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Archive for May, 2005

Chinese Diplomacy

[ 0 ] May 21, 2005 |

At some point in the last ten years, the People’s Republic of China discovered diplomacy. The increased appreciation for diplomacy on the part of the Chinese more or less mirrors the increased contempt for the same on the part of the United States. This should be troubling to hawks who want to find themselves in a new Cold War. Unfortunately, virtually none of China’s activity has been discussed in the US news media.

Via Elaine Supkis, we learn that the President Hu is moving to solidify good relations with the Palestinian Authority. Elaine views this as a touch more consequential than I do; in my view, the Chinese are creating a stick to point at Israel regarding some arms deals. Nevertheless, combined with the PRC’s newfound appreciation of the Vatican, India, Uzbekistan, and Russia, it’s a development of some interest. China, the authoritarian great power, is attempting to reach its goals through diplomatic means, while the United States increasingly eschews diplomacy in favor of military force.

Chinese diplomacy isn’t perfect. The anti-secession law passed at a particularly inopportune moment, given the apparent willingness of the EU to relax its arms embargo. But the Chinese leadership has managed even to reach out to the Taiwanese. The recent visit by the Nationalist party chief to the tomb of Sun Yat Sen has put Chen Shui-Bien in a bit of trouble. China has grown increasingly popular in south and southeast Asia, largely because it doesn’t care about human rights.

Will any of this matter? China, over the last ten years, has been able to significantly increase its military capabilities without ANY balancing behavior on the part of its neighbors. This is almost unprecendented, and must be considered a magnificent diplomatic achievement. Rather than spend diplomatic capital fighting unwinnable battles with the United States, like France, the Chinese have been happy to allow the US just enough rope to hang itself. Meanwhile, the US has managed to crack the Atlantic alliance and to create widespread popular opposition to its policies even in its closest allies.


NARAL’s Blunder

[ 0 ] May 21, 2005 |

I am a very strong supporter of NARAL, and am also annoyed by claims that the Democratic Party is excessively in thrall to “interest group politics,” because 1)democratic politics is ineluctably group-centered, and 2)such claims tend to assume that affluent white people aren’t really an “interest.” I’m also, as anyone with a passing familiarity with this blog knows, a strident pro-choicer with less than no use for claims that selling out on abortion is good either politically or on the merits.

This said, I’m 90% in agreement with Ezra(1,2) about NARAL’s awful decision to endorse Lincoln Chafee. My 10% of disagreement is that NARAL was quite right to oppose Langevin. In a state like Rhode Island, an anti-choice candidate is unacceptable. Pennsylvania is a different issue; to get one of the most reactionary members of the Senate out of there, in a fairly culturally conservative state, you do what you have to do. But to run an anti-choice candidate in a state Kerry carried by 21 points? No way; that’s basically saying that reproductive freedom isn’t a core Democratic principle. And even if you don’t think that choice is as important as I do, it’s certainly not reasonable to expect NARAL to endorse an anti-choice Democrat over a pro-choice Republican.

But–and this is the key–Langevin isn’t running. Because of this, David Sirota’s defense of NARAL is one long non-sequitur. Endorsing the Republican candidate even though the pro-life Dem candidate you oppose isn’t running does not constitute a “high and tight fastball” at all, because it doesn’t provide any meaningful disincentives. Sirota’s argument reminds me of the libertarian public choicers who claim that although elections are meaningless and irrational, they discipline government by throwing politicians out at random. But this is, of course, transparently wrong. To borrow Gerry Mackie’s analogy, if speeding laws were enforced randomly, they wouldn’t provide any disincentives with respect to speeding; if you’re as likely to be caught if you go 55 or go 80, you might as well just go 80. Similarly, in this case NARAL is telling the DNC that they’ll endorse pro-choice Republicans (who provide votes for a radically anti-choice Republican leadership) even if the Dems run a pro-choice candidate. This doesn’t make the slightest lick of sense. Indeed, it makes more sense for Langevin to run now, and for the party to support him, than it did before the endorsement; if NARAL is going to screw you anyway, why not try to get the seat with the strongest candidate you have?

I generally admire NARAL, but this was an egregiously stupid (and counterproductive) decision.

Template Issues

[ 0 ] May 20, 2005 |

I’m messing with the template this afternoon in order to fix the sidebar problem (it seems to get shifted to the bottom whenever I open the page with Explorer, although not the same problem when I use Firefox).

Incidentally, any ideas are welcome.

UPDATE: Problem solved.

Get Better

[ 0 ] May 20, 2005 |

Best wishes to Michael Berube on a speedy recovery.


