• Friday Cat Blogging – 17 November 2017

    Check out the tongue action! It’s a good thing cats don’t see the pictures we post of them. If they did, we’d all be toast.

    Also note Hopper photobombing Hilbert in the background. She’s a slick one, that Hopper.

  • Raw Data: US Military Actions Abroad Since 1798

    Via a tweet from Dan Drezner, here’s a chart showing every US military action abroad since 1798:

    There are reasons to take this with a grain of salt. The CRS report includes purely humanitarian missions, for example (“2014: Southern Philippines Humanitarian Assistance for Typhoon Bopha”) and it also seems to count separate actions in a single conflict as distinct uses of force (1994 includes five separate entries for Bosnia).

    That said, if I’ve counted correctly the longest span without a military action overseas was 1934-40, when I guess we were too busy with the Depression to flex our muscles.

  • Republicans Confirm Yet Again That Their Promises Are Worthless

    Jeff Malet/Newscom via ZUMA

    Another lesson learned today: never give Republicans the benefit of the doubt. It’s not as if I make a habit of this, but every once in a while I go soft. And it always comes back to haunt me.

    Here’s the story. For the six years he was in charge of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy—a Democrat—maintained the blue slip tradition. That is, if home-state Republicans objected to a judge nominated by President Obama, the nomination got pulled. That was very fair-minded of him! When Chuck Grassley took over after the Republican wave of 2014, he naturally maintained the same rule since he too liked the idea of Republicans being able to block Obama’s nominees. The question was: would Grassley stick to this rule when it meant giving Democrats the ability to block Trump’s nominees?

    I predicted he wouldn’t, because Republicans have always played games with the blue slip rule to favor their own cause. But then I hedged a bit last month. And so did Leahy, who noted that Grassley had promised to respect the blue slip tradition. “I trust him to keep his word,” Leahy said. That sure was stupid:

    Grassley rips up ‘blue slip’ for a pair of Trump court picks

    The Iowa Republican announced Thursday that he is going ahead with a confirmation hearing for a nominee to the powerful appellate courts despite the objections of a Democrat who had been blocking the nomination for months….Grassley says he has scheduled hearings for David Stras, a nominee to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), Stras’ home-state senator, said earlier this year that he would not return the so-called blue slip for Stras because of his conservative ideology.

    “The Democrats seriously regret that they abolished the filibuster, as I warned them they would,” Grassley said in his floor speech. “But they can’t expect to use the blue slip courtesy in its place. That’s not what the blue slip is meant for.”

    For more than two decades Republicans have flipped the blue-slip rule whenever it favored their own party. If a Democrat was president, they supported it. If a Republican was president, they ditched it. Now they’ve flipped yet again. Big surprise.

    No response yet from Leahy. I’ll keep my eyes peeled.

  • Beware Your Leggings If You Sit Down With Anna Wintour

    New Vanity Fair editor Radhika Jones in a 2008 photo.Beowulf Sheehan/ZUMA

    Radhika Jones is the editorial director of the books department at the New York Times. She was recently named editor of Vanity Fair and headed over to get acquainted with her new staff and the rest of the Condé Nast team:

    Jones’ choice of hosiery proved most offensive, according to the editor. For the occasion, Jones had chosen a pair of tights — not in a neutral black or gray as is common in the halls of Vogue — but rather a pair covered with illustrated, cartoon foxes.

    The animal caricatures may have also been too much for Vogue editor in chief and Condé Nast artistic director Anna Wintour, who is said to have fixed one of her trademark stoic glares upon Jones’ hosiery throughout the duration of the staff meeting.

    Unnerved by Jones’ choice of legwear — and Wintour’s reaction — the fashion editor proclaimed to her friends: “I’m not sure if I should include a new pair of tights in her welcome basket.” Jones is said to begin her new role on Dec. 11.

    OK, I surrender. Civilization probably was a big mistake after all.

  • Was Civilization Just a Big Mistake?

    This is *not* what wheat looked like 10,000 years ago. It was tiny and hard to grow and barely worth the trouble. But it was still better than starving.Sebastian Gollnow/DPA via ZUMA

    Andrew Sullivan summarizes the thesis of James Scott’s Against the Grain, an account of the emergence of the earliest states in human civilization:

    The usual narrative is that this was progress, the use of intelligence to finally better our lot, leading to writing and culture and politics and what we call civilization. But that drastically misreads much of the evidence….Our health declined sharply; our average height diminished; our diet worsened….And the evidence shows that most humans at the time were understandably unimpressed. The persistence of hunter-gatherer communities throughout the early state era — and their healthier, more leisurely, and just as intelligent lives — made many suspicious of the new way of life.

    ….But for a few, the new order gave them extraordinary power. Control the territory and you control a lot. And so civilization begins with exploitation, hierarchy and control. The relative egalitarianism and intergenerational communities of human society for over 190,000 years slowly attenuated. Slavery soon emerged as a way to maximize labor and power. Walls were built around these settlements not to keep “barbarians” out but to keep the enslaved or controlled inside. The deeper you read into the book, and mull its research, the harder it is to ignore the possibility that modern civilization has, in one respect, been a gigantic, species-level mistake, a bid for power and mastery over nature and other human beings that has led to stunning achievements, but also untold misery and suffering.

    In Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond makes roughly the same argument—agrarianism was worse for most people than hunting and gathering—but with a different explanation for why it happened anyway. It’s not that anyone initially thought it would give them immense power, it’s just that humans hunted big game nearly to extinction. Staple crops were pretty crappy before thousands of years of breeding turned them into the wheat and rye and millet that we have today, but they were still marginally better than starving. As time went by, hunting became harder and crops got better, and civilization began. This did eventually give a few humans extraordinary power over the rest, but that wasn’t the motivation at first.

    If I had to take a lesson from this, it’s not that a crop-based diet was a huge mistake. It’s that technological progress always provides an opportunity for the powerful to become even more powerful, and that’s something we should be watchful for. Take robots, for example….

  • Congress Timidly Complains About the War in Yemen

    Hani Al-Ansi/DPA via ZUMA

    I failed to note this a couple of days ago, but it’s worth posting about:

    In a rare exercise of its war-making role, the House of Representatives on Monday overwhelmingly passed a resolution explicitly stating that U.S. military assistance to Saudi Arabia in its war in Yemen is not authorized under legislation passed by Congress to fight terrorism or invade Iraq.

    ….It states, in part, that U.S. military operations are authorized to fight only Al Qaeda and other allied terrorist groups in Yemen, not Shiite Muslim rebels. “To date,” the resolution says, “Congress has not enacted specific legislation authorizing the use of military force against parties participating in the Yemeni civil war that are not otherwise subject to” the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force or the 2003 AUMF in Iraq.

    The resolution is nonbinding, but it passed 366-30. That’s a start. On the other hand, with massive bipartisan support like that, you’d think Congress would have the guts to actually do something about it. But apparently not.

    Yemen is one of President Obama’s worst legacies. The war itself is horrible, but even if you support it you should be badly disturbed at the fact that we’re fighting it with no congressional input or approval. In practice, the AUMF has become a blank check for any war involving Muslims. That needs to stop.

  • Liberalism Demands That We Treat People Fairly, Even When It’s Hard

    After going back and forth a bit about Al Franken’s sexual misconduct—he was a comedian at the time and his victim has accepted his apology, but then again, forgiving him could derail the movement to hold sexual predators accountable—Michelle Goldberg concludes that Franken should resign:

    It’s not worth it. The question isn’t about what’s fair to Franken, but what’s fair to the rest of us. I would mourn Franken’s departure from the Senate, but I think he should go, and the governor should appoint a woman to fill his seat. The message to men in power about sexual degradation has to be clear: We will replace you.

    No. The message to men in power should be: we will treat you fairly. That should be our message to everyone, the guilty and the innocent alike. If we get to the point where we sacrifice individuals just for the sake of movement optics, that’s where I get off the train.

  • Behold the Latest In Management Consultant BS for the State Department

    Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been busily decimating the State Department despite the fact that both Democrats and Republicans want the department staffed at roughly the same level as last year. But will Congress ever do anything about this? Apparently they’re getting close, and Politico’s Nahal Toosi reports that even Sen. Bob Corker is starting to get impatient:

    Tillerson’s proposed cuts to the State Department’s staff and budget have drawn growing bipartisan fire from Capitol Hill for months. But Corker’s criticism stands out. Until recently, Corker has been a steadfast ally of Tillerson, whose nomination he championed and whom he has described as one of the adults around Trump who “separate our country from chaos.”

    ….Last week, a bipartisan group of Senate staffers met with Tillerson aides to get an update on Tillerson’s plan to reshape his department. The State staffers shared a presentation, a copy of which was obtained by Politico, that infuriated the Senate aides with its lack of substance. “Part of the frustration is that they briefed entirely on process as opposed to what they actually plan to do,” said a Senate aide who attended the session.

    ….In a hearing Tuesday, Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, blasted Tillerson, pointing to reports of an exodus of senior diplomats from the Foreign Service. He also slammed Tillerson for being slow or simply unwilling to answer lawmakers’ questions about what is happening to America’s diplomatic ranks. Corker said he agreed with “many” of Cardin’s criticisms and mentioned the “unsatisfactory” meeting between Senate and Tillerson aides.

    “Unsatisfactory”? Check out a typical slide from the presentation Tillerson’s staffers shared:

    After nine months, this is all they’ve got? Management consultant gobbledygook? And it gets worse. Here’s a description of how they’re going to develop high-performance leaders:

    For senior leaders accountable for the future of State and USAID and for fulfilling the organizations’ missions, each participant will lead a Breakthrough Project in their work area with defined mission impact, taking them to an entirely new echelon of impact, leadership, inspiration and delivered results.

