A book about America.

I just finished The Ruin of the Roman Empire. I thoroughly enjoyed this book for many reasons. First, it fills in my favorite little nook of history, which is the time between the classically established fall of the Roman empire and the Carolingian Renaissance. It’s a period of time more or less absent from most western civ classes. A lot of the wars and conquest history we learn skips right over this period. A people’s history might not find much to like either, but there are a few significant things from this period that are more mundane but that are huge, for example the codification of Roman law, which is the basis of law in all but a few countries (the two main exceptions are 49 states of the US, and Commonwealth Countries, and those ruled by sharia law).

Anyway, this is a bit of an odd history book. The author goes out of his way to spice up the history by injecting very ‘oos imagery and language in talking about the Roman empire, and the book is essentially a polemic against Justinian. It’s a polemic I tend to agree with, but it’s much more opinionated than you might be used to.

So, what’s this authors answer to the perennial question why did Rome fall? He rebuts the notion that it was barbarian invasions. No, the “barbarians” became the “Romans” as he shows. Was it Christianity as Gibbon argues? Probably not, because the Church wasn’t all that organized and there were lots of “Christianities” going on at the time. So if it wasn’t the barbarians was it imperial overstrech? Not exactly.

He argues that Justinian’s fascism (he doesn’t use the word fascism, but describes it exactly) sets up the coup de grace of the Islamic conquests by weakening the successor kingdoms in the west, alienating the southeast with religious fanaticism, and by failing to reach an accord with Persia. I agree with all of this. So, how did they get into such a position in the first place? Here’s the interesting point.

O’Donnell argues that the Imperial overstretch was a problem not just because the system couldn’t pay for itself (and he points out clearly that the Romans had no idea how economics worked and were shooting in the dark in this regard anyway) but because Rome lost its “idea of itself.” By this he means that after the Roman empire reached a certain point, it didn’t know what to do anymore. Keep conquering? But what would that mean? It was already such a huge place full of so many cultures.

I don’t think the author says this just to make another point about the fall of Rome. I don’t think it’s a mistake that he’s using all of the language and discussion of the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I think he is carefully, discreetly arguing that the United States is undergoing to same kind of ruin do to its imperial wars that have nothing to do with expanding the idea of the United States. We know that because even as we claim to be expanding democracy in those counties (which would be “our idea of ourselves”) we both know that we’re not really doing that and know that we’re not capable of really making those countries into new Americas or part of America, even if they do become some kind of

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Specter and Misc.

Just some things I want to get on the record:

I.

This Wonkette post is hilarious, but I think what woven in to it is a very, very important truth about liberalism from circa 1970-1995: too much Orwellian identity politics stuff ruined the brand.

Fortunately, it’s time to watch out for this kind of thing because we have a popular liberal President and a governing majority in both houses of Congress, along with a new emerging center-left consensus, restoring the American equilibrium.

Things like political correctness were cracks in the old liberalism that was arguably basically already out of steam anyway, but it gave the ascendant ideology cover for its massive failures too.

By the time of Bill Clinton, liberals had learned that passing a law or funding a program isn’t enough to change things, that benchmarks and enforcement matter too. By the time of Barack Obama, everyone else learned that you still have to pass a law and fund a program to change things and that benchmarks and enforcement aren’t enough on their own.

II.

Arlen Specter is both more significant than the naysayers say and less significant than the buzz. The naysayers say he won’t necessarily generate a filibuster proof majority. How do they know? The buzz says he will. How do they know? It’s been a long time since this situation has occurred. It remains to be seen if party discipline can work. Maybe the DSCC will say we demand you vote with the party on cloture on everything. It might work.

The other issue is how this changes negotiations. It means that negotiations only need occur within the caucus. That’s huge. It’s so much different that Snowe and/or Collins may also have to make the switch to keep their relevance. Why wouldn’t they? They are going to get a Club for Growth primary anyway for their stim votes, right?

