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Archive for November, 2010

Great moments in misanthropy

[ 6 ] November 30, 2010 |

David Simon deflates the hopes of an entire generation. Good for him. All we need now is another Vietnam to thin out their ranks a little.

(Via Lindsay Beyerstein)


North Korea: A Negotiable Issue?

[ 46 ] November 30, 2010 |

As has been noted in several places, this is one hell of an interesting cable. The upshot is that South Korean officials seem to believe that North Korea will collapse in a fairly short interval after the death of Kim Jong Il, and that a few Chinese policymakers have suggested that China is prepared to acquiesce on a reunified Korea governed by Seoul.

Drezner throws the cold water:

I don’t doubt that Chinese officials said everything reported in the documents.  I do doubt that those statements mean that China is willing to walk away from North Korea.  It means that Chinese diplomats are… er…. diplomatic.  They will tell U.S. and South Korean officials some of what they want to hear.  I’m sure that they will say somewhat different things to their North Korean counterparts.

Indeed, although that’s not quite the right framing for the Chinese comments. Diplo-speak is about more than simply telling the other side what it wants to hear; there’s an element of that, but diplomats also try to refrain from saying stuff that could be dangerous for national interests. Chinese diplomats aren’t just going to tell Seoul that Beijing is groovy with reunification to be polite, because that removes leverage and may create an incentive for South Korea to get reckless. Indeed, suggesting that Beijing would accept reunification on South Korean terms is really kind of dangerous, whether or not it reflects official state policy. At the very least it confirms that there are divisions in China regarding the proper policy towards Korean reunification, which could in itself be a dangerous message to send to Seoul.

That said, Drezner is correct that any Chinese queasiness about North Korea hasn’t yet made it into visible public policy. Nevertheless, that even some Chinese diplomats are willing to even hint that the existence of North Korea might be a negotiable issue is very interesting.

See also E. on the downsides of assuming that North Korea will collapse. More on that later.

this seems to imply that China is thinking seriously about leaving North Korea in the cold.

Nobody Actually Cares About “Federalism,” Post-Reconstruction Edition

[ 122 ] November 30, 2010 |

LizardBreath on the upcoming celebrations of treason in defense of slavery that are trying to leave out the slavery part:

I think what gets to me is the Orwellian nature of it all; that it’s a power play. If Confederate-worshippers can make it seem aggressively impolite to insist on straightforwardly, obviously true historical facts, then we can’t rely on facts to establish anything, which is exactly how politics has been feeling lately. Not, of course, that stamping out Civil War revisionism solves anything, but it’d make me feel better.

On one level, however, the people who say that the war was about “states’ rights” are correct, if we use revealed preferences to define “states’ rights” as “federal enforcement of the rights of racial minorities is illegitimate, while federal powers that might serve or protect the interests of wealthy southern whites should be interpreted as expansively as possible.” I think Ulysses S. Grant’s acid response to the idea that Southern opposition to Reconstruction reflected a principled resistance to the use of federal military authority characterizes actually existing doctrines of “states’ rights” nicely:

During my two terms of office the whole Democratic press, and the morbidly honest and “reformatory” portion of the Republican press, thought it horrible to keep U.S. troops stationed in the Southern States, and when they were called upon to protect the lives of negroes — as much citizens under the Constitution as if their skins were white — the country was scarcely large enough to hold the sound of indignation belched forth by them for some years. Now, however, there is no hesitation about exhausting the whole power of the government to suppress a strike on the slightest intimation that danger threatens.

Alternatively, I could cite three words: “Fugitive Slave Act.” Justice Harlan, as the Court’s sole defender of Congress’ authority to enact the Civil Rights Act of 1875, I believe you have some incisive thoughts about this:

With all respect for the opinion of others, I insist that the national legislature may, without transcending the limits of the Constitution, do for human liberty and the fundamental rights of American citizenship what it did, with the sanction of this court, for the protection of slavery and the rights of the masters of fugitive slaves. If fugitive slave laws, providing modes and prescribing penalties whereby the master could seize and recover his fugitive slave, were legitimate exercises of an implied power to protect and enforce a right recognized by the Constitution, why shall the hands of Congress be tied so that — under an express power, by appropriate legislation, to enforce a constitutional provision granting citizenship — it may not, by means of direct legislation, bring the whole power of this nation to bear upon States and their officers and upon such individuals and corporations exercising public functions as assume to abridge, impair, or deny rights confessedly secured by the supreme law of the land?

