Subscribe via RSS Feed

Author Page for Scott Lemieux

rss feed

Boomer Nostalgia Is Not An Argument

[ 0 ] July 11, 2007 |

At the end of an excellent post about the nature of allegedly “traditional” marriage, Dana Goldtsein concludes: “What’s at stake for conservatives aren’t marriages that raise happy children, but a fear of sex and women’s liberation, especially in combination.” Completely correct, and it’s really palpable in Brooks’s column.

This whole “the idealized marriage I remember from the precise moment when I was a kid must be the optimal form of family relations” line of non-reasoning reminds me of nothing so much as the assertion that America “lost its innocence” when…it found out quiz shows were being fixed (or some other trivial event that happened well over a century after America’s decidedly non-virgin birth when the person making the argument was a naive child.) Solipsism and nostalgia are really not sound justifications for maintaining unjust or irrational social institutions, and tends to lead to the distortion of history as well.

Can This State Intervention Be Saved?

[ 0 ] July 11, 2007 |

In this thread, Bean suggests that the solution to the issues created by prostitution may be decriminalization but not legalization, and another commenter suggests a model that would make the purchase of sex but not the selling of sex illegal. To start with the question of whether state intervention is defensible even if one agrees with the ends:

  • To me, upholding traditional conceptions of sexual morality is not a valid reason for making prostitution, or any other sex work voluntarily engaged in by adults, illegal.
  • It is, however, legitimate for the state to protect sex workers the way it protects other workers.
  • With respect to the legitimate justification, the criminalization of prostitution is obviously a disaster. By creating strong disincentives for sex workers to seek protection from the state, it makes them more vulnerable to violence and particularly gross exploitation at the hands of both johns and pimps (the latter representing the informal authority that will inevitably fill the vacuum left by the state.)
  • Bean’s solution is preferable but also strikes me as problematic. It reduces the disincentives, which is good, but still leaves a significant disincentive in place, which is bad. Moreover, from a feminist perspective I just don’t see what good fining sex workers is supposed to accomplish; the same analysis that would make one concerned about the exploitation of women makes it very strange indeed to further punish women who sell sex (and given how likely these women are to be poor, the effect of fines is hardly trivial.)
  • We can get beyond this problem, however, by imposing fines only on people who purchase sex.

So that’s a potentially defensible solution. Do I support it?

I’m open to persuasion, but I would have to say no. This isn’t because I’m sanguine about the exploitation involved in sex work in this particular cultural context, and personally prostitution makes me especially uncomfortable. But I still think that the punishment of sex work involves some sort of claim about false consciousness. They key question is not whether sex work is often exploitative, but exploitative compared to what? Maybe there’s a reason why paying poor women to have sex is categorically worse than paying women to clean toilets for minimum wage, but this tends to be assumed rather than argued (and is often, I think, bad moralistic justification #1 being smuggled in behind good feminist justification #2.) In addition, the kind of worker-protecting regulations that become possible after legalization: restrictions on employers, informed consent requirements, health services/standards, etc. seem like a more narrowly tailored way of addressing the state’s legitimate concerns. At a minimum, in an ideal policy world we would try this before seeking to punish johns, and would avoid punishing sex workers at all.

The Vacuity of the "Judicial Activism" Charge

[ 0 ] July 10, 2007 |

One one level, I’m sympathetic to Ilya Somin’s response to Adam Cohen’s “gotcha” column about “judicial activism.” It’s true that most conservatives have never claimed that the Courts should never overturn laws or applications of laws by the executive branch, and in this sense individual cases of conservative courts doing so isn’t necessarily a deep contradiction with the values of conservative jurisprudence.

However, the problem is that once you — like Somin — divorce the concept of “judicial activism” from the frequency with which courts (for better or worse) strike down actions of the political branches the term becomes an empty tautology. The concept of “activism” ceases to do any real work; everything comes down to whether one considers decisions correct or not for reasons independent of “judicial activism” per se. And in this sense, Cohen’s column is fair; whatever the details when you look under the hood, to the lay public decrying “judicial activism” certainly implies that you want courts to be more deferential to the political branches. The fact that conservative courts aren’t, on balance, more deferential (they tend to be more deferential to state legislatures and less deferential to Congress) does not, in itself, mean that conservative jurisprudence is wrong — but it does make the pejorative use of the term “judicial activism” misleading and deprives the term of any value. It’s certainly fair to use the Roberts Court to illustrate that “judicