Sep 23, 2009

A New Muppet Movie!

Apparently, this past weekend at Disney's D-23 expo, the Muppets showed up on stage and announced that they will be making a new movie, called "The Cheapest Muppet Movie Ever Made", from an idea of Jim Henson's in the mid-1980's.

How exciting!

Quote of the Day

William Saletan:

Today's morality cops are less interested in your bedroom than your refrigerator. They're more likely to berate you for outdoor smoking than for outdoor necking. It isn't God who hates fags. It's Michael Bloomberg.

NB: If you don't get it, see def. #6 here.

Sep 18, 2009

Stupid Road Signs

Driving up to Michigan a few weeks ago, on the interstate, I saw a bunch of signs saying 'This project funded by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act' (or something like that). I wondered how much those stupid, worthless things cost. Apparently, millions of dollars.

Barbara Boxer, perennial liberal shill, says that being against wasteful spending on the signs means you are against government transparency. Yeah, OK, Senator. She mentioned that $33 million was spent in fliers to voters saying that their taxes were lowered in 2003 because of George W. Bush. For the record, those expenditures were stupid, too. But pointing out Republican hypocrisy doesn't really make your case any better, does it?

I Harbor Great Doubts About This...

So, the President has opted to discontinue the missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic, apparently in an effort to take down a barrier for U.S./Russian relations and, probably, to get their help in stopping Iran from going nuclear.

I harbor great doubts about this.

In 2007, when George W. Bush announced the idea* for the sites in Eastern Europe, Russia was none too happy. Russia, you see, has always considered its former imperial/Soviet lands (read: all of Europe east of Germany and north of Turkey) to be its little fiefdom. It has a vested interest for a large sphere of influence (as do all nations). However, what matters is what that sphere means.

Russia, for centuries, has had a strange obsession with autocracy. They had it in the middle ages. They had it until the early 20th century, when the finally sluffed of the czars. Then they had it again, starting about five years after that, when they agve the Reds the reins of government. Again, autocracy lasted until the early 1990's, when it was replaced by oligarchy under Boris Yeltsin. Now, under our dear friend Vladimir Putin and his protege, Dmitri Medvedev, we have it turning back towards autocracy.

The thing about their obsession, though, is this: they like to export it. The United States likes to export republicanism (usually); that's been our mantra for two hundred years. The Russians like to have client states. In the latter half of the Bush presidency, Putin got the Russian Bear running again. The knocked pride of the country from having lost the Cold War and gone into economic turmoil during the 1990's was rekindled. Putin, sensing weakness in the U.S. (both for Bush politically and for the United States militarily with our stretched lines in Afghanistan and Iraq), 'turned up the heat', as it were. Russia began pressuring its former satellites (Ukraine, Poland, Georgia) more than it had been. We didn't like the little guys being pushed around. The missile defense shield, therefore, was a twofer: it made it possible to protect against potential Iranian missiles (long-distance, however; Obama is right that short-distance missiles are better stopped from carrier-based launchers) and it said to Russia that it couldn't bully its neighbors. America would exert the democratic influence in Eastern Europe, whether the Bear liked it or not.

Obama has now foregone that assurance. By making this overture to Russia, he has chosen to appease it in order to get support for his (and Bush's) failing Iran policy of appeasement. Now, maybe, Russia won't exercise its veto power in the U.N. Security Council. However, there's still the issue of China--and the President has recently angered it over tire tarriffs--which, in confluence with Russia, usually blocks harsh sanctions against Iran. The scheme is unlikely to work. Iran is going to get the bomb unless somebody blows up their reactors (Mossad, do your stuff...), sanctions or not; direct diplomacy will simply give them a nice photo-op with the U.S., similar to what Hitler got from Neville Chamberlain when the latter sold out Czechoslovakia. It's a fool's errand to think that with a few smiles and nice incentives, they'll give up the chance to become THE power in the Middle East. And America showed that it won't help Iranian dissidents--probably our best hope of stopping the nuclear march. So that card is off the table.

Instead, what we now have is an America that will be ignored by Iran, NATO allies who know that America's promises aren't worth the paper they're written on, Ukraine and Poland--before willing to stand up to Russia with our help--now being left to cower, knowing that what happened to Georgia may easily happen to them (remember the Georgian oil pipeline? Check out the Russian-Ukrainian gas pipelines), and a supreme Russian diplomatic victory.

So, in the end, what do we get?

  • Russia maybe helps with Iran. Maybe.
  • Those who feel like America has been unduly aggressive are assuaged.