[ 3 ] May 20, 2005 |

Walking argument against nepotism John Podhoretz argues:

It opens next week. I saw it, and here’s the thing: It’s unbelievably bad. O I’m telling you this because movie critics won’t. So far all the early reviews — all of them, from Variety to the Hollywood Reporter to Time magazine — have been favorable. Why? Because while the movie critics of my long-ago youth were middlebrow snobs suspicious of populist entertainment, today’s critics have turned into toadies. They are afraid of being on an audience’s bad side, afraid that a movie they will pan might really strike a chord. Since it’s a foregone conclusion that the final Star Wars is going to make a jillion dollars, the safe thing for critics to do is say nice things about it.

Well, if anybody should know about this phenomenon, it’s L-Pod, as you can see from his review of The Phantom Menace. (“Forget the hype, and the backlash. The Phantom Menace is captivating.”) I can’t really respect a belated discovery that George Lucas is a fourth-rate filmmaker because of political objections (and ones that even Instapundit basically admits are spurious in any case.)

It must be admitted, though, that the positive reception given to the latest episode doesn’t compel me to see it for the reasons I’ve discussed before. Although this has been largely forgotten in retrospect, the contemporaneous critical and fanboy reception to The Phantom Menace was quite positive. I have no doubt that this one is better, but that’s not enough for me to particularly want to see it. Obviously, the kinds of shitty movies one likes and doesn’t like are among the most personal and irrational distinctions, but my disinterest in the Lucas-directed Star Wars pictures is captured well by Stephanie Zacharek. Pretentious New-Ageisms really rub me the wrong way, I don’t feel much desire to get back in touch with my ten-year-old male self, and the vacuous grandiosity of the whole project isn’t really want I’m looking for in a popcorn movie. (“Revenge of the Sith might be tolerable if it weren’t designed to be taken seriously” rings true to me.)

But hey, most of you will see it and enjoy it, and that’s great. Just don’t reduce your pleasure or lack thereof to crude political reductionisms…

…and, of course, the man Podhoretz aspires to be offers a roundup of idiotic attempts to read ROTS as a political essay, and asks his fans when they’ll see the film: The week it opens, the month it opens, on DVD, or “never because of the left-wing political slant of the film.” I would say to distort the poll to torture Michael Medved, but really, isn’t being Michael Medved torture enough?

"Nice guy? I don’t give a shit. Good father? Fuck you, go home and play with your kids."

[ 0 ] May 20, 2005 |

I missed this part of the debate, but I’m glad that Patty Murray gave the appropriate response to Kay Bailey Hutchinson’s interminable blubbering about what a great person Priscilla Owen is:

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Republican of Texas, pleaded for Justice Owen’s confirmation on the Senate floor, reciting a long list of achievements and civic works, including Justice Owen’s serving as a Sunday school teacher to preschoolers.

That drew a quick retort from Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, who said she met with Justice Owen on Tuesday at Ms. Hutchison’s request.

“This is not a debate about a lovely person,” Ms. Murray said. “This is a debate about a record and judicial decisions, and about whether or not that record merits promoting someone to a lifetime appointment.”

Yes, exactly. Obviously, in the grand scheme of things being a kind and generous person and good parent and community leader are more important that the content of one’s jurisprudence. But Owen is not being appointed a national Sunday school teacher. She’s receiving a lifetime appointment as a federal judge. This is a (trivial, of course) manifestation of the way in which the Bork nomination–in which a nominee was rejected on explicitly substantive grounds–has come to stood for a bad nomination process, when in fact the Bork nomination was how the process should work. The actual title should bestowed on something like the Thomas nomination, in which legitimate substantive complaints were wrapped in personality issues that, in all candor, were of pretty underwhelming importance. An appointment to the federal bench isn’t a gold star one receives for being a nice person.

In other nuclear option-related news, Bill Frist is a baldfaced liar:

In his opening remarks, Dr. Frist said Democrats had “radically” altered the traditions of the Senate by blocking votes on 10 of 45 appeals court candidates put forward by Mr. Bush. Even as a bipartisan group of senators sought to head off a climactic vote, Dr. Frist said the filibuster must be brought to a halt either by allowing the Senate to decide the nominations or changing the rules to ban such tactics. “We must restore the 214-year-old principle that every judicial nominee with majority support deserves an up-or-down vote,” Dr. Frist said.

This is just a flagrant untruth, even with the “with majority support” phrase added to try to distinguish the Fortas filibuster. The problem, of course, is that the filibuster is merely one anti-majoritarian technique permitted by Senate procedures. The blue slip and other committee procedures, absolutely without question, have prevented scores of nominees with majority support from receiving up-or-down votes. And Frist knows this. He’s just openly lying on the floor of the United States Senate. What will we tell the children?

