conservatives would accept the New Deal and the welfare state as “Burkean corrections” that served to adjust the American economy to modern conditions. Nor would “real” conservatives have supported a war in Iraq that was based upon a utopian ideal of bringing democracy to the Middle East. He also thinks that conservatives should accept gay marriage as an extension of family values to a new area. The reason conservatives have not followed such advice, he says, is that their attachment to orthodox doctrine trumps the practical advantages of finding areas of accommodation with adversaries. In a most un-Burkean way, he says, they have allowed ideology to prevail over experience and common sense. Thus, as he suggests, the right is the main source of disorder and dissension in contemporary society and the instigators of the long-running culture war that has divided the country.

Employing this framework, Tanenhaus arrives at surprising judgments about some prominent conservatives—for example, that Ronald Reagan was a “real” conservative because, despite his rhetoric, he made no effort to repeal popular social programs but accepted them as an integral aspect of the American consensus. This is gracious on the author’s part, though it is a judgment that few liberals will accept simply because they are certain that the only reason President Reagan did not repeal many of those programs is because Congress would not permit it. After all, one of Reagan’s favorite sayings was that “Government is the problem, not the solution.” Reagan, like every other major Republican office-holder of recent decades, including George W. Bush and Newt Gingrich, was constrained in this area by a mix of congressional politics, interest groups, and public opinion. Tanenhaus also says that Buckley, while starting out as a “revanchist” in the 1950s, turned into a Burkean in the 1960s by his acceptance of liberal reforms, especially in civil rights.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Conservative Movement, Go Meta