  • Ukraine under renewed Russian pressure; no effective U.S. backing
  • Poland under renewed Russian pressure; no effective U.S. backing
  • Baltic states under renewed Russian pressure; no effective U.S. backing
  • United States unwilling to exert influence in Eastern Europe, lest it anger Russia
  • No missile defense for long-range missiles in Europe
  • United States caves and looks weak; Russians declare victory
  • Ukraine and Georgia unlikely to be made NATO countries and provide a buffer for Russian expansionism, lest it anger Russia
  • NATO effectively useless (you think we'd act under Article V if Russia attacked Poland? Not under this administration, I would wager. We can't, for one thing, since our military is so overburdened. And Western Europe certainly wouldn't waste resources helping out the East. France and the U.K. will give Poland and Ukraine to Russia the same way they gave Czechoslovakia to Hitler before they willingly put troops into a fight.)
  • Iran gets photo-op with U.S.
  • Iran balks and rebuffs U.S.
  • Iran gets nuclear bomb
Potential pro:
  • Barack Obama either learns that 'discussions' won't stop apocalyptical Iranian mullahs or appease the resurgent Russians; or he gets defeated soundly in 2012 by someone who does.
Now, maybe this is a worst-case scenerio, but a) Russia has given us no reason to trust it for any reason and b) Iran has given us no reason to think that it won't use a nuclear weapon if (when) it gets one. It would be nice to hold hands and sing kumbaya, but the fact is, it's not going to happen. Western Europe won't help Eastern Europe without our cover. Therefore, by abandoning the missile defense program we've effectively told the little guy facing down the bully in a knife fight that he doesn't need a weapon, since we might help out. But we might not. And talking to the bully always helps. Trust us. Yeah.

P.S. Fred Kagan in Slate talks about why it was a good idea. He uses the example of Kennedy ending the Cuban Missile Crisis by removing our missiles in Turkey. That analogy doesn't hold since, a) even though we had to remove the missiles, we won a diplomatic victory that ended up overthrowing Khrushchev because the removal was kept secret (in this case, our caving was very, very public, and it doesn't appear that the Russians gave anything up), and b) even if it had been made public, we removed them because there were nuclear missiles in Cuba pointing at us. There was an immediate danger that needed to be resolved. Here, there is simply the vague promise of helping to stop Iran (maybe). That's not enough.

* I am aware that the link is not the original announcement, but simply more reporting on the shield from 2007.

UPDATE: Even those in the President's own party are confused, since Russia is saying that they aren't going to help with new Iran sanctions in exchange for the missile defense shield being scrapped. Apparently, the President only believes in unilateral actions when it's the U.S. conceding.

UPDATE II: The New York Times has a pretty idiotic editorial, praising Obama for his decision, saying this:

Mr. Obama will meet in New York next week with President Dmitri Medvedev of Russia. He must make clear that this decision is not a payoff for Moscow’s bullying — and that an improved relationship will depend on Russia’s willingness to treat its neighbors and its people better....The president’s critics are right on one point: The Russians will be watching him closely for any signs of weakness. Mr. Obama must be prepared to press Mr. Medvedev hard on all of these issues.

Are you kidding me? Of course it was a payoff. Putin and Medvedev just learned that under this administration, intransigence has benefits. You think they will give in now? We were willing to give up our good hand for nothing.

US: "You must treat your neighbors better, Russia."
Them: "Uh, don't mess with our internal affairs."
US: "They aren't internal. We will protect our allies."
Them: "We just seized a Georgian ship in Abkhazian waters."
US: "Isn't Abkhazia part of Georgia?"
Them: "Not since we annexed it."
US: "Well, we'll protect our allies anyway."
Them: "Oh, and don't you dare let Ukraine into NATO. Otherwise, we won't help with Iran."
US: "So you'll help with Iran if we don't let them in?"
Them: "We didn't say that."
US: "OK. Sorry."

And, are you kidding me (again)? The Russians will be looking for a sign of weakness? They just saw a sign of weakness because we gave them a huge concession for nothing in return. Giving up something for nothing in international relations is a terrible, terrible idea--especially when it is an untrustworthy competitor on the world stage, and we just did it at a time when American hegemony is already being questioned around the world and Russian hegemony is being demanded (by the Russians).

I try to work under the assumption that the NYT editorial staff just disagrees with me, not that they are complete imbeciles, but it gets tougher every day...

Sep 12, 2009

And then there were three...

I didn't know that right after I posted about Henry Allingham, the third-last British World War I vet passing away, his friend, Henry Patch died, too. That leaves Claude Choules as the last remaining soldier for the UK to have seen combat in the 'War to End All Wars'. There are still two more remaining--Jack Babock of Canada and Frank Buckles of the USA. It really is something that they've made it so long.

Sep 10, 2009

Go Ahead...

Call your girlfriend pulchritudinous and see how she reacts.

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission

The Hillary Movie Case, as it is apparently known within legal circles (or is everyone just saying that's what they call it?), was heard yesterday by the Supremes in a rare summer argument. It was Justice Sotomayor's first go in the big room. Sounds like she jumped right in. Hopefully they'll release the oral argument recording soon.

Until that time, we can settle with this: Dahlia Lithwick (who, for my tastes, I speak of far too much on this blog) has a good rundown of the oral argument, if you can get past her snide partisan remarks (e.g. Scalia "growls" at Elena Kagan, the Solicitor General, while Stevens "browbeats" Ted Olson, former George W. Bush SG; not surprising, given her penchant for hypocrisy in this arena).

