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Archive for June, 2011


[ 25 ] June 9, 2011 |

I think using that word erroneously implies that his campaign was ever a going concern.

The all-powerful literarti win again! I hope Grand Imperial Poobah Berube will let me keep my meager allotment of Soros money.


The Problem of Vague Criminal Laws

[ 30 ] June 9, 2011 |

Today’s Supreme Curt decision Sykes v. U.S. is the fourth recent decision attempting to interpret the clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act that mandates higher sentences for people convicted of 3 or more “violent felonies.” The interpretive problem is what constitutes a “violent felony.” Today, the court determined that vehicular flight from the police counts as a violent felony even if the conviction didn’t involve dangerous or reckless driving. The matchup is unusual — Kennedy joined by the inevitably statist George W. Bush appointees, as well as Breyer, Thomas, and Sotomayor. In dissent, Kagan (joined by Ginsburg) argued that simple vehicular flight shouldn’t be considered a violent felony. Scalia, on the other hand, argues that the “violent felony” clause should be struck down as unconstitutionally vague, with sentence enchantments applied only to crimes specifically identified by Congress.

One thing that makes Scalia better than your generic Alito-style contemporary reactionary is that he takes the principle that ambiguities in the criminal law should be interpreted against the state seriously, and his dissent makes several points I agree with in general:

What does violate the Constitution is approving the enforcement of a sentencing statute that does not “give a person of ordinarily intelligence fair notice” of its reach…


We face a Congress that puts forth an ever-increasing volume of laws in general, and of criminal laws in particular. It should be no surprise that as the volume increases, so do the number of imprecise laws. And no surprise that our indulgence of imprecisions that violate the Consti-tution encourages imprecisions that violate the Constitution. Fuzzy, leave-the-details-to-be-sorted-out-by-the-courts legislation is attractive to the Congressman who wants credit for addressing a national problem but does not have the time (or perhaps the votes) to grapple with the nitty-gritty. In the field of criminal law, at least, it is time to call a halt. I do not think it would be a radical step—indeed, I think it would be highly responsible—to limit ACCA to the named violent crimes. Congress can quickly add what it wishes.

The problem Scalia describes is real, but in this particular case I’m not sure that the primary fault lies with Congress. “Violent felonies” isn’t a terribly ambiguous term, and creating a laundry list could create problems based on states classifying similar crimes differently. The real problem, I think, arises from the Supreme Court (as it did in this case) straining to classify non-violent felonies as violent felonies. If the Court simply did what it should and hold against the state where the status of a conviction as a violent felony is unclear, I think the statute would be perfectly workable. Since the Court seems unwilling to do so, however, Scalia may be right that the only thing left to do is to send the issue make to Congress and force them to be clearer about what constitutes a violent felony.

More on the Disastrous Bush Tax Cuts

[ 126 ] June 9, 2011 |


So, to recap: The Bush tax cuts were followed by low GDP growth, negative median wage growth, and little job growth. Even before the Great Recession, growth in the Bush business cycle was the weakest since World War II. And the cuts cost about $2.6 trillion between 2001 and 2010, according to the Economic Policy Institute—adding to a debt future generations of taxpayers will pay for, plus interest.

By Bush’s own metrics, then, the tax cuts were a failure. But perhaps that is because Bush chose such absurd metrics and made such silly promises about tax cuts’ economic omnipotence in the first place.

But don’t kid yourself — even more of the same will be great!

(Update by Erik): I really wonder whether, when all is said and done, the Bush Tax Cuts won’t be what the Bush Administration is most known for instead of 9/11 and Iraq. They may prove among the most disastrous policies in American history, along with Jefferson’s Embargo, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and the Smoot-Hawley Tariff.


[ 45 ] June 9, 2011 |

Just for the record, Pawlenty’s economic plan is absolutely nuts, and I still say he’s the most likely nominee. And what’s even scarier is that the plans of subsequent nominees are going to have to accomplish the difficult feat of being even more crazy.

Most Prominent Politicians (IV): Georgia

[ 60 ] June 9, 2011 |

And now we get to the South. Between reelecting their legislators until they die and defending segregation, southern states have played a powerful role in American politics from the beginning of the republic to the present. Georgia is possibly above average compared to the region and certainly two Georgians have played key roles in the last 40 years.

1. Newt Gingrich. One of the 5 most important politicians of the past 20 years and Georgia’s most important. The Gingrich-led Republican Revolution revolutionized American politics. Sure, it was for the worse. Many of the terrible problems we face today come from Gingrich and his allies. But that only reinforces his importance.

2. Jimmy Carter. A remarkable figure in so many ways. Carter survived the segregationist era to become the Democratic candidate for president in 1976. His administration wasn’t particularly successful (though this had much to do with white backlash and the rise of the New Right, conditions completely out of his control). Along with John Quincy Adams, the most successful and eventful ex-president in American history. Richly deserved his Nobel Peace Prize.

3. Alexander Stephens. Vice-President of the Confederacy. It’s hard to imagine Gingrich wouldn’t be the most loathsome of the top 3, but in Georgia’s case, the competition for most disgusting is very strong.

It’s pretty easy to string out a top 10 for Georgia, with some strong candidates left over. Briefly:

4. Tom Watson–the Populist leader started his career as a champion for economic rights and ended it as a race-baiting supporter of the KKK in the U.S. Senate

5. Richard Russell–U.S. Senator from 1933-71, leader of the Senate’s segregationist wing.

6. John Lewis–Possibly I’m overstating his role, but given his powerful presence in Congress for many years and his pioneering role as a post-civil rights movement African-American legislator, plus his amazing career in the movement, and it’s clear Lewis deserves this spot.

7. Carl Vinson–the first person to serve more than 50 years in the House of Representatives, Vinson was very important in creating American naval policy in the mid-20th century. Of course, he was also a staunch segregationist.

8. Andrew Young–another pioneering African-American politician. Young was a congressman, mayor of Atlanta, and the first African-American U.N. Representative.

9. Herman Talmadge–Another long-serving segregationist leader of the mid-20th century. I swear, it seems like Georgia had 5 senators during these years.

10. Sam Nunn–One of the most powerful Democratic leaders of the late 20th century. Played a major role in defense policy and is still influential today in retirement.


[ 21 ] June 8, 2011 |

It’s too bad Kristol is wrong about everything, because we could really use the lulz. There’s something special about a candidate whose popularity has an almost perfectly inverse relationship with the amount of time he spends campaigning in a given state.

For Sale!

[ 25 ] June 8, 2011 |

My recent comments notwithstanding, it should go without saying that my endorsement is most definitely for sale.  I, and indeed most of the other contributors to LGM, will happily shill for whatever you happen to be selling, provided you meet our very reasonable prices.  Of course, pricing depends on profile of contributor (Lemieux and I require top dollar, the rest of the band rather less), subject matter (Campos demands extra for weight loss product endorsements, and Noon’s coveted recommendation of anti-vax literature costs a pretty penny), nature of endorsement (if you want djw to actually use your hair product, or Loomis to use your hair loss product, you’ve got to be willing to open the wallet). Kaufman and Brockington are also available in the unlikely event that you can think of something that you’d want to have either of them endorse.

Speaking of Media Malpractice

[ 88 ] June 8, 2011 |

Stephanie Mencimer reminds us that there are issues that are even more important — even scandalous! — than Anthony Weiner’s highly consequential penis. It’s the 10th Anniversary of the Bush tax cuts:

Big debt: Between 2001 and 2010, the Bush tax cuts added $2.6 trillion to the public debt, 50 percent of the total debt accrued during that time. Over the past 10 years, the country has spent more than $400 billion just servicing the debt created by the cuts.

Supply-side failure: Far from paying for themselves with increased economic activity as promised, the tax cuts have depleted the public treasury. Tax collections have plunged to their lowest share of the economy in 60 years.

No jobs: Between 2002 and 2007, employment increased by less than 1 percent when the economy was supposed to be expanding. Employment growth barely kept pace with population growth. Between the end of 2001, when the country was in a recession, and the peak of the real estate bubble, er, economic expansion in 2007, the US economy performed worse than at any time since the end of World War II.

Rich people benefit: The best-known result of the Bush tax cuts is that virtually all the benefits were conferred upon people who didn’t need them at all and who didn’t use the money to, say, create more jobs or pay their workers better. Median weekly earnings fell more than 2 percent between 2001 and 2007. Meanwhile, people making over $3 million a year, who account for just 0.1 percent of taxpayers, got an average tax cut of $520,000, more than 450 times what the average middle-income family received.

Make sure to read all of the grim details.

But the 2000 campaign, Gush v. Bore, Gap v. Banana Republic, amirite? I demand more investigation into Al Gore’s highly troubling three-button suits!

More “Character”

[ 154 ] June 8, 2011 |

Greenwald is definitive:

Yes, Anthony Weiner lied — about something that is absolutely nobody’s business but his and his wife’s. If you’re not his wife, you have absolutely no legitimate reason to want to know about — let alone pass judgment on — what he does in his private sexual life with other consenting adults. Particularly repellent is the pretense of speaking out on behalf of his wife, as though anyone knows what her perspectives on such matters are or what their relationship entails. The only reason to want to wallow in the details of Anthony Weiner’s sex life is because of the voyeuristic titillation it provides: a deeply repressed culture celebrates when it finds cause to be able to talk about penises and naked pictures and oral sex while hiding behind some noble pretext. On some level, I find the behavior of the obviously loathsome Andrew Breitbart preferable; at least he’s honest about his motive: he hates Democrats and liberals and wants sadistically to destroy them however he can. It’s the empty, barren, purse-lipped busybodies who cannot stay out of other adults’ private and sexual lives — while pretending to be elevated — that are the truly odious villains here.

He also points us to McArdle, who in the latest example of the death of conservertarianism believes that it’s the job of the mass media to act as the marriage police. It’s also one of the best examples of paternalism-under-the-cloak-of-feminism since Muller v. Oregon, and as for her apparent assumption that the prurience-is-its-own-justification standard will only be applied to powerful men, ask Christine O’Donnell.


[ 31 ] June 8, 2011 |

Apparently, the team that signs Joba Chamberlain’s paychecks is upset that a player of actual accomplishment is too demonstrative.

How About We Try a Day Without Bullshit?

[ 54 ] June 8, 2011 |

A couple of weeks ago, Mackenzie Eaglen and Bryan McGrath published “A Day Without Seapower,” a nightmare scenario in which Barack Obama breaks the coffee machine at the Heritage Foundation, among other depredations. I take some issue with elements of their case:

The most recent entry into this genre also comes courtesy of the Heritage Foundation, with an assist from the Weekly Standard. Mackenzie Eaglen and Bryan McGrath have penned an essay arguing that the United States needs to strengthen its commitment to seapower in order to maintain not only its global influence, but also the modern global economic system. Detailed at length in a Heritage Foundation report and in a briefer version at the Weekly Standard, Eaglen and McGrath’s nightmare scenario depicts the United States circa 2025 as a broken country, friendless and at the mercy of a nefarious coalition made up of China, Russia, India, Korea, Iran, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Palestine and Syria. Not pretty and altogether alarming. But before we beg the authors to save us, we might want to consider whether the wool is being pulled over our eyes. How does this dreadful state of affairs come about?

Two additional thoughts:

  1. This kind of nonsense highlights the need for robust progressive defense infrastructure. The problem with Heritage Foundation bullshit is that on relatively technical defense issues like this, there’s often very little pushback from knowledgeable progressives. It will surprise no one to find that I think that seapower is pretty important, and that there’s a clear progressive case to be made for a seapower-focused national security strategy. While things have certainly gotten better over the last couple years, we too often cede the field to Heritage Foundation bullshit artists.
  2. The lack of progressive infrastructure on these issues creates additional problems of opportunity. Mackenzie Eaglen is a Heritage Foundation hack; she’s paid to lie in the service of powerful defense interests. Not really my cup of tea, but I can respect that on some level; everybody’s got to make a living. Bryan McGrath is different; I’d like to think that if he had the opportunity to write a high profile brief in favor of seapower that didn’t involve a string of events somewhat less likely than a maritime oriented alien invasion. This isn’t to absolve McGrath; no matter how much I cared about seapower, I would never have put my name on garbage like this. Nevertheless, it would be nice if progressives offered some institutional alternatives.

Most Prominent Politicians (III): New Jersey

[ 49 ] June 7, 2011 |

New Jersey has had a somewhat weak group of national politicians throughout its history with an obvious choice for the top. I suspect a lot of this is getting overshadowed by New York and Pennsylvania. That the Frelinghuysen family has dominated New Jersey politics from its early days, a family that has long aspired to mediocrity in office, has certainly not helped.

This list is so weak, I feel like I must have missed some people. But I don’t think so. If I have, I’m sure you all will let me know in comments.

1. Woodrow Wilson. A native of Virginia, but his political career was in New Jersey. Certainly one of the most important presidents in U.S. history, though one I also find pretty unlikable.

2. William Paterson. Key player in the Constitutional Convention, 2nd governor of New Jersey, early Supreme Court justice. Put the hammer down on the leaders of the Whiskey Rebellion while a Justice.

3. George McClellan. We usually think of McClellan as a failed general, and indeed he was. But he was also the Democratic candidate for president in 1864 and later governor of New Jersey from 1878-81. His big post-war political ambition was to be Grover Cleveland’s Secretary of State, but he failed to get the position.

Paterson and McClellan are fairly lame 2 and 3 choices for the 3rd oldest state, but the other possibilities are also pretty underwhelming.

Frederick Frelinghuysen–Chester Arthur’s Secretary of State, senator, general Republican hack who helped decide the disputed 1876 election.

William Pennington–Governor of New Jersey in the 1830s and 40s, later elected to the House of Representatives where he served as Speaker of the House in 1860 and early 1861. He also once turned down the chance to be governor of Minnesota Territory. Pretty hot stuff.

John Griggs–Governor. William McKinley tapped him to be Attorney General in 1898, where he served until 1901.

Thomas Kean–Like many other long-time New Jersey politicians, solid and remarkably unspectacular. Governor of the state from 1982-90, most known for his service on the 9/11 Commission. That alone separates him from the pack of mediocrity known as New Jersey.

Bill Bradley–Senator from 1979-97. Launched a particularly lame campaign for the Democratic nomination for the presidency in 2000. Mostly I found him to be an annoying blowhard. He seems like the kind of Democrat who would be on Fox News, but he seems to avoid the spotlight these days. Which I find in his favor.

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