    A new echelon of impact! This is flat-out embarrassing stuff. Can’t Tillerson at least pay for good management consultant BS? Or does he not know the difference?

  • Did President Trump Approve a Deal That Allowed Hundreds of ISIS Fighters to Escape Raqqa?

    Morukc Umnaber/DPA via ZUMA

    President Trump has insisted for a long time that his attitude toward ISIS will be nothing like President Obama’s. There will be no compromise, no pragmatism, no half measures. He will destroy them to the last man and completely annihilate their organization.

    That makes it odd that this deeply-reported BBC story hasn’t gotten more attention:

    The BBC has uncovered details of a secret deal that let hundreds of IS fighters and their families escape from Raqqa, under the gaze of the US and British-led coalition and Kurdish-led forces who control the city.

    ….The deal to let IS fighters escape from Raqqa — de facto capital of their self-declared caliphate…would spare lives and bring fighting to an end. The lives of the Arab, Kurdish and other fighters opposing IS would be spared. But it also enabled many hundreds of IS fighters to escape from the city….Has the pact, which stood as Raqqa’s dirty secret, unleashed a threat to the outside world — one that has enabled militants to spread far and wide across Syria and beyond?

    ….Publicly, the SDF said that only a few dozen fighters had been able to leave, all of them locals. But one lorry driver tells us that isn’t true. “We took out around 4,000 people including women and children — our vehicle and their vehicles combined. When we entered Raqqa, we thought there were 200 people to collect. In my vehicle alone, I took 112 people.”

    ….Another driver says the convoy was six to seven kilometres long….Footage secretly filmed and passed to us shows lorries towing trailers crammed with armed men. Despite an agreement to take only personal weapons, IS fighters took everything they could carry. Ten trucks were loaded with weapons and ammunition.

    ….In light of the BBC investigation, the coalition now admits the part it played in the deal. Some 250 IS fighters were allowed to leave Raqqa, with 3,500 of their family members.

    Was this a good deal to make? It might have been. But it is decidedly not what Trump promised. Instead of annihilating ISIS, he allowed hundreds of ISIS fighters with tons of armaments to escape into ISIS-controlled territory in Syria—where they are free to take up arms again against American forces. As commander-in-chief, I assume Trump himself approved this deal. Why isn’t anyone asking him about this?

  • Should Al Franken Resign?

    Earlier this morning, radio newscaster Leeann Tweeden revealed that Sen. Al Franken had behaved inappropriately toward her during a USO tour of the Middle East in 2006. During a rehearsal for a skit that included a kiss, she says, he stuck his tongue in her mouth, and then took this picture on the way home:

    Franken immediately acknowledged what had happened and apologized. This prompted the now drearily familiar round of pronouncements that he hadn’t apologized enough. “No matter what your political affiliation,” wrote Chris Cillizza at CNN, “you have to see how inadequate Franken’s first apology is.” So Franken apologized again. Oddly, Tweeden herself thought his apology had been just fine. Both of them:

    No matter. Ed Kilgore thinks Franken is toast:

    Franken is almost certainly going down, and the only question is whether he can somehow tough it out until the end of his current term in 2020. The odds are very low that he can, particularly since his entire career in politics and comedy is now going to come under fresh scrutiny for misogyny and/or hypocrisy.

    There are two problems here. The first is that too many liberals feel that they have to respond in a maximal way to every possible incident of sexual harassment, partly to maintain their own woke credibility and partly because they want to make sure conservatives can’t accuse them of hypocrisy. The second problem is that we don’t seem to have any good way of talking proportionately about this stuff.

    All I mean is this: Not all offenses are the same. Shoplifting is not as bad as grand theft. Assault is not as bad as murder. Saying this doesn’t imply approval of either shoplifting or assault; it’s merely a statement of uncontroversial fact. Likewise, not all sexual abuse is equal. Harvey Weinstein’s rap sheet includes dozens of accusations of groping, forced massages, and possibly rape. Louis C.K. masturbated in front of actresses multiple times. Roy Moore routinely chased after high school girls when he was in his 30s and appears to have aggressively assaulted at least two of them.

    By contrast, Franken thought he was joking around but went farther than he should have. Once.¹ It’s no whitewash to say that this is a considerably lesser offense. But if the only response we have to any kind of sexual abuse is to insist on resignation from office and expulsion from public life—mostly to protect our own reputations—we are not acting with any sense of proportionality. We need to start. Listen to Leeann Tweeden, folks.

    ¹There’s allegedly a second accusation coming out later today, something that Roger Stone tweeted about last night. It is, for now, suspicious in the extreme and appears likely to be a conservative ratfuck. We’ll see.