I have a hard time listening to people being critical about the Court overturning its own precedent, as if that is in some way a nefarious end in and of itself. The ace in the hole has always been Plessy v. Ferguson, a precedent that was--as it should have been--overturned. According to Lithwick, "the name of the game today is watching the Roberts Five shrink formerly binding court precedent into thin air without being forced to overrule the cases themselves" (referring to McConnell v. FEC and Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, two cases upholding campaign donation limits on corporations). It's kind of disengenuous to treat the Roberts Court like some precedent-smashing, stare decisis-flouting cabal (aside: I found out this weekend that the etymology of 'cabal' is really interesting) simply for the sake of precedent itself. Lithwick, like anyone, I suppose, thinks that all cases she agrees with should be upheld and that all cases she disagrees with should be overturned. Justice Thomas--scourge of 'progessive' jurists--hasn't said it himself, but his colleague Justice Scalia has mentioned during interviews that his friend Clarence doesn't believe in stare decisis. That is, Thomas thinks that if a case was wrongly decided in the past, it is still wrong now and should be overturned. He uses Plessy as his reasoning for that. It sounds like a pretty good one to me... (Now, if Lithwick is worried that the Court will effectively overturn those cases without really saying that they are overturned--which, admittedly, the Chief has done on numerous occasions--I can buy into it. I don't think that's what she's going for, though.)

Also, Will Haun at The Bench on NRO thinks that Roberts is the swing vote in this case (Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas are on the books wanting to overturn McConnell and Austin). E.J. Dionne spends his time at the Washington Post flipping out and being dead wrong about the state of current campaign finance jurisprudence.

Anyway, the case is interesting, Lithwick summarizes the oral argument well, and I look forward to the opinion, which will hopefully be written and released shortly.

Sep 9, 2009

Opposition Responses

I just finished going between the President's health care address and Mythbusters (they were cutting cars in half...uh...awesome?). I must point out, however, now as the Republican 'response' begins, how much I hate these stupid things. Opposition responses are annoying and classless. It's one of the perks of the office of the President to be able to address Congress (it's in the Constitution, by heavens!). It was that way with George Bush. It remains that way with Barack Obama. Opposition addresses just seem childish.

That's Not Very Progressive

Exploration apparently doesn't cut it as 'progressive' enough. You know, since man's continued push toward the unknown isn't progress.

When you can spend trillions on programs that are doomed to fail.

Sep 3, 2009

Late, But Interesting

This week, I've been doing a lot of mindless busywork. Sometimes, I may be frustrated by that, but this week, I discovered the Federalist Society online.

Now, I know that most people have no idea what that is. I know that others will either think it's great or be horrified by it. For you who are going "eh?": the Federalist Society is an organization of conservative lawyers studying law and public policy from a (primarily) 'originalist' school of thought.

I have to say, their multimedia cache is really, really good. Just recently, they finished up their 2008 Supreme Court wrapup, in which they summarize every case that the Court decided. They also have a slew of conferences from months and years past that are very interesting. Today I learned about The Presidency and The Courts and Counterterrorism and the Obama Administration. If you are interested in law and public policy--even if you are a liberal or something else entirely, check it out. It's very informative.

Did This Really Happen?

It's owner, the great-great grandson of a prominent Viennese Jewish political man, says so.

Adolf Hitler and Vladimir Lenin faced off in a chess game in 1909.

The etching that is going up for sale at auction, was allegedly done by Emma Lowenstramm, purportedly Hitler's Jewish art instructor during his stint in Vienna. It is being displayed together alongside the chess board with which they played, distinguishable because of the interestingly shaped bishops and kings. On the reverse are two signatures--supposedly by the two future dictators. Though handwriting analysts aren't positive, they give an 80% chance of authenticity.

The timing would have been right. Hitler, according to Mein Kampf, arrived in Vienna in 1905 at the age of 16. Lenin at the time was meandering across Europe, fomenting socialist rage. It is not at all suspect that he could have been in Vienna, at the home of a Jewish politico.

Hitler, of course, after being rejected by the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, decided to get involved in politics. It was there, once again according to his memoirs, that he began to hate Jews.

So, it's amazing because it was possible. It will be astounding if it actually happened. Jonah Goldberg at the National Review says that if ever there was a time for God to strike a dwelling with a bolt of lightning, that game was it. Together, those two wrought the world and caused millions and millions to die. But one afternoon in 1909, before Hitler was anybody and before Lenin was taken seriously by anyone but the tsars, they may have shared a cup of tea over a quiet game of chess in Vienna.

Sep 2, 2009

Gordon Brown Is Going to get Shellacked

The UK Sun poll has Gordon Brown's New Labour at 28%, ahead of the Liberal Democrats (at 17%), but far, far behind David Cameron's Tories at 42%. Eek. That's the equivalent, the Sun reports, of a 96 seat majority for the Conservatives. That would be--ready--a 254 seat swing.

Good luck, Mr. Brown. Good luck.