Kevin Drum

Remembrance of Houses Future

| Tue Dec. 2, 2008 4:34 PM EST

REMEMBRANCE OF HOUSES FUTURE....If, like me, you adored the House of the Future at Disneyland when you were seven years old, you might enjoy P.J. O'Rourke's account of his visit to the HP/Microsoft revival version this summer. Unsurprisingly, considering the designers, it was closed down at the time due to "technical difficulties," but he was at least able to view it from above:

According to Disney, the shape of things to come can be found at Pottery Barn, with a quick stop in Restoration Hardware for "classic future" touches and a trip to Target to get throw rugs and cheap Japanese paper lanterns. HoF II was designed by the Taylor Morrison company, a home builder specializing in anodyne subdevelopmental housing in the Southwest.

....Any random dull normal person (we have one in our family) could come up with snappier ideas for the future than HoF II seems to contain. How about self-washing windows? Automobiles have had them since the 1930s. And have you watched the clever manner in which convertible car tops operate? What keeps that technology from being applied to self-making beds?....I didn't even see one of those robot vacuum cleaners that trundles around hoovering on its own agenda, never mind, say, a helium balloon with a propeller and a mop of feathers that flies about dusting things (it might not do a very good job dusting, but at our house neither do we).

More here on the original HoF if you want a trip down memory lane. More here on the new one.

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The Shootout in Mumbai

| Tue Dec. 2, 2008 3:56 PM EST

THE SHOOTOUT IN MUMBAI....After a photographer at the Mumbai Mirror expressed his dismay that police on the scene didn't immediately open a gun battle against the terrorists behind last week's attacks, it became a trope in the right blogosphere that many lives could have been saved if only the Mumbai police had been more ballsy. "This whole unwillingness to shoot business is becoming a problem," sighed Instapundit.

Today, however, Israeli defense officials had a different take in the Jerusalem Post:

"In hostage situations, the first thing the forces are supposed to do is assemble at the scene and begin collecting intelligence," said a former official in the Shin Bet's security unit. "In this case, it appears that the forces showed up at the scene and immediately began exchanging fire with the terrorists instead of first taking control of the area."

I report, you decide. But if it were me, I'd probably listen to the Shin Bet folks. Via Robert Farley.

Fairness Doctrine Update

| Tue Dec. 2, 2008 3:17 PM EST

FAIRNESS DOCTRINE UPDATE....The conservative Media Research Center, not content with the current state of the art in wacko conspiracy theorizing about the imminent return of the Fairness Doctrine, has decided to create a whole movement to oppose it. The newly created Free Speech Alliance is, they say, "a gathering of a multitude of organizations and hundreds of thousands of individual citizens" designed to prevent the revival of something that no one is working to revive. Alex Knapp explains what's up:

Given the current political climate, conservative wins in the next two years are going to be few and far between. So conservative lobbying organizations are going to need a lot of funds to get anything accomplished. But it's hard to raise money when it looks like you're losing all the time. The solution? Raise money by fighting a policy that nobody supports! The continued lack of a Fairness Doctrine is the MRC's ticket to "proving" that their being effective with their donations. All they have to do is harp in their fundraising letters that they're being "successful" in fighting the Fairness Doctrine, and voila! Instant comparative advantage!

That's pretty much the NRA strategy these days too, and it seems to work pretty well. Maybe it'll work out for the MRC too.

Democrats at the Pentagon

| Tue Dec. 2, 2008 1:53 PM EST

DEMOCRATS AT THE PENTAGON....With Republican Bob Gates staying on as Secretary of Defense, does that mean that all his Republican deputies will be staying on too? Matt Yglesias says no:

To provide some background and context, you need to understand that a lot of these guys were never Gates' people anyway. Gates and Donald Rumsfeld had some pretty different ideas about a lot of stuff, but when Gates joined the Bush administration he wasn't given the opportunity to clean house, fire everyone, and bring his own people on board. Since he's been in office for a couple of years there's been some turnover since that time, but still a guy like [Eric] Edelman has always been a Cheney/Rumsfeld guy who happens to be serving as one of Gates' top deputies, not a Gates guy who Gates is desperate to hang on to. In fact, I think we can be fairly certain that Gates' views are closer to those of a moderate Democrat like [Michèle] Flournoy than to Edelman. So whether or not to get rid of people probably wasn't a bone of contention between Gates and the transition. What needs to be negotiated isn't whether or not some of these folks need to go, it's who to replace them with.

