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Archive for June, 2011

The Other Shoe Drops

[ 62 ] June 27, 2011 |

Shorter Supreme Court Republicans:  Allowing more people access to the political process without preventing other people from spending their money if they choose violates the First Amendment.   Plutocrats and their agents should have the field to themselves!

This case is much, much worse than Citizens United, which at least had a reasonable basis in the First Amendment.   This case strikes down a law that doesn’t prevent people from spending as much money as they want if they choose and represents a net increase in political speech.    Another key excerpt from Kagan’s dissent, which immolates the majority’s reasoning and scatters the ashes in the Potomac:

This suit, in fact, may merit less attention than any challenge to a speech subsidy ever seen in this Court. In the usual First Amendment subsidy case, a person complains that the government declined to finance his speech, while bankrolling someone else’s; we must then decide whether the government differentiated between these speakers on a prohibited basis—because it preferred one speaker’s ideas to another’s. But the candidates bringing this challenge do not make that claim—because they were never denied a subsidy. Arizona, remember, offers to support any person running for state office. Petitioners here refused that assistance. So they are making a novel argument: that Arizona violated their First Amendment rights by disbursing funds to other speakers even though they could have received (but chose to spurn) the same financial assistance. Some people might call that chutzpah.

Indeed, what petitioners demand is essentially a right to quash others’ speech through the prohibition of a (universally available) subsidy program. Petitioners are able to convey their ideas without public financing—and they would prefer the field to themselves, so that they can speak free from response. To attain that goal, they ask this Court to prevent Arizona from funding electoral speech—even though that assistance is offered to every state candidate, on the same (entirely unobjectionable) basis. And this Court gladly obliges.

This one immediately leaps somewhere toward the top of the list of “Worst Roberts Court Decisions,” not an easy standard.

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That’s Some Catch

[ 13 ] June 27, 2011 |

I have a column for the Prospect arguing that Scalia’s evaluation of the discrimination claims in Wal-Mart v. Dukes is part of a long-running conservative con:

The problem with ignoring statistical evidence is that doing so produces far too many false negatives: Even in historical periods in which white and male supremacy were much more strongly entrenched and more overt, it has been relatively easy for various actors to find race-neutral pretexts for their actions.

On of the strongest examples of this is voting rights. The 15th Amendment forbids racial discrimination in election rules, and yet—Scalia’s beliefs notwithstanding—African Americans were disenfranchised in most areas of the former Confederacy for nearly a century after its ratification. Two cases decided in 1876 demonstrate the effects of taking race-neutral policies at face value. In U.S. v. Reese, the Court permitted the use of literacy tests and poll taxes to prevent African Americans from voting because the policies were formally race-neutral, while in U.S v. Cruikshank, the Supreme Court was unable to see racial discrimination even in the systematic massacre of African-American voters. As a result, a combination of discriminatorily applied rules and state-sanctioned private violence suppressed the African-American vote for many decades.

Similarly, the Court was unwilling to uphold formal exclusions of African-Americans from jury service, but in a pattern that has repeated throughout Supreme Court history up to and including Dukes, decisions barring such discrimination were made irrelevant because the Supreme Court created standards that made discrimination nearly impossible to prove. In cases such as Thomas v. Texas (1909), the Supreme Court made it clear that no amount of systematic evidence was sufficient to show that discrimination was actually occurring. As a result, localities with large African-American populations could have nothing but all-white juries for decades without fearing an adverse constitutional ruling unless a state official was stupid enough to admit what was being done in open court.

Just remember that 1)systematic evidence is never sufficient evidence of individual discrimination, and 2)individual discrimination is always anomalous or anecdotal, and you too can be a conservative Supreme Court justice.   (Principles void if white men are involved, of course.)


Blog Promotion: Bloggings By Boz

[ 8 ] June 27, 2011 |

This week, I want to highlight the excellent blog on Latin American affairs, Bloggings by Boz. Boz has provided seminal coverage of Latin American affairs for years. This is a blog with some readership but not nearly enough. I’ll argue very strongly that even informed Americans like the readers of this blog don’t pay enough attention to Latin America and its rise in economic and political power over the last 2 decades.

