From the monthly archives:

March 2013

Welcome! Once more, I’m trying to help people understand how policies get made from the inside, and how something that looks like a dumb idea can often be the best choice out of a bad decision set, in the context of the ongoing Euro crisis. The last one was pretty didactic, in that I was aiming to steer people down a path to the decisions I thought were being under-rated. This time, what strikes me about the Cyprus policy agenda is the sheer amount of uncertainty and ambiguity; nearly every idea could end up succeeding brilliantly or failing horribly. So this time round, I’m introducing a large element of chance.

In this episode, as in the last one you are once again a representative of the Secret One World Government, and you have been temporarily flown in to pull the strings in the island of Surpyc, which is currently experiencing a bailout crisis…

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(With thanks to Martin O’Neill for the original administrative email.)

Inspecting Iraq, in retrospect

by John Q on March 18, 2013

Following up on Corey’s piece, I want to restate a point that seems to be forgotten a lot, especially by those who went along with the Bush-Blair claims about WMDs. Until December 2002, there was plenty of behavioral evidence to suggest that Saddam had WMDs, namely the fact that he had expelled (or, more precisely, refused to co-operate with) the UN weapons inspection program. Given the benefits from being declared WMD-free, this made little sense unless he had weapons. Equally, Bush and Blair were making statements that they knew what WMDs Saddam had and fairly accurate knowledge of their location. Again, this seemed (to me, at any rate) to make no sense if they were relying on a bluff that Saddam could easily call.

All of that changed, in December 2002, when Saddam readmitted the inspectors and declared that he had no WMDs. At that point, it suddenly became obvious (again, to me, at any rate) that Bush and Blair had been making it up. I naively supposed that it would be equally obvious to everyone else, and that, as a result it would be impossible to mobilise support for war. I was particularly struck by the unanimity with which the pro-war bloggers reproduced the ever-changing propaganda lines of the Administration. No one would be surprised now, but back then, the assumption was that disputes with people like Glenn Reynolds were a matter of honest disagreement.

This is my contribution to the Erik Olin Wright Envisioning Real Utopias book event. One note: our event was originally supposed to kick off round about February 1st. You know how it goes with utopia. Delays, delays. I mention this because my rhetorical trick was going to be to check the newspapers, a week before our event, for signs of utopia. As a result, as of today, I’m quoting 7-week old newspapers. (I could have rewritten the post to suit last week’s news. But I find I like my even-more-vintage fish and chip papers better. I’m sticking with ’em.)

Let’s start by locating our author’s project – Envisioning Real Utopias – with respect to a familiar dilemma. [click to continue…]

Utopia means “nowhere” so I guess its appropriate that our seminar on Erik Olin Wright’s Envisioning Real Utopias has been in the vaporware category for years. However, we’re finally ready to go live. We’ll be putting up a post every day or two for the next couple of weeks, then Erik will respond. Some of the posts will be fairly conventional reviews, others will take some particular point as a license to jump off in new directions. Enjoy and comment!

At the suggestion of a commenter “m”, here are some useful links

buy and read the book,
Envisioning Real Utopias

or read chapters here freely accessible here

or read an article that summarizes many of the points, here

Click to access New%20Left%20Review%20paper.pdf

or listen to this talk that also summarizes a few points, starting at 54:00

Or this written version of the talk

Click to access Presidential%20address%20–%20uncorrected%20page%20proofs%20–%202012.pdf

On the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War, it’s important to remember that George W. Bush did not always or simply lie about Iraq and the threat it posed. He did not sell the war simply by making stuff up about the presence of WMD or exaggerating the threat posed by Iraq. That storyline is too easy. Bush and his allies did something far subtler—and more disturbing—and what they said was actually well within the canon of national security discourse, both on the left and the right. [click to continue…]

On the 45th Anniversary of the My Lai Massacre…

by Corey Robin on March 17, 2013

On the 45th anniversary of the My Lai Massacre,  you may want to read this, from the Washington Post:

Pham Thanh Cong leans forward, his 55-year-old face a patchwork of scars and dents, and explains what’s wrong with My Khe hamlet. Vietnamese families are built around a three-generation structure, Cong says. Parents work the fields while grandparents take care of children. In time, children will become caregivers and grandparents the cared-for. Eventually, the generations will shift and the cycle will repeat. Families have been this way since there were families in Vietnam.

But in My Khe, a generation is missing. [click to continue…]

Why Utopia ?

by John Q on March 16, 2013

The first question to be asked about Erik Olin Wright’s Envisioning Real Utopias is whether it makes any sense to pursue, or even talk about, utopian projects.

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Last month, I debated Mark Blitz, a Straussian neocon and former Reagan Administration official, and now professor of political philosophy at Claremont McKenna College, about the politics of freedom. Throughout the debate, Blitz expressed some skepticism about my account of coercion in the workplace.

At one slightly tense moment, I confronted Blitz directly about the situation of the workers at his college (1:08:35 in the video). [click to continue…]

Art and Life

by John Q on March 15, 2013

I’ve been a big fan of Frank Moorhouse’s Edith trilogy since I first encountered it nearly a decade ago. The first two volumes, Grand Days and Dark Palace dealt with the heroine’s adventures (political and sexual) as a young and optimistic Australian staff member with the doomed League of Nations. That was a fascinating glimpse of a world that had vanished well before I was born, and showed up Moorhouse’s capacity for imaginative recreation of that world, as well as the marvellous character of Edith Campbell Berry.

In the third volume, Cold Light, Edith turns up in early postwar Canberra, and there’s a sudden shift of view for me (and I guess, also for Moorhouse). The story runs into the early 1970s, when I was growing up and going to the Australian National University in Canberra. Edith is an observer and occasional participant in events ranging from the planning of Canberra to Menzies’ attempt to ban the Communist Party. Not only that, but most of the characters, with the exception of Edith and those in her immediate circle, are real people. Notable examples include Australian PMs Menzies and Whitlam, but also some academics from the early days of the ANU. I knew quite a few of them, and some of them even knew me: Heinz Arndt, for example, paid me the backhanded compliment of describing me as “a very dangerous young man” [1].

Reading and visualising a book so close to your own life is an odd experience – I was starting to wonder if I would appear in a crowd scene, perhaps outside Parliament House after Whitlam’s dismissal. For younger readers, of course, the early days of Canberra belong to the same dim past as the Kellogg-Briand Pact. They will, I think, find the book just as rewarding as I did, though in a very different way.

fn1. Arndt had been a leftwing social democrat in his early years in Australia, but moved sharply to the right later. In mischievous moods, I sometimes cited, with approval and without mention of his subsequent evolution, his early work advocating bank nationalization.

More of the same

by John Holbo on March 14, 2013

This is a follow-up to Corey’s post, I suppose.

Given that concerns about the character of the new Pope are immediately being raised regarding his conduct during the Dirty War and its aftermath, in Argentina, it says something that the National Review editors are attempting a bit of preemptive damage control on a different front. “His counting poverty as a social ill should not be misconstrued as …”

Really? The new Pope is against poverty? The editors looked at what this new Pope is known for; looked down the list of concerns and doubts people might have, upon skimming the first set of news stories, and this jumped out as the thing we need to be reassured isn’t as bad as it might look, because there’s two sides to the story? (It turns out to be ok because he’s not in favor of ‘statist solutions’ to the problem.)

I mean: I could understand if the editors decided to write a pure celebratory piece that didn’t mar the occasion by drawing attention to anything any critics are already saying. But that they decided to let a touch of concern show through, and this showed through – of all things.

And Republicans wonder why people think Republicans don’t care about the poor.

I am not a racist. I just don’t like democracy.

by Corey Robin on March 14, 2013

So here’s a fascinating moment of right-wing self-revelation.

Last month, Sam Tanenhaus wrote a piece in The New Republic saying that American conservatives since the Fifties have been in thrall to John C. Calhoun. According to Tanenhaus, the southern slaveholder and inspiration of the Confederate cause is the founding theoretician of the postwar conservative movement. [click to continue…]

The US Senate: Where Democracy Goes to Die

by Corey Robin on March 12, 2013

Every once in a while I teach constitutional law, and when I do, I pose to my students the following question: What if the Senate apportioned votes not on the basis of states but on the basis of race? That is, rather than each state getting two votes in the Senate, what if each racial or ethnic group listed in the US Census got two votes instead? [click to continue…]

Weird Arguments About Love and Marriage

by John Holbo on March 11, 2013

I haven’t watched the video of Sullivan debating same-sex marriage with Douglas Wilson (no, I never heard of him either). To judge from this First Things write-up, I can expect some familiar, bad arguments from the anti- side: first and foremost, a failure to appreciate the sense in which theological arguments ‘can’t be offered’ in this sort of debate (a failure of appreciation at least semi-shared by the author of the First Things piece, Peter Leithart.)

Sullivan demanded that Wilson defend his position with secular, civil arguments, not theocratic ones, and in this demand Sullivan has the support of liberal polity.

Sullivan’s is a rigid standard for public discourse that leaves biblically-grounded Christians with little to say.

The problem isn’t that they can’t be offered – it’s a free country! say what you like! think what you like! It’s that the person offering the argument can’t reasonably expect it to be accepted. It will be – should be – weighed in the balance as a private expression of preference. But someone else’s preference as to how I should behave doesn’t, automatically, carry much weight. [click to continue…]

The Smartest Guy in the Room

by Corey Robin on March 10, 2013

The current issue of Vanity Fair has a profile of William Ackman, the billionaire hedge fund manager who’s trying to bring down Herbalife. Ackman’s friends and enemies call him Bill; I know him as Billy.

You see, Billy Ackman and I grew up together in Chappaqua, New York. He was a year ahead of me in school. Our families went to the same synagogue. I knew his parents, and his older sister and my sister were in the same class. We weren’t friends, and he never made much of an impression on me. He was smart, but in the way many kids in Chappaqua were smart: he got good grades, obsessed about college, went to Harvard.

What I didn’t know was this: [click to continue…]