I doubt that Obama has asked for a complete purge of the upper ranks of the Pentagon, but at the same time it's almost inconceivable that his conversations with Gates didn't make clear that a whole bunch of Democrats ought to move into senior positions pretty quickly. Gates, not being an idiot, surely understands this as the way the world works, and is OK with it.

Counterinsurgency

| Tue Dec. 2, 2008 1:37 PM EST

COUNTERINSURGENCY....Over at the Washington Independent, Spencer Ackerman referees an argument between Jason Brownlee and Andrew Exum about whether the Army's new focus on counterinsurgency is inherently imperialistic. Long story short, Brownlee says it is, Exum says COIN is just a tool and it's only imperialistic if Congress and the president use it for imperialistic ends, and Ackerman agrees with Exum. It's worth a quick read if you're interested in this kind of thing.

But as long as we're on the subject, I'll bring up a different concern, one that I'm just going to throw on the table since I don't really have the chops to write anything definitive about it. It's this: even now, after years of hearing from experts about how hard counterinsurgency is, do we really understand how hard it is? Imperialistic or not, my fear is that the success of the surge in Iraq, which was in large part coincidental, and the growing influence of David Petraeus and his proteges, has convinced policymakers that counterinsurgency is rapidly becoming a standard part of our military kit bag, one that we can count on in the future.

But I doubt that. It's still the case that in the entire history of the world since WWII, big power counterinsurgency has virtually no success stories. Malaysia is the famous exception, but the circumstances there were unusual, it took a very long time anyway, and it's almost certainly not repeatable. Likewise, although Petraeus's success in Iraq is unquestionably due partly to his adoption of superior tactics during the surge, that was only one of the Five S's that allowed his counterinsurgency doctrine to work. Without taking anything away from him, this just isn't an indication that COIN is any easier to pull off than it ever has been. It certainly doesn't seem to be making much headway in Afghanistan.

So that's that. Maybe some milbloggers want to weigh in on this. Are we becoming a little too excited about the future possibilities of counterinsurgency? Even if we take it seriously and get a lot better at it than we are now, is it ever something that's likely to be successful more than very, very occasionally? Comments?

Eric Holder

| Tue Dec. 2, 2008 12:57 PM EST

ERIC HOLDER...Richard Cohen is unhappy with Eric Holder's role in the Marc Rich pardon, and Ezra Klein agrees with him:

This stuff was no great secret. The Obama camp weighed these qualms and dismissed them. Which suggests that Holder's tendency to be a company man was not considered a negative. I'm not one who thinks the attorney general should be some sort of lone renegade within the administration, but he should feel empowered to aggressively push back against abuses of presidential power. Holder's history offers little evidence of that sort of temperament.

I don't have any special brief for Holder one way or the other, but I guess I'd look at this differently. Holder's role in the Rich pardon is obviously disturbing, as he himself has admitted, and there's no doubt it will get raised in his confirmation hearings. But the real question is whether this was an isolated mistake or evidence of a pattern, and so far I've seen no evidence to suggest the latter. If you think his error in the Rich case was so egregious that it ought to disqualify him forever from government service, I guess that's defensible, but it's hard for me to read things that way. If we barred from high office every person who failed even once to stand up to his boss, we'd have a pretty small pool of candidates to choose from.

In fact, not to get too contrarian here, but if Holder learned a lesson from the Rich pardon — and his own response to it suggests he did — it might push him in the direction of being more independent than he otherwise might be. It could end up being a blessing in disguise.

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Mumbai Update

| Tue Dec. 2, 2008 12:04 PM EST

MUMBAI UPDATE....India ups the ante in its relationship with Pakistan:

With tensions high between Islamabad and New Delhi after the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, the Indian foreign minister said Tuesday his country had demanded that Pakistan arrest and hand over about 20 people wanted under Indian law as fugitives.

....The demand was made when India summoned Pakistan's ambassador on Monday evening and told him that Pakistanis were responsible for the terrorist attacks here last week and must be punished.

This isn't surprising, I guess, since (so far) the evidence suggests that Pakistani terrorists were indeed behind the Mumbai attacks. Offhand, though, I'd say it's unlikely that Pakistan agrees to India's demands, which means tensions over Kashmir will continue to mount. However, considering that both nations are now nuclear powers and that the United States has obvious interests in terrorism in the region, perhaps that means they might both be a little more amenable to some outside diplomacy? Time reports on Hillary Clinton's transition into the State Department:

A key player to watch in the transition is Richard Holbrooke, one of Clinton's closest foreign policy advisers during the primaries and a potential top player in Obama's diplomacy now that Clinton is headed for State. Holbrooke is a career diplomat, known for being smart and effective but also hard to control and outspoken, qualities that haven't always endeared him to certain peers in the party....Holbrooke has been talked about for top troubleshooting jobs like special envoy to the Middle East or South Asia.