Boz’s blog is a go-to source for me. Take for instance today’s piece on machinations within Hugo Chavez’s regime to eventually replace him, something that has taken on more importance with his recent illness and recovery in Cuba, an event that has received virtually no play in the U.S. media.

Everyone really should add Bloggings by Boz to their RSS feed.

Please nominate sites for future editions of this series in comments.

Shorter Douthat: “I Believe, Through the Very Selective Reading of a Book I Picked Up, That Empowering 3rd World Women Leads to Aborting Girls. Therefore, Let’s Reinforce Patriarchy”

[ 11 ] June 27, 2011 |


However, at least Douthat is honest here. Anti-abortion crusaders are rarely about the children and often about the encasing of women into idealized and repressive gender roles.

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The Perry Economic Myth

[ 20 ] June 27, 2011 |

Plumer is right here.

USA 2 – 4 Mexico

[ 18 ] June 26, 2011 |

CONCACAF Gold Cup Final.  I was unable to watch this one, as at our expansive Oregon estate we have the absolute bare minimum cable package.  I followed along on ESPN game cast, which itself was not an enjoyable experience.  It’s good that I couldn’t watch on tv.  The USA will not be playing in the 2013 Confederations Cup, which is a shame as we had a good run in 2009 (losing to Brazil in the final), but honestly, with the shape of the side at present, it’s probably a good thing we’re not in the 2013 edition.

If any good came from this match, it was the emergence of Freddy Adu.  Adu, a surprise call up, and an even more surprising starter, had by all accounts a fantastic game, our one true stand out.  I had given up on him a couple years ago, so this is a pleasant surprise.  Now, if he could only make something of his club career . . .

I do agree with James Martin that this lost could be a blessing in disguise (unlike Al Gore’s defeat in 2000, I think all of us on this side of wingnutia can agree that didn’t turn out particularly well).  However, I’m not sure what lessons can be learned from this defeat; it would appear to me that the balance of power in CONCACAF has shifted back to Mexico in the near term.  Oh, one lesson we can learn: don’t schedule the final, which was always going to be a USA – Mexico affair, in bloody Pasadena.  85% of the fans were supporting Mexico.  Hold it in Columbus, or Seattle, or Fargo, North Dakota.  Anywhere but the southern tier of the country.

To be positive, we have the Women’s World Cup to look forward to, where the USA has a decent chance (my predictions regardless) of winning the thing.  So far, it’s going according to my predictions (a state of existence that is certain to be derailed soon) with France defeating Nigeria and Germany beating Canada 2-1.  That Germany won in front of 72,000 partisan fans only makes it an uphill climb for the USA or Brazil to win the tournament.

I Hate To Tell You This…Actually, I Love Telling You This

[ 55 ] June 26, 2011 |

Shorter Verbatim William C. Duncan: “What remains to be seen now is whether the people of New York will look kindly on the legislators who ignored them, listening instead to the Hollywood stars and other glitterati who became lobbyists for this fashionable cause.”

The thing is, in not allowing a minority of bigots to short-circuit marriage equality legislation, the governor and Senate were acting in concert with the overwhelming majority of New Yorkers. Projection in defense of discrimination is most definitely a vice.

Judicial Wankery

[ 22 ] June 25, 2011 |

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser, feckless bully.  The last paragraph (a Prosser quote) is hilarious.

h/t Mary Dudas, John Emerson.

Criminalizing Gender: Kansas, Mississippi, and Alabama Editions

[ 55 ] June 25, 2011 |

While yesterday provided a significant victory for progressive politics (and general ‘right thing to do’-ness), the forces of moral fascism reactionary citizenry continue unabated.

In Kansas, a new licensing law for abortion providers has passed, under the ruse of establishing “safety standards” in a state described by the head of Operation Rescue as “the Wild West for abortionists for as long as anyone can remember.”

There are precisely three providers in the entire state.

For now.  It’s absurd to imply that providers do not conduct business in line with professional standards of care, and this isn’t about that, obviously.

“These requirements range from the impossible to the absurd,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “They’re not designed to protect patient safety; they’re designed to shut down abortion providers.”

And of course, safety standards will be somewhat difficult to enforce when reproductive freedom is criminalized.