[ 0 ] May 20, 2005 |

Friday Cat Blogging. . . Stromboli Posted by Hello

The Long Tentacles of Conservative Revisionism

[ 0 ] May 19, 2005 |

ROTHENBERG: I simply wanted to add, Wolf, that if you want to know who to blame ultimately for this confrontation that we have now, I think you can almost make the argument that can you blame court, because the court got us into these kinds of issues in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Before that, when you and I didn’t have so much gray hair, we didn’t talk about these issues. But the court decide these issues were relevant and individual rights needed to be protected. And so now they’ve gotten into the whole other area. (CNN, 5/18/05)

The post-Brown backlash in the south manifested itself in at least two different ways. First, there were clear instances of racial retrogression–reversal of racial reforms that had occurred before Brown. Second, politics in every southern state moved significantly to the right. One dramatic racial retrogression in the post-Brown South was the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan… (Michael Klarman, From Jim Crow to Civil Rights, 392)

Great catch by Digby.

I know I keep hammering on this hobbyhorse, but seeing this crap from a relatively moderate commentator should make clear how dangerous the lie that conservative criticism of “judicial activism” was a product of Roe v. Wade is. The reason this is such an effective rhetorical trope for the right goes beyond the primary effect of delegitimizing Roe. The other reason to propagate this nonsense is to just retrospectively wish away the fact that the conservative attack on the courts was catalyzed by Brown and Engle and Miranda. This is a useful lie for conservatives for the same reason that Sean Hannity likes to bring up the fact that some Rockefeller Republicans that movement conservatives despised then and now voted for the Civil Rights Act. They want to wish away the massive hostility to Brown that existed not only in the South but in the National Review and pretend that conservatives have really always been liberals. They want to pretend that opposition to Roe has something to do with the inadequacies of Blackmun’s opinions, as opposed to being a perfectly consistent reaction to any act of the Supreme Court (no matter how good or bad the reasoning) that challenges reactionary policies of social control or existing racial, gender, and/or religious hierarchies. And if this revisionist history were confined to the conservative media it wouldn’t be a big deal, but the extent to which it has penetrated not only the mainstream media but even the arguments of many liberals is dismaying.

So it’s easy to understand why conservatives want to pretend that full-bore reactionary attacks on the Court started with Roe, not Brown. But given that the argument is plainly, transparently false, why on earth do so many liberals go along? If you can answer this question–and God knows I can’t–you’ll unlock many mysteries about the ability of conservatives to dominate American political discourse in this country.

16 tons

[ 0 ] May 18, 2005 |

I haven’t been as genuinely appalled by song use in a TV ad since the Wrangler jean commercial a few years back that combined a waving American flag with the line “Some folks are born to wave the flag,” then cut away before the “It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no fortunate son.”

Last time before that? The Mercedes Benz commercial that featured Janis Joplin’s Mercedes Benz.

Senator Box Turtle

[ 0 ] May 18, 2005 |

John Conryn is currently on the Senate floor repeating arguments made by Democratic Senators during the Clinton administration that judicial nominees should be let out of committee. It would be hard to get a better example of poetic justice as fairness.

Wow, now he’s claiming that “The Senate has always been about a majority vote.” Can’t they even tell plausible lies anymore?

Newsweek Addendum

[ 0 ] May 18, 2005 |

Iocaste makes a good point about the nature of the error that produced the Newsweek scandal. The wingnutosphere is taking a page out of the playbook that was used by opponents of the Civil Rights movement. The seminal libel case New York Times v. Sullivan came about because an NAACP ad in the Times made some factual errors (such as the song being sung by students as a protest in Montgomery) that were irrelevant to the overall point of the ad.

Of course, Atrios is right that Spikey is a hack, and his reporting in this case was typically sloppy. But we shouldn’t confuse a recanting source with the assumption that the underlying conclusion of the story is false. And more importantly, we must remember that the First Amendment also protects hacks. The intimidation being used by Reynolds and their ilk is not about any one reporter, but about preventing the media from critical reporting about American foreign policy in general.

UPDATE: Edroso notes that Prof. InstaHack is deploying some good old-fashioned gay-baiting as well:

The Ole Perfesser calls Andrew Sullivan an “excitable” “emoter-in-chief” who should write “a bit less about gay marriage.” To his credit, the Perfesser did not just up and call him a faggot, but when you have such command of schoolyard code, you don’t have to get crude.

But, then, Reynolds thinks that noting that a publically open gay woman is gay is “dissing” her, so this is nothing new…

The First Amendment: Pro and Con

[ 1 ] May 18, 2005 |

Shorter Glenn Reynolds: Freedom of the press is a good thing, so long as it doesn’t involve any information that reflects poorly on the foreign policies of (Republican) Presidents. Besides, freedom of the press isn’t as important to western culture as not being “squeamish” about torture.


In the First Amendment the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell. In my view, far from deserving condemnation for their courageous reporting, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other newspapers should be commended for serving the purpose that the Founding Fathers saw so clearly. In revealing the workings of government that led to the Vietnam war, the newspapers nobly did precisely that which the Founders hoped and trusted they would do…

The word “security” is a broad, vague generality whose contours should not be invoked to abrogate the fundamental law embodied in the First Amendment. The guarding of military and diplomatic secrets at the expense of informed representative government provides no real security for our Republic.–Hugo Black, concurring, New York Times v. U.S.

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