Strange how the federal authority southerners found in the Constitution in 1850 suddenly vanished after three amendments that explicitly expanded relevant federal powers had passed. Whatever could explain it?

So, in a sense, today’s Confederate nostalgists and apologists are part of a consistent tradition. “States’ rights” has always been an utter fraud.

…I wonder how long it will take this time for an after-the-fact Dunning School stooge to explain that running a typical 19th century government made Grant — the best civil rights president between Lincoln and LBJ — the Most Corrupt President Ever.

The Article II Defense of Bush v. Gore

[ 9 ] November 29, 2010 |

On the Twitter today, Jacob Levy made the half-defense of Bush v. Gore perhaps most commonly made by smart people: the majority opinion was indefensible, but the outcome is not, because the Rehnquist concurrence (arguing that the Florida courts violated the provision of Article II that the “State shall appoint [electors] in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct”) was persuasive.*

I actually think something like the opposite is true. In the abstract, the holding that the arbitrary differences in ballot-counting found in the Florida system violated the equal protection clause is not entirely unreasonable. There’s no real precedent for it, it’s especially inconsistent with the typical conservative interpretations of the 14th Amendment, and the way in which the majority applied the alleged holding was so flagrantly unprincipled it approached lawlessness, but the holding itself is not inconsistent with the text, structure, or purpose of the 14th Amendment.

The Rehnquist concurrence, though, is just specious on its face. As Ginsburg pointed out in her dissent, the fact that Article II gives state legislatures (as opposed to courts) the authority to regulate presidential elections doesn’t in itself say anything about the legitimacy of the actions of the Florida Court — “The Framers of our Constitution, however, understood that in a republican government, the judiciary would construe the legislature’s enactments.” (Indeed, the majority opinion did just that when it assumed that the Florida legislature intended to take advantage of the “safe harbor” provision to justify shutting down the recount.) So if the argument is to hold water, Rehnquist has to show that the Florida Supreme Court’s decision distorted Florida law to such an extent that it was not engaging in jurisprudence at all. This is a radical argument that places a very high burden of proof on the United States Supreme Court.

Given the law that is being construed, however, this is a frankly ridiculous claim. The statute governing contested elections specifically gave the courts the authority to “provide any relief appropriate under such circumstances.” There may be extreme circumstances in which a state court might distort state law to such an extent that it could be usurping the will of the legislature. But surely a case in which the legislature broadly delegated the ability to provide remedies to the courts cannot be one of them.

There are many things one can criticize O’Connor and Kennedy for when it comes to this case, but the failure to join the Rehnquist concurrence isn’t one of them. It did not constitute a remotely adequate defense of a federal intervention into the electoral dispute in Florida.

*In comments, Jacob notes that “My claims were more modest: “colorable” and “credible”– not “correct” or “persuasive” or “adequate.””  Point taken, although I think “credible” and “adequate” are essentially the same thing.

Nope, Not Over It

[ 27 ] November 29, 2010 |

Jeffrey Toobin on the 10th anniversary of one of the worst Supreme Court decisions of all time:

[M]omentous Supreme Court cases tend to move quickly into the slipstream of the Court’s history. In the first ten years after Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 decision that ended the doctrine of separate but equal in public education, the Justices cited the case more than twenty-five times. In the ten years after Roe v. Wade, the abortion-rights decision of 1973, there were more than sixty-five references to that landmark. This month marks ten years since the Court, by a vote of five-to-four, terminated the election of 2000 and delivered the Presidency to George W. Bush. Over that decade, the Justices have provided a verdict of sorts on Bush v. Gore by the number of times they have cited it: zero.

I actually think the decision was even worse that Toobin makes it sound. It’s true that the decision was “judicial activism” by any standard, but then the tradition of conservative “judicial restraint” that Toobin cites is just a myth; conservatives, over the history of the Supreme Court, have only shown restraint when greater activism would tend to lead to substantively liberal results (and vice versa.) If that was the only issue, it wouldn’t be a big deal; accusations of judicial activism just end in a poetic justice as fairness feedback loop. And even the sudden conservative embrace of an expansive conception of equal protection in vote counting wouldn’t be that unusual or especially problematic if they were willing to actually follow through and take the alleged new principle seriously. But not only, as Toobin notes, did the Court assert that the principle couldn’t be applied to future cases, the principle wasn’t even applied to the case itself. Based on the Court’s own reasoning, the count that gave Bush the presidency was just as defective from an equal protection standpoint as the recount ordered by the Florida courts. And then there’s also the fact that the decision was the end result of a Catch-22 created by the Court itself.