Moving south, The Guardian has a good piece describing “the creeping criminalisation of pregnant women as a new front in the culture wars over abortion, in which conservative prosecutors are chipping away at hard-won freedoms by stretching protection laws to include foetuses, in some cases from the day of conception.”

In Mississippi, this takes the guise of a law that makes miscarriages suspect under “depraved-heart murder” of the unborn foetus, which carries a mandatory life sentence.  In one Mississippi case, the defense

have argued before Mississippi’s highest court that her prosecution makes no sense. Under Mississippi law it is a crime for any person except the mother to try to cause an abortion.  “If it’s not a crime for a mother to intentionally end her pregnancy, how can it be a crime for her to do it unintentionally, whether by taking drugs or smoking or whatever it is,” Robert McDuff, a civil rights lawyer asked the state supreme court.

In Alabama, the “criminal endangerment law”, originally passed with the goal of protecting the children of hobbyists running meth labs, has been employed in prosecutions not consistent with the original intent of the state legislature.  The most grotesque case discussed in the article is that of Amanda Kimbrough, who

is one of the women who have been ensnared as a result of the law being applied in a wholly different way. During her pregnancy her foetus was diagnosed with possible Down’s syndrome and doctors suggested she consider a termination, which Kimbrough declined as she is not in favour of abortion.

The baby was delivered by caesarean section prematurely in April 2008 and died 19 minutes after birth.

Six months later Kimbrough was arrested at home and charged with “chemical endangerment” of her unborn child on the grounds that she had taken drugs during the pregnancy – a claim she has denied.

So here we have a woman, faced with a probable Down’s baby, who rejected termination as she doesn’t believe in abortion.  Not exactly the archtype target of such legislation, yet her case is before a higher Alabama court on appeal.

Albany Gets on Right Side of History

[ 112 ] June 24, 2011 |

Looks like the vote will finally pass. Outstanding! At lease one member has unexpectedly switched to a “yes”; once the logjam has been broken you’d think some GOP members would prefer not to emulate Strom Thurmond.

Whew, it’s good that I was able to get married before the institution of heterosexual marriage ceased to exist in New York! Alas, the newest member of the blog was not so lucky. There’s still going to be an open bar tomorrow, right?

It’s official. And now let us praise the framers of the New York constitution for not including an initiative process.

Cocaine is a hell of a drug

[ 25 ] June 24, 2011 |

No one will believe me, of course, but just this morning I was thinking, “I wonder what’s new in the world of cocaine.”

Okay then:

Cocaine cut with the veterinary drug levamisole could be the culprit in a flurry of flesh-eating disease in New York and Los Angeles.

The drug, used to deworm cattle, pigs and sheep, can rot the skin off noses, ears and cheeks. And over 80 percent of the country’s coke supply contains it. . . .

[Dr. Noah] Craft is one of several doctors across the country who have linked the rotting skin to tainted coke. The gruesome wounds surface days after a hit because of an immune reaction that attacks the blood vessels supplying the skin. Without blood, the skin starves and suffocates.

For a period in the 1990s, levamisole was hailed as an effective component in adjuvant chemotherapy for stage III colon cancer; then a few studies came out showing that the drug significantly worsened the prognosis for patients (and caused potentially life-threatening side effects like white cell crashes), and it was eliminated from the cocktails. Now it’s used almost exclusively on animals. Its use as a cutting agent in cocaine is apparently a recent (and evolving) phenomenon, as this fascinating 2010 piece from The Stranger describes in great detail — among other things, levamisole is virtually undetectable, adds significant bulk to crack (while surviving the purification process), and may accelerate cocaine’s potency. And if you scan back through Google news since the mid-1990s, you can track the growing estimates of the presence of levamisole in the American coke supply, from around 30 percent in 2005 to current estimates of 80 percent or more.

And to think that some people insist that our War on Drugs doesn’t produce measurable results.

House refuses to authorize use of force in Libya

[ 116 ] June 24, 2011 |

Good for them, and especially for the 70 Democrats who refused to issue an ex post facto rubber stamp for the executive branch’s latest exercise in foreign policy adventurism.

Update: After a classified briefing, almost all Democrats and some Republicans agree to continue funding. My guess is there’s a secret plan to end the war and/or evidence that Quaddafi has acquired or is about to acquire WMDs.

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