This is just a flyer, but it's hard not to wonder if Holbrooke might be able to do some good here. Stay tuned.

Super Senior

| Tue Dec. 2, 2008 3:03 AM EST

SUPER SENIOR....Looking for more financial geekery? Sure you are! The other day I asked Felix Salmon to explain super senior tranches for us, and today he obliges. It's too complicated to excerpt, but the nickel version is that it became yet another way for banks to increase their exposure to subprime loans by creating a synthetic version of the subprime market that was even bigger than the original. So instead of merely idiotically missing the housing bubble and losing lots of money on supposedly safe subprime-backed CDOs, they idiotically doubled (tripled? quadrupled? who knows) their bet by creating lots of synthetic subprime CDOs and then keeping them on their own books instead of selling them off. When the crash came, then, they lost money on both the real stuff and the synthetic stuff.

The full story is here. Enjoy!

Quantum of Solace

| Tue Dec. 2, 2008 12:47 AM EST

QUANTUM OF SOLACE....Moriarty tells us that he likes the new Daniel Craig version of James Bond:

I don't miss the fetishistic museum piece touches of the series at all. I don't miss Q branch. I don't miss the Moneypenny banter. I don't miss the breezy "let's have a chat" style M briefings. Honestly... there are 20-something Bond films in that style, and like most Bond films, I've seen every film more than once. Some of them, I've seen many times. That adds up. I think it's safe to say if you count individual viewings, I've seen something like 180 James Bond films in my lifetime. All with that same rhythm and style and the same cast sadly growing older while James Bond mysteriously hovers around the same age in one of the weirdest continuity choices in franchise history. Like I said, I don't miss the formula of it all. And frankly, if the Daniel Craig era never quite gets back to that, I'm perfectly happy. I wouldn't mind at all. They made those movies. Lots and lots and lots of those movies.

I get this. I really do. And yet....I have to ask: what is it that makes James Bond James Bond? At a minimum, two things. The first is the background: he works for MI6, his boss is named M, he gets cool gadgets from Q, etc. The second is his personality: he's dashing, debonair, fatally attractive to women, and never has a hair out of place. The problem with the Daniel Craig version of James Bond is that these things are mostly gone. And with those things gone, he's just a guy who works for MI6. His name might be James Bond, but he's not James Bond.

Now, I also happen to think Quantum of Solace wasn't a very good movie. The pace was so frenetic — chase, fight, chase, fight, chase, fight — that there was hardly any story that seemed worth following, and what story there was just wasn't very interesting. (Cornering the water supply of Bolivia? Seriously? And you thought the later Roger Moore movies were ridiculous?) Put that together with the new characterization — brooding, ruthless, intense, hair artistically out of place through half the movie — and I don't think anyone would so much as guess that this was a Bond film if the writers had changed the names around a bit. It would have been seen as just another Bourne Identity wannabe, and not a very good one.

Just my take, of course. But speaking of The Bourne Identity, here's another question: what's the deal with super-agents initialed JB? In a faceoff between James Bond, Jack Bauer, and Jason Bourne, who would win?

Via Ross Douthat.

Press Conference Follies

| Mon Dec. 1, 2008 8:20 PM EST

PRESS CONFERENCE FOLLIES....Joe Klein:

Watching the Obama rollout of his national security team from overseas — I'm in Europe, on my way to Afghanistan — I was struck by the inanity of most of the questions from my colleagues.

No kidding. Did any of you guys see it? Obama only took four or five questions, and nearly all of them were just plain dumb. (And yes, there is such a thing as a dumb question.) As usual, when TV cameras are on, reporters were drawn like moths to flame toward a certain Russertesque style of "tough" questioning that's completely content free and, in reality, childishly easy to sidestep for any competent politician. Klein again:

What's the point of raising the nasty things Obama and Clinton said about each other during the primaries? Did the reporter expect Obama to say, "Well, I still believe her resume is overblown, that's why I appointed her...oh, and by the way, she still thinks it's dumb to talk to the Iranians without preconditions."

Needless to say, Obama swatted this question away without raising a sweat. The result, as usual, was a missed opportunity to at least try to get some substantive news out of the announcement. What a bunch of nitwits.