So, yeah, I’m never going to be over it.

…more on the Rehnquist concurrence here.

Irvin Kershner

[ 8 ] November 29, 2010 |

Getting a genuinely good movie out of the Star Wars franchise definitely puts him the inner circle of the Amazing Directorial Accomplishments Hall of Fame, right up there with Billy Ray’s “getting a good performance our of Hayden Christensen.” R.I.P.

Obvious Answers to Obvious Questions

[ 10 ] November 29, 2010 |


State Department representatives didn’t immediately respond to questions about why diplomats need to acquire DNA and other biometric data on foreigners.

Clearly, to clone foreign leaders and grow more tolerable replacements. Which, we can all agree, is exactly the kind of diplomatic project that should never, ever be talked about by anyone.

Did You Know That Charli Was An Uncritical Defender of Wikileaks?

[ 19 ] November 29, 2010 |

I admit that your skepticism about this thesis would be undermined by reading what she’s written, but the Donalde has a novel interpretation.

…LGM has obtained rare footage of the Donalde showing off his legendary close reading skills with the late Gene Siskel:

Stop Calling Me Shirley

[ 6 ] November 28, 2010 |

RIP Leslie Nielsen.

And in the outstanding Forbidden Planet:

Brief Wikileaks Addendum

[ 22 ] November 28, 2010 |

I generally agree with Charli that there’s not much to particularly shock about the latest set of revelations (while also acknowledging that I haven’t gone through everything).  I think that this is primarily going to be of interest to diplomatic historians, who normally don’t get this kind of stuff for years and years and years and years.  If any political scientists actually studied stuff like diplomatic cables, it might also be of interest to them.  For my own part, I was mildly surprised by the directness of Saudi entreaties to the US to attack Iran, and also by the degree of contempt that the US diplomats seemed to hold for the current Turkish government.  Most of the rest appears to be primarily embarrassing to the foreign governments in question.

In terms of political impact, I’m deeply skeptical that this release is going to be “good for progressives,” so to speak.  The neocons are quite literally cackling over the revelations of anti-Iranian attitudes in the Arab world, as well as a variety of cables critical of Russia and Turkey.  I’m also pretty skeptical that this release will incline the United States government to make more information publicly available in the future.  Bureaucracies don’t seem to react to attacks in that manner; I suspect that the State Department will rather act to radically reduce access to such material in order to prevent future leaks.

Finally, having just worked my way through a negotiation simulation, I am kind of fascinated by the idea of “open” diplomatic communications.  Diplomats lie to each other habitually, and also lie to their (portions of) their home governments.  Nobody takes this too seriously, because no one expects diplomats to tell the truth.  If Wikileaks and organizations of its ilk are really able to peel the layers of secrecy off the diplomatic world, it could potentially have far ranging effects on how nations relate to one another.  Or maybe not.

See also Marc Lynch.

…and Henry Farrell on the value of lies in diplomacy.

“Diplomatic Shockers.”

[ 26 ] November 28, 2010 |

Wow. Iran’s neighbors are threatened by its rise! Many governments think Pakistan may not be able to secure its nuclear arsenal! The US attempts to use its leverage with its allies to achieve its political objectives! China has engaged in a cyber-campaign against Google and other American companies! Yemen approves of US’ targeted killings on its soil (but claims otherwise to quell domestic opposition)! Also, governments routinely spy on United Nations officials!

Who knew all this stuff, eh? Thank the stars for Wikileaks.

[cross-posted at Duck of Minerva]

P.S. Want to know what I did learn from this that I wouldn’t have assumed? The US State Department talks among itself far more about human rights than it does about terrorism.

“In Exchange For Wrecking Your Economy, You Can Have the Privelege of Giving Us More Money.”

[ 19 ] November 28, 2010 |

So in exchange for a pushing austerity plan, this is what Ireland is getting? By comparison, the Mets got a great deal in trading Tom Seaver for Steve Henderson and three guys who weren’t as good as Steve Henderson.

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