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He’s your president not your boyfriend

[ 38 ] May 10, 2010 |

I heard a soundbite from UC-Irvine law dean Erwin Chemerinksy this morning about Kagan, in which he speculated that Kagan’s warmth and personal charm would endear her to senators during the confirmation process. I’ve never met Kagan but I wouldn’t be surprised if she could charm rust off a pipe — that would certainly help explain her otherwise somewhat inexplicable career.

Personally I think we should try to draw as sharp a distinction as possible between the Supreme Court nomination process and a sorority rush, but obviously a lot of Very Important People disagree.

In some respects this reminds me the ongoing one-sided love affair various progressive types have with Obama. I still like Obama just fine, probably because I’m suffering from Battered Liberal Syndrome, but he doesn’t make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, dreamy though he admittedly is.

Update: I’ll be doing an interview regarding this topic on the Michel Martin’s NPR show Tell Me More at 11 AM EDT tomorrow. The other guest will be conservative law professor Stephen Bainbridge.

I’ll be arguing that Kagan’s nomination should be opposed because she’s a blank slate who could well move the court to the right, while Bainbridge will be arguing in favor of the nomination because she’s a blank slate who could well move the court to the right.

Marty Peretz weighs in on the awesomeness of Elena Kagan

[ 32 ] May 8, 2010 |

And boy does he have good argument!

I’m a bit bemused that my favorite trivial pursuit is illustrated by a cover story in Peretz’s own magazine.

Being There, Elena Kagan edition

[ 8 ] May 8, 2010 |

Some thoughts on the impending nomination.

The wildly contrasting impressions about Kagan can be easily reconciled if one assumes that people who know Kagan are simply projecting their own political inclinations and commitments onto her. This is an extremely common phenomenon: if you like someone and believe she is fundamentally a good and fair-minded person, while at the same time knowing nothing about her own politics, it’s the most natural thing in the world to attribute your politics (for after all, are you not eminently “fair-minded” on all sorts of difficult political questions?) to her. Thus naïve progressives assume a Justice Kagan would be lion of the left, despite the profound affection she elicits among establishment and conservative figures (and the checks she’s cashed while consulting for Goldman Sachs), while conservatives assume she will be a “good” liberal” (which is to say not very liberal at all).

In this sense, Kagan is a much more extreme version of her former University of Chicago colleague, Barack Obama. As an elected politician, Obama has not of course been able to go to anything like Kagan’s lengths in avoiding public positions on controversial issues. Still, a year and a half into the Obama administration, progressives continue getting a rude surprise every time Obama does something profoundly objectionable to the left wing of the Democratic party – even though evidence of Obama’s supposedly progressive political agenda has always tended to consist of little more than wishful thinking.

In some ways, nominating Kagan to the Supreme Court would be the ultimate expression of this trend. Armed with a nearly filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, and poised to replace the most “liberal” (sic) member of the Supreme Court, Obama seems ready to nominate someone whose progressive legal credentials are basically invisible.

Progressives – and indeed people of all political inclinations – should demand more. In theory, there’s nothing wrong with nominating someone to the Supreme Court who has never been a judge. And I have no reason to doubt that Elena Kagan is as fine a person as all her friends say she is. But in practice, a lifetime appointment to the Court should require more than having lots of friends in high places. Meriting such a position should involve clearing a very high evidentiary bar. In Kagan’s case, that bar seems to have been placed on the ground.

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May 4, 1970

[ 19 ] May 4, 2010 |

Kent State

The strange career of Elena Kagan

[ 7 ] May 2, 2010 |

In stark contrast to other current and former law professors whose names have been floated recently as SCOTUS candidates, such as Pam Karlan, Harold Koh, and Diane Wood, Elena Kagan has written almost nothing, and what she’s written is both unimpressive on its own terms, and tells us very little about what sort of justice she would be.

As a sociological matter, comparing Kagan and Harriet Miers is, of course, outrageous. After all, Kagan is one of the most brilliant legal minds of her generation. How do we know this? Just ask her friends!

There’s nothing wrong with putting a non-judge on the SCOTUS, but given that such candidates can’t be evaluated on the basis of their work as judges, it’s all the more imperative that their views on both substantive legal issues and general jurisprudential questions need to be a matter of public record. That it’s necessary to even say such a thing is a sign of how bizarre Kagan’s nomination to the Court would be.

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John Calipari asks: Why do all these street agents keep paying my players?

[ 7 ] April 27, 2010 |

As Rob can attest, the poor guy has really bad luck with that stuff.

Now he has to deal with this.