Specter also doesn’t become the most right wing Democrat in the party. That’s a mistake. That’s Ben Nelson on social issues and Joe Liebermann on foreign policy.

But he’s also not a hero. This is the guy who invented the magic bullet theory. You know, the one bullet went through Kennedy’s neck, through Connelly’s chest, and into his wrist, all without damaging the bullet.

At worst, he was part of a cover up. At best, he thought that it was better to leave it at that to avoid the American people from being stirred up into an anti-Castro war fervor, if they blamed it on Castro, or would lose their anti-Commie vigor if they thought it was the anti-Castro Cubans.

Either way, someone made a decision not on the merits but based on expediency to leave it at that. Arlen was a DA later. Would he have told his cops to stop investigating if that was their best theory? No way. And the fact that every time that theory catches abuse we don’t hear about how that happens 50 times a day in a war is more proof to me that it’s anomalous. And remember, the US Congress found later that there were in fact 4 shots. The Congress. Not Olive Stone. The US Congress. And everyone agrees that there’s no way Oswald fires 4 shots with that gun. Does this mean I believe there was some vast conspiracy? No, it means I don’t know the answer, but it also means that neither did the Warren Commission and neither did Arlen Specter.

So, I don’t really care about Arlen. I just want his vote on health care.

III.

Speaking of health care. I’m glad to see Obama showing some spine on this. It is really the key issue. Why?

First of all people who are down and out would be greatly helped by it. That should be enough on its own.

Second, our system is so badly broken that it needs to be fixed anyway.

Third, it is as important as liquid banks to our economy. See, our industries can’t compete on the basis of other country’s health care being free. It keeps people in jobs they don’t like. It keeps them from starting out on their own. It hurts existing employers who struggle to attract employees who demand that as a perq and who struggle to pay workers’ compensation which has inflated largely because of medical care.

If the banks start lending again, they need someone to lend to. People feeling secure enough to start their own business and/or hire employees might be a good start.

100 Days…

Is a meaningless arbitrary marker outside of FDR’s unique circumstances and only serves as filler for superfluous network bloviators and antiquated print “journalists”.

As for me, I am mostly happy with the start of Obama’s beginnings and gratified that the Conservatrons have validated my reasoning for jumping on the Obama bandwagon after Iowa: a black President has undermined the polite racism at the center of their ideology and thereby driven them crazy, leaving them with the missing-chromosome crowd’s accidentally hilarious teabaggery.

Now back to ice hockey….

Reconciliation and Filibuster

I don’t know much about the U.S. Senate’s weird rules. Maybe enough to properly attach the epithet “Byzantine” to them.

But here’s the thing. The Republicans have decided to filibuster just about everything, meaning that you need 60 votes to pass anything, or, put another way 41 senators hold a minority veto power.

The one catch is the Budget Reconciliation provisions which allow for the oft-demanded “up or down vote” with 50+VP or 51 being the passing number. Then there is something called the “Byrd Rule” which limits what is properly subject to the reconciliation process.

But the “Byrd Rule” developed in an era where the filibuster was a much rarer thing only used in the case of things that were big time, like the Civil Rights Act. And of course, “It’s OK If You’re A Republican” to abuse the Byrd Rule. Even McCain says they have done it.

Anyway, the extreme pressure the Republicans are putting on the leadership by forcing a filibuster on everything is only inevitably going to cause people to look for escape hatches. This is typical of Republican strategy: extreme myopia, but fully aware myopia. They will sell the future short on purpose with fully informed consent to win now.

As often as I criticize the Dems for not having balls, I would never suggest that they grow balls at the expense of their brain. All of these filibusters disturb the political equilibrium and there will be blowback.

For an example of the foregoing, look no further than the last two elections.

We eagerly await…

…the 2008-09 winner of the Bobby Holik Trophy. (;

UPDATE: I would nominate Huselius, Ribiero, Campbell, Visnovsky, Redden, Satan, Malone, and Sundin. Hard to say before playoffs are over on some of these, I guess.