February 7th, 2013
pejmanyousefzadeh

Take Note, Oh Blogosphere!

Andrew Sullivan basically admits to having been meep-meeped:

This was going to be the most transparent administration in history. It was going to roll back executive over-reach and put warfare against terrorism within a constitutional framework that could defend the country against Jihadist mass murder without sacrificing our values. And yet on a critical issue – the killing of allegedly treasonous citizens who have joined forces with al Qaeda to kill and threaten Americans – we were first given a memo that isn’t actually the real memo which contains no meaningful due process at all.

Now, the administration has given the Congress the actual memo, which, one hopes, does less damage to the Constitution and the English language. But why can “we the people” not see the actual memo? That phrase came up a lot in his recent Inaugural address. Funny how in practice in this respect, Obama is showing such contempt for the concept. And the “memo” Mike Isikoff procured is so legally shoddy and its corruption of the English language so perverse it almost demands we all see the real thing. To use the word “imminent” to describe something that is in the indefinite unknowable future is like calling torture “enhanced interrogation.” To lean on the word “infeasible” without any serious definition of what feasible would be is surreal. Underneath its absurd language and twisted rationales, the memo comes perilously close to the equivalent of “Because I said so.” And the core message of the policy is: trust me.

The entire passage screams “I’VE BEEN BETRAYED!” For all those who found Sullivan’s fawning worship of the president insufferable and nauseating, enjoy the schadenfreude.

December 31st, 2012
pejmanyousefzadeh

Handicapping the Fiscal Cliff Talks

The consensus used to be that President Obama held all of the high cards when it came to the fiscal cliff negotiations, and that Republicans would be forced to swallow a bad deal. But as a final deal to avert the cliff is taking shape, the consensus appears to be changing. Now, it is Republicans who appear to be getting the better of the deal, or at the very least, a far better deal than they thought they would get.

Joshua Green explains why the deal is good for Republicans:

With the caveat that no reporter is privy to the details of the offers being swapped, here is the deal that seemed to be emerging: Democrats would get an extension of unemployment benefits for 2.1 million people; they’d patch the alternative minimum tax for a year to protect the middle class from sharp tax hikes; and they’d implement a “doc fix” to ensure that Medicare reimbursement rates to doctors don’t fall precipitously and limit patients’ access to medical care. Republicans would get to preserve Bush-era income tax rates for households making up to $400,000 (rather than the $250,000 limit Democrats prefer). They’d also get a lower tax rate and a much higher threshold for inheritance taxes (set to revert to 55 percent on estates of more than $1 million on Tuesday). And significantly, Republicans would hold onto their greatest point of leverage in upcoming negotiations over entitlement cuts, because the deal wouldn’t raise the debt limit.

Here’s what’s important about everything Democrats would get: It’s temporary; everything expires (presumably) within a year. Here’s what’s important about what Republicans would get: it’s permanent. The tax rates won’t expire.

That means Democrats are offering a huge gift to Republicans and getting almost nothing in return because on Jan. 1, if no deal is struck, Democrats will get even more revenue than they’re asking for without conceding a thing. And if, as polls suggest, voters would blame Republicans for going over the cliff, Democrats are also offering to save Republicans from their worst impulses—which, at least for the time being, since they haven’t yet agreed, is to reject this deal.

I might argue with a few details here and there, but by and large, Green appears to have hit the major points in his analysis. The emerging deal has turned out far better than Republicans have feared, and far worse than Democrats have hoped.

It appears to have dawned on some liberal pundits and politicians that they ought to not like the deal. Timothy Noah calls upon congressional Democrats to kill the deal, and Tom Harkin threatens to rally fellow Senate Democrats against the deal. Matt Yglesias joins in the hand-wringing and Brian Beutler also appears to be upset. Paul Krugman calls Barack Obama “The World’s Worst Poker Player,” and then, having gotten more information on the deal, he calls the president "Conceder In Chief." Jamelle Bouie states that “if President Obama remains committed to getting a deal done before the new year, then in all likelihood, it won’t be favorable to his short-term or long-term interests.” This comment, of course, reflects the fact that Obamaphiles were and are willing to go over the cliff and risk damage to the economy in order to do better in negotiations (again, who are the real “hostage-takers” in these negotiations?). The only Obamaphile who seems to think that the White House has the better of the negotiations is Andrew Sullivan, who continues to meep meep away. One presumes, however, that if the deal does turn out to be as unfavorable to liberals as is feared on the port side, Sullivan will swiftly downshift into utterly and completely losing it, as he is often wont to do.

I guess that the only thing I have to add is that if the president does indeed end up getting outwitted and outmaneuvered in these negotiations, it will cause people like me to ask anew how it is possible that Republicans could have lost the 2012 presidential election to him. But maybe that’s a different matter for another day.

December 20th, 2012
pejmanyousefzadeh

In Which People Try to Attack Megan McArdle, Only to Make Themselves Look Ridiculous

In the aftermath of the Newtown shooting, Megan McArdle wrote a column in which she advocated the following:

… I’d also like us to encourage people to gang rush shooters, rather than following their instincts to hide; if we drilled it into young people that the correct thing to do is for everyone to instantly run at the guy with the gun, these sorts of mass shootings would be less deadly, because even a guy with a very powerful weapon can be brought down by 8-12 unarmed bodies piling on him at once.  Would it work?  Would people do it?  I have no idea; all I can say is that both these things would be more effective than banning rifles with pistol grips.

This prompted hoots of derision from Jonathan Chait, which set off a generalized port-side mockumentary of McArdle’s idea. For good measure, Chait sarcastically allowed that McArdle’s column might be “a very subtle parody of libertarianism.” Andrew Sullivan, being the blogospheric cheap shot artist that he is, actually awarded McArdle a Malkin Award nomination. For those of you who are blessedly unaware of Sullivan’s various silly awards, the Malkin Award is for shrill, hyperbolic, divisive and intemperate right-wing rhetoric.” I have absolutely no earthly clue how encouraging targets of a gunman to gang rush the gunman in order to perhaps give those targets a fighting chance at living through the ordeal qualifies as “shrill, hyperbolic, divisive and intemperate right-wing rhetoric,” but I’m not Andrew Sullivan. (Speaking of which, barukh Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melekh ha-olam, shelo asani Andrew Sullivan.)

But hey, guess what! Turns out that going after McArdle for this is more than a little bizarre. Let’s turn the microphone over to Jeffrey Goldberg:

McArdle’s suggestion is crazy, right? In many ways, yes, but it should be noted that this is not actually her idea — it is a recommendation disseminated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The federal government’s “active shooter” policy suggests that, as a last resort, a person facing an armed killer should “attempt to incapacitate the shooter” and “act with physical aggression and throw items at the active shooter.” 

Mocking McArdle for her notion seems quite uncharitable, when you have an entire federal bureaucracy to mock. The truth is, of course, that attacking someone who is trying to shoot you (the old, “run from a knife, run to a gun” idea of self-defense) beats dying without a fight, but it’s still fairly ineffective. The heroic school principal and school psychologist in Newtown charged Adam Lanza, but were shot before they could “incapacitate” him. (DHS doesn’t say anything about small children swamping a shooter, but McArdle is ambiguous in her post on the question of whether she means small children or not. Obviously, first graders aren’t going to be attacking shooters.)  

In my recent article advocating for concealed-carry (and for stricter gun laws, as well), I provided several examples of idiotic-sounding recommendations that universities (which are usually self-declared “gun-free” zones) pass on to students, staff and faculty in the event of an “active shooter” attack. These recommendations motivated me to rethink the issue of concealed-carry. From the article:

Wichita State University counsels students in the following manner: “If the person(s) is causing death or serious physical injury to others and you are unable to run or hide you may choose to be compliant, play dead, or fight for your life.”

The University of Miami guidelines suggest that when all else fails, students should act “as aggressively as possible” against a shooter. The guidelines, taken from a Department of Homeland Security directive, also recommend “throwing items and improvising weapons,” as well as “yelling.”

Otterbein University, in Ohio, tells students to “breathe to manage your fear” and informs them, “You may have to take the offensive if the shooter(s) enter your area. Gather weapons (pens, pencils, books, chairs, etc.) and mentally prepare your attack.”

West Virginia University advises students that if the situation is dire, they should “act with physical aggression and throw items at the active shooter.” These items could include “student desks, keys, shoes, belts, books, cell phones, iPods, book bags, laptops, pens, pencils, etc.”

The University of Colorado at Boulder’s guidelines state, “You and classmates or friends may find yourselves in a situation where the shooter will accost you. If such an event occurs, quickly develop a plan to attack the shooter … Consider a plan to tackle the shooter, take away his weapon, and hold him until police arrive.”

So McArdle’s idea is in line with that of the Department of Homeland Security and a host of educational institutions. It is also the plan that was adopted in Sandy Hook. We call the people who tried to take down Adam Lanza heroes—and rightly so—but when McArdle says that more people ought to try to implement these tactics, she is the subject of ridicule? The mind boggles. I mean, it’s one thing to politely but firmly hold that McArdle’s idea may not work—or at least, may not work cleanly. I’ll readily point out that if you tell people to gang rush a shooter and explain why it might work, the reaction you are going to get is “okay, you first.” And it’s not irrational to think that; everyone wants to live and most people are willing to be free-riders on the backs of those who do the dangerous work of leading the charge against a gunman. But it’s another thing altogether to get the vapors, clutch your pearls and look around frantically for the fainting couch simply because McArdle decided to advocate an idea that is already advocated by DHS and a number of universities, and was implemented at Sandy Hook. 

And of course, it’s all especially hilarious given the attempts by Chait and others to shoehorn attacks on libertarianism in their replies. If Megan McArdle so much as orders red wine with fish, people like Jonathan Chait will blog about it and will try to convince you that this gastronomic faux pas is all the evidence you need to know for a certainty that Frédéric Bastiat, Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, and Robert Nozick were all full of it.

December 20th, 2012
pejmanyousefzadeh

Is Chuck Hagel Smart Enough to Run the Pentagon?

As I see it, the next secretary of defense will be faced with—among other things—the following big-think policy challenges:

  • Figuring out the long term size and scope of the defense budget in light of the fiscal situation at home and the nature of American military commitments abroad—especially in Afghanistan and Iraq.
  • Figuring out the configuration of American force structure.
  • Figuring out the configuration of American force doctrine. Are we going to go small? Are we going to go small but continue to augment our counterinsurgency capabilities in the process? Are we going to go bigger?
  • Figuring out how the military will play with intelligence agencies like the CIA, the DIA and the NSA, as well as what the size and scope of the Pentagon’s intelligence structure is going to be.
  • Figuring out what steps it wants to take when it comes to the issue of defense transformation.
  • Figuring out what its long term doctrine is going to be regarding the use of drones in warfare.
  • Figuring out how best to run military tribunals, how best to administer indefinite detention, and what to finally do about the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay.
  • Trying to convince regional powers that are allies of the United States to take a greater role in their own defense.

I am sure that I am missing various other agenda items, but I figure that ticking off eight big ones will suffice for the moment. To state the incredibly obvious, most—if not all—of these agenda items cannot be kicked down the road by the next defense secretary. They are going to have to be addressed quickly and comprehensively. And all of this means that the next defense secretary has to be very smart, and very intellectually steeped in defense/national security policy. We need a deep thinker with excellent management skills to run the Pentagon.

I write the above as a prelude to linking to this column, in which David Ignatius rightly wonders whether Chuck Hagel really is all that and a bag of chips:

The harder puzzle for the White House is whether Hagel would be the best manager during an important inflection point in Pentagon history. The U.S. combat role in Afghanistan will be ending, and the services will be fighting over how to divide a shrinking budget.

Hagel brings some obvious pluses on both counts: As a Republican and a genuine military hero when he served as an enlisted man in Vietnam, he can give President Obama cover as he executes the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Hagel is angry about what he sees as the misconceived wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as perhaps only a combat veteran can be. If he had his way, the troops probably would have come home yesterday. But this impatience is also slightly worrying. The withdrawal will succeed only if our military leaves an Afghanistan that can hold together.

Hagel’s military record is surely one big reason why the president wants him. He’s a guy who, as Reed says, knows how to talk to the troops and has walked in their boots. He’s blunt, direct and impatient with pettifogging. In these traits, he’s similar to the current secretary, Leon Panetta, and his predecessor, Bob Gates. And like both of them, Hagel has a temper.

Gates was the most successful defense secretary in modern times, for reasons worth considering now. He understood how to manage the Pentagon and did it not by getting down in the weeds but by staying above them. He delegated the busywork to Pentagon bureaucrats and made the big decisions himself. He was effective partly because people were scared of him. They knew that if they crossed the secretary, they would get fired. This brought a rare accountability.

Hagel could do the tough, no-nonsense-boss part of the job. But Gates had another essential talent that will be harder to match. He was a genuine national-security intellectual, who had studied how to manage and motivate huge institutions when he was director of the CIA and at the National Security Council. He knew the big strategic things about defense policy, but he also knew the little technical things. Gates was such a sawed-off shotgun of a guy that it was easy to miss that he was also a subtle thinker.

Nobody who knows Hagel would describe him as a defense intellectual. He’s more blunt than nuanced. How would he steer Pentagon procurement decisions in this age of new technologies and strategic matrices? I’m not sure. How would he manage the chiefs in their knife fights over the budget? Again, I’m not sure.

Well, we need to be sure. And needless to say, demanding serious and detailed answers of Hagel regarding these issues is not some neocon/Greater Israel/Jewish lobby/AIPAC machination designed to serve the interests of people Andrew Sullivan and Stephen Walt hate with a Gollumesque passion. If Hagel can give serious and detailed answers regarding these and other issues, I will be favorably impressed and I will write as much. If not, he has no business whatsoever being the next secretary of defense.

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