More on America’s flat tax structure

[ 13 ] April 16, 2010 |

Citizens for Tax Justice has a breakdown of the effective tax rate paid by various income groups, taking all federal and state taxes into account. Some highlights:

(1) Outside the poorest 20% (average cash income $12,400) every other subgroup in the survey pays essentially a flat tax. For instance, those averaging 66K a year pay 28.5% of their income in taxes, while those averaging $1.3 million a year pay 30.8%

(2) This means, of course, that the percentage of taxes collected very closely reflects the percentage of income received by each group. For instance the fourth 20% of income earners (60th-79th percentile of income) received 18.9% of the total income of the U.S. population, and paid 18.9% of the total taxes.

(3) The bottom 99% of income earners paid an effective tax rate of 28.2%, in comparison to an overall national tax rate of 28.6%.

(4) If the data had been broken down into smaller increments, we would see that the super-rich actually pay considerably less than the national average effective tax rate. The 400 richest taxpayers in America in 2007 paid 16.7% in federal taxes, as compared to 18.0% for all taxpayers in 2009. In other words at the very top end the system is actually regressive.

Death, Taxes and GOP rhetoric

[ 6 ] April 15, 2010 |

This Arthur Brooks WSJ article illustrates most of the classic tropes of Republican anti-tax rhetoric:

(1) Talk only about federal income taxes, which — subject to a few marginal exceptions such as the currently non-existent estate tax — are the closest thing we have to a progressive tax. The vast majority of taxes people pay are either flat (state, sales, capital gains) or regressive (social security).

(2) Focus on marginal rates rather effective rates. I’m semi-rich, i.e., what the GOP considers “middle class,” and this year my effective tax rate (the actual percentage of my total income I paid in federal income tax) was less than one-third of my marginal rate (the percentage of my income I paid on the last dollar I earned).

(3) Treat taxes as an artificial intrusion on “the market,” which is conceptualized as some kind of natural fact along the lines of the laws of thermodynamics. “If you think spreading money around by force seems like an odd definition of fairness, you’re not alone,” Brooks writes. Taxes, you see, are imposed by the government via the threat of state violence, and are therefore at least implicitly of questionable legitimacy. Meanwhile, employment contracts which pay CEOs salaries equal to the combined income of 500 of their employees are apparently wholly voluntary social arrangements, rather than mechanisms that deploy the threat of state violence, aka “the rule of law,” to avoid not spreading money around “by force.”

This kind of selective blindness allows for statistics such as the claim that “60% of Americans consume more in government services than they pay in taxes.” Such statistics are based on the idea that Bill Gates and a single mother living below the poverty line are consuming precisely the same amount of government services in the form of the existence of courts of law, legislation, police protection, and indeed the entire structure of the contemporary regulatory state. So since Gates isn’t eligible for food stamps, that means he’s consuming less in government services than someone living below the poverty line.

In 2007 — the latest year for which the relevant numbers are available — the 400 richest American taxpayers paid an effective federal income tax rate of 16.6%. Consider that the working poor pay an effective federal tax rate in social security taxes alone nearly equal to that (when the employer contribution is factored in). Really rich people, of course, don’t pay social security taxes in any meaningful economic sense.

Thoughts on Stevens

[ 1 ] April 9, 2010 |


Security Theater: Denver Edition

[ 3 ] April 8, 2010 |

I’m really looking forward to flying out of Denver later this morning, after last night’s latest outbreak of rampant hysteria and stupidity.

Because this guy is a diplomat he isn’t going to be charged with some bullshit federal offense involving “interfering” with the operation of a flight. Otherwise he’d probably end up with a felony conviction and 50K in legal bills.

Note that a couple of F-16s were scrambled, 160 people were held in custody for five hours after the flight landed, and FBI agents flew in from near and far to deal with this latest assault on our Freedoms. (No doubt part of the explanation for incidents like this is that tens of thousands of federal employees are paid to sit around waiting for something to happen that basically never happens, so false alarms trigger feverish activity out of sheer boredom if nothing else).

Meanwhile in the last five days four people in the Denver area have been killed by RTD bus drivers. The lesson, clearly, is that while we are safer than we were before 9/11, we are not yet safe enough.

How beneficial is breastfeeding?

[ 16 ] April 5, 2010 |

A new study makes some audacious claims about the supposed value of breastfeeding.

Apparently, such claims are both very common and very controversial.

I’m not familiar with the relevant epidemiological literature, but I suspect that debates in this area are influenced heavily by, among other things, the economic interests of formula makers, the cultural politics of motherhood, and plenty of other non-scientific factors.

Purity of Essence

[ 19 ] March 29, 2010 |

Dr. Strangelove

This weekend Glenn Reynolds noted that a “plausible” explanation for Barack Obama’s unwillingness to give the current Israeli government 100% of what it wants (Obama has drawn the line at 98.44%) is that our dusky Muslim overlord “just hates Israel and hates Jews.”

Some rather compelling evidence for this theory can be found here.

Why, after all, would Obama hold the first Seder in White House history? The answer is all too clear to those who, by maintaining a strict regimen of rainwater and pure grain alcohol, have managed to protect the integrity of their precious bodily fluids.

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