Kevin Drum - July 2011

Wrecking the Country for Political Gain

| Tue Jul. 5, 2011 11:18 AM EDT

Megan McArdle writes today that if Republicans really follow though on their insane threat to allow the United States to default on its debt, it would probably be good for Democrats in the 2012 election. A reader asks: if that's the case, then why are Democrats fighting so hard against it? Why not just let the default happen, blame Republicans, and then reap the benefits next November? Megan replies:

I think some version of this question is going through many conservative minds. But it commits a fundamental error: it assumes that this is some sort of zero-sum game....What the people asking this question are missing is that the budget needn't be zero-sum: it can be negative-sum. It is possible for the Democrats to lose without the Republicans winning. Both sides can end up worse off.

Nope. In this case, we're talking about a strictly zero-sum outcome set: 435 House seats, 33 Senate seats, and the presidency. In pure partisan terms, if one side loses ground, the other side gains. That's completely independent of how default affects the country more generally.

So why are Democrats fighting against default? "Leave aside the naive thoughts that Democrats might be trying to avoid default because they, like, care something about the honor of their nation," says Megan. Indeed. I leave the rest of the blog post in the able hands of my commenters.

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Republicans and Consumer Safety

| Tue Jul. 5, 2011 10:36 AM EDT

The LA Times' David Lazarus asks a question:

What is it about consumer protection that Republican lawmakers don't like? Is it that they want to see their constituents fleeced and flimflammed by businesses? Is it that they don't care?

Hmmm. Tough question. Let's keep reading:

Or is it something as craven as carrying water for corporate interests simply because that's where the money is?

Bingo! I think we have a winner. Read the whole thing for all the grim details.

The ISI and the Murder of Syed Saleem Shahzad

| Tue Jul. 5, 2011 10:07 AM EDT

A few weeks ago I wrote about the apparent murder of Syed Saleem Shahzad, a Pakistani journalist who had long been a thorn in the side of the ISI, Pakistan's intelligence service. On May 31, he was found in a canal 80 miles outside of Islamabad, tortured and beaten, with his cell phone wiped clean from the previous 18 days. Today, the New York Times reports that American intelligence is pretty sure that this was indeed the ISI's handiwork:

New classified intelligence [...] showed that senior officials of the spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, directed the attack on him in an effort to silence criticism, two senior administration officials said.

....A third senior American official said there was enough other intelligence and indicators immediately after Mr. Shahzad’s death for the Americans to conclude that the ISI had ordered him killed. “Every indication is that this was a deliberate, targeted killing that was most likely meant to send shock waves through Pakistan’s journalist community and civil society,” said the official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicate nature of the information.

....It was possible that Mr. Shahzad had become too cavalier, said Ayesha Siddiqa, a Pakistani columnist and author. “The rules of the game are not completely well defined,” she said. “Sometimes friendly elements cross an imaginary threshold and it is felt they must be taught a lesson.”

In other news, American intelligence continues to believe that the ISI and others are actively funding and supporting Taliban militant groups in Afghanistan. Quite a partner we have here.

Independence Day Cat Blogging

| Mon Jul. 4, 2011 8:34 AM EDT

Since I forced everyone to go through Inkblot withdrawal on Friday, here's some bonus catblogging for you. This year Inkblot is decked out in all his patriotic finery (i.e., a stars-and-stripes themed tablecloth that now has to be laundered before we can use it for tonight's festivities) and expressing the sentiment on every cat's mind when they think about the greatness that is America. Happy 4th, everyone!

Quote of the Day: "He's a Rotten Prick"

| Sun Jul. 3, 2011 3:56 PM EDT

From New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney, after Gov. Chris Christie used his line item veto in an apparent attempt to punish anyone he's ever had a beef with:

This is all about him being a bully and a punk....You know who he reminds me of? Mr. Potter from It’s a Wonderful Life, the mean old bastard who screws everybody....He’s just a rotten bastard to do what he did....He’s mean-spirited, he’s angry....I liken it to being spoiled, I’m going to get my way, or else....He’s a rotten prick.

But is Christie a dick? The world wants to know.

One Finger OK, But Only Steve Jobs Can Use Two

| Sun Jul. 3, 2011 11:41 AM EDT

From patent blogger Florian Mueller, describing Apple's new patent for multitouch gestures on touchscreen devices:

This patent describes the solution at such a high level that it effectively lays an exclusive claim to the problem itself, and any solutions to it.

Roughly speaking, Apple seems to be claiming that if you use more than one finger to do something on a touchscreen, you're infringing on their intellectual property. In a sense, I guess I don't blame them. So what if Tom Cruise was doing the same thing with arm waving in Minority Report in 2002? If the law lets them get away with this, they'd be fools not to take advantage of it.

Of course, the law is an ass in this regard, but that's our problem, not Apple's. And I'm beginning to wonder if there's any solution at all to this idiocy aside from doing away completely with patents for anything you can't pick up and hold in your hands. One way or another, something really has to give here.

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Al Gore and the Referees

| Sat Jul. 2, 2011 2:08 PM EDT

Walter Russell Mead, in yet another lengthy critique of liberals who think that facts and empirical evidence ought to be taken seriously, explains to Al Gore the role of the referee in professional wrestling:

Among other things, professional wrestling works as a kind of folk satire — and well meaning progressives and professionals like Mr. Gore are among its targets. The clownish referee represents exactly the well intentioned bumblers who seek to arbitrate and rationalize the endless competition between the good and the bad guys. It is the way much of the working class looks at ivory tower intellectuals, nanny state do-gooders.

....In other words, the referee in a professional wrestling match strikes a chord in popular culture in part because he is a representation of the class which sets itself up in our society as the arbiter and judge: the professional elite, the expert and the chattering classes. The referee at a wrestling match is a populist portrait of the FCC, the NLRB, NPR, the New York Times editorial board and everyone else who does exactly what Al Gore would like to spend his whole life doing: judging mankind impartially and ruling them well. The referee is part of the entertainment who is funny in part because he thinks he is above the fray.

My first instinct was to mock Mead for writing this drivel, but hell, maybe he's right. Thanks to the now total success of movement conservatism and its assimilation of confederates like him, I guess that anyone still naive enough to care about facts and evidence really is about as ineffectual and irrelevant as your typical WWE referee. I only wish that guys like Mead would fess up to their role in this evolution, instead of pretending that it's the inevitable hydraulic consequence of some vague but inexorable tidal wave of modernism and techno-empowerment engulfing us all. It ain't so. This wasn't a global historical imperative, it was a deliberate, considered choice — and a largely American one — driven by all the usual parochial forces of money, power, privilege, and corporate ascendance that have been with us forever. We could still make a different choice if we wanted to.

Quote of the Day: Sunblock and Sexual Abuse

| Sat Jul. 2, 2011 11:11 AM EDT

From the Washington Post, in a story about a new Maryland regulation preventing adults from helping kids apply sunscreen at summer camp:

Mitchell said he did not know of any cases of inappropriate touching by counselors that might have led to the new regulations.

Sexual abuse is a serious problem, but it's long past time for America to stop reacting to it literally insanely. In this case, not only is it nuts to discourage the use of sunblock on kids ("the biggest known carcinogen that children are exposed to" the story says), but it's doupleplusnuts to do it in response to no known cases of sunblock application causing any actual problems of inappropriate touching.

Anyway, the rules are now being relaxed. However, parents will still have to sign a form giving permission for camp counselors to apply sunblock. I guess that moving from rules that are pathological to rules that are merely neurotic is a step in the right direction, but only a step. It's time to dial the fear level on this stuff way, way back.

Via Michael O'Hare.

UPDATE: I guess this is old news, and it's not just Maryland. It's not even just America. In comments, Syd Egan provides the grim news: "This has been the case in England for a while now — *no* summer camp will allow their staff to apply sunblock — you have to send your child with it, and sign that you've taught him/ her how to apply it themselves... even when the child is 3!!"

Friday Big Cat Blogging - 1 July 2011

| Fri Jul. 1, 2011 1:52 PM EDT

On the left, this is how Inkblot imagines himself when he's snoozing on the lovely, warm patio soaking up the summer heat. He is, in his imagination, King of the Jungle, lord of all he surveys. (Except perhaps for the Queen of the Jungle, biding her time outside the frame of the photo.)

This particular king was photographed in his natural habitat, a savanna in the wilds of southern New York state, aka the Bronx Zoo. On the right is a next-door peacock, because — well, why not? Peacocks are pretty creatures. I wish we had some around here. They couldn't possibly make any more noise than the damn crows, and at least they spruce up the joint a bit while they're screeching.

Inkblot and Domino are fine, just taking the week off from their exhausting catblogging duties. They'll be back next Friday.

Ed Miliband Demonstrates How to Stay on Message

| Fri Jul. 1, 2011 1:28 PM EDT

Via Time's Adam Sorensen, this is pretty entertaining. It's Ed Miliband, leader of Britain's Labor Party, who's obviously memorized the talking point he wants to make and then proceeds to make it in precisely the same words six times in a row to every question asked. One gets the impression that if the interviewer asked him how his kids were getting on at school, his answer would be, "For the sake of every child getting an education in Britain, I say these strikes are wrong at a time when negotiations are still going on." But at least the British public knows what he thinks of the strikes.

UPDATE: ITV reporter Damon Green tells us how things looked from his side of the camera.