Archive for February, 2011
For obvious reasons, nostalgia is one of the two most important emotions fueling conservative politics. A wise man once observed that the past “was long ago and it was far away, and it was so much better than it is today” — and this almost universal human sentiment remains ripe for commercial and political manipulation. Still, the strategic use of nostalgia faces a practical problem whenever a society is much wealthier than it was a generation ago. One way of dealing with this awkward fact is to extol the virtues of a simpler time, in contrast to the decadent excesses of the present. This strategy has its limits however (As Jorge Luis Borges notes somewhere, “while it is true that money cannot buy happiness, the advantages of poverty have been greatly exaggerated.”).
Another approach is to make sure that as much as possible of the society’s increased wealth goes to a tiny fraction of its people. From the perspective of the right-wing ideologue, such a maneuver has two equally delightful aspects. First, it rewards society’s most virtuous citizens, that is, those who are already rich. Second, it encourages an inchoate longing for the past — always so useful for conservative political projects of every stripe –among the great bulk of the citizenry, since they will not be misled by the consideration that their own economic station in life has actually improved. Of course this latter strategy requires a deft touch among the powers that be, lest the ever-greedy masses notice that one particularly compelling reason to prefer the past to the present is that the gap between themselves and their social superiors has increased very much to their disadvantage. Read more…
I arrived to my office having finished two lectures that spent a fair amount of time discussing the confrontation clause of the 6th Amendment. I did not expect to find out that the Supreme Court had issued a new ruling, but today in Michigan v. Bryant the Court carved out a significant exception, provoking a fierce dissent from Antonin Scalia.
A couple of the landmark confrontation clause cases are very tough ones, pitting constitutional liberties against potential psychological damage to vulnerable victims. In Coy v. Iowa, the Court held that a trial that partially screened two alleged 13 year-old victims of sexual assault from the accused violated the Sixth Amendment. In Maryland v. Craig, the Court (over strange-bedfellows dissent written by Scalia and joined by the liberal icons Marshall, Brennan, and Stevens) held that a trial that permitted a six-year-old alleged victim of child abuse to testify by closed circuit television did not violate the 6th Amendment. These are very difficult cases, but I’m generally inclined to share the view of the four Craig dissenters.
Today’s case concerned the question of whether hearsay elicited from a dying victim could be admitted, even though it had been elicited by police officers who were trying to investigate the crime and would not be subject to cross-examination. (For further explanation, see here.) A
76-2 Court, speaking through Justice Sotomayor, held that the evidence was admissible because the statements were a response to an emergency situation rather than “testimony.” Justice Scalia’s solo dissent (Ginsburg dissented separately) critiques the opinion with characteristic equanimity:
Today’s tale…is so transparently false that professing to believe it demeans this institution. But reaching a patently incorrect conclusion on the facts is a relatively benign judicial mischief; it affects, after all, only the case at hand. In its vain attempt to make the incredible plausible, however—or perhaps as an intended second goal—today’s opinion distorts our Confrontation Clause jurisprudence and leaves it in a shambles. Instead of clarifying the law, the Court makes itself the obfuscator of last resort.
Whatever one’s opinion of Scalia’s tone, I have to agree with him on the merits here. It’s always tempting to put a large thumb on the scale when violent crime is involved, but neither the majority opinion nor Thomas’s concurrence mount arguments that I find convincing. The idea that five successive officers tried to get information from a victim who was not in immediate further danger but were not trying to elicit testimony is highly implausible.
In terms of the bigger picture, this provides yet more evidence that if you care about civil liberties, you’ll take Scalia over Alito without hesitation. Since Ginsburg was the only liberal in dissent, one also has to wonder again if Justice Steven’s departure will leave a substantial void. Sotomayor’s record has been encouraging so far, so I hope this is a “hard cases make bad law” exception.
Not surprisingly but still depressingly, the authoritarian faction of Wisconsin politics is beginning to assert itself over the pro-speech/pro-dissent faction, as Scott Walker has closed the Capitol to any citizens not already there. In fairness, if he didn’t start to shut off the protest this might lead to even more speech that violates arbitrary etiquette rules with the Capitol building, and it’s hard to see how that could be consistent with democratic values.
UPDATE: Jesse Walker, despite his political opposition to the labor protesters, gets the speech issue right:
Maybe this really is a matter of letting the cleaning crews do their thing, but reading the Madison ACLU’s Twitter feed isn’t making me optimistic: “Capitol: metal screening, limited doors,” “Dividing crowd into 3 lines – scheduled mtg, public hearing, protesters,” “windows being welded shut.” I’d hate for this standoff to end with construction crews (unionized or not) digging a moat around the capitol.
This should be a transpartisan issue. Wisconsin’s permissive public-access policy is a practice worth saving — and if it makes it easier for peaceful protesters to squat in the state house, then I say that’s a feature, not a bug. Today the unions, tomorrow the Tea Parties, next week the Juggalos: Stand up for liberty and let ’em all come.
More on the window-welding here.
Clarence Thomas believes that criticizing him undermines the ability of the Court to protect “liberty.” If he wants to do something to help the Court, I suggest that he resign and persuade Alito to come with him.
To CBS and Time Warner, the lead actor repeatedly assaulting women won’t stop your extremely profitable, extremely bad show. But insulting the boss will shut things down immediately. Carr:
Hollywood likes to pretend it has grown up and taken its seat in corporate America. But it hasn’t when it comes to violence toward women. Mr. Sheen may have gone off-script last week. But in his attitudes toward women both on and off screen, he’s right on message.
It seems to me that one of the biggest differences between the current budget battle and the budget wars of the past (specifically the 1980s through Bill Clinton’s first term) is the extent to which that Democrats have accepted current levels of military spending. Yet my impression is that the underlying public opinion hasn’t changed much: Democratic voters would support deep cuts in defense spending, while overall defense spending cuts are relatively a lot more popular than cuts to most domestic spending.
Why do you think Democrats are not demanding lower military spending?
A few thoughts, two material, one strategic, one ideational none tested:
- Defense contractor consolidation in the 1990s gave all of the big firms a much wider geographic base, making it easier for them to farm out work to a broad group of states and congressional districts, giving more Democrats a taste of defense money.
- General decline of manufacturing makes those defense jobs all the more precious to Congressional Democrats and organized labor.
- Democratic party as we know it remains (although this may be fading) in the grip of the idea that Reagan clobbered them on defense spending. I say the idea, because I’m not convinced there’s any empirical evidence that arguing for high defense spending is generally a political winner.
- The moderate, northeastern wing of the Republican Party, which once could be occasionally relied upon to act as a coalition partner with defense cut-minded Democrats, has effectively vanished. Thus, there’s less policy payoff for pursuing defense cuts. The emergence of the Tea Party changes this a bit (I do think that there are Tea Partiers who are interested in cutting defense), but it’s likely that anti-Democrat hostility will prove a more important impetus to action.
I’ll outsource my picks to Roy, and add only that I really hope Steinfled or Leo win supporting actress (the fact that the former is being nominated for “supporting” although she probably had a higher percentage of screen time than De Niro in Taxi Driver notwithstanding.)
UPDATE BY ROB: It’s quite a lot of fun listening to Bale drift in and out of accent in this classic clip:
ALSO BY ROB:
I’d like to congratulate our own “Sideshow” Dave Watkins for winning the Academy Award for Best Short Film!
…[SL] Does anyone else expect the camera to reveal a huge rock of coke stuck under Franco’s nose, like Neil Young at The Last Waltz?
…[SL] Whether this was the most amateurish Oscars ever was vaguely debatable, but having Celine Dion wreck what’s normally my favorite part clinches it.
Shorter Ann Althouse: “Political protest should be stamped out by the state if it offends my exceedingly delicate aesthetic sensibilities.”
Alas, she makes no attempt to square this position with her recent arguments that principles of “free speech” mean that conservative commentators should have permanent vested rights to Fox News sinecures. Well, “IOKIYAR” is a kind of principle, I guess.
…lots of good comments. To make my point clear, the silly hypothetical that Althouse and her husband are so inexplicably proud of has two obvious defects — hence, the viewpoint discrimination “problem” vanishes when we abandon her faulty premises. First, as with many slippery slope arguments, the empirical assumptions are implausible; I think it’s highly unlikely that similar protests will occur with significant frequency. But as the shorter implies, we don’t even need to address the empirical issue, because the alleged harms of her far-fetched worst-case scenario are stupefyingly trivial: “The Capitol has for years and years been a solemn place. For 25 years, I have brought visitors there and walked slowly through the beautiful spaces looking at the different colored and patterned marble on the walls and gazing with awe up into the dome.” So what? Between “speech” and “allowing the capitol to be a sufficiently sterile prop for Ann Althouse’s guided tours” I’ll choose the former, thanks.
For further reading, I recommend William Douglas’s classic dissent in Adderly v. Florida.
Shorter K-Lo: “I’d like to turn back the clock to a time in which women faced much more severe inequities, and if a lot more unintended pregnancies (and abortions) is the price we have to pay to make me think that life could suddenly revert to a 50s sitcom, we’d better pay it.”
…ema responds to K-Lo’s conclusion that there should be “a talk about what it means to be human”:
Apparently, if you’re female, being human means serenely eschewing access to modern medicine and drugs for the bliss of illegal procedures, unintended pregnancy, bleeding and anemia, a significant increase in cancer risk, etc.
…Thers beat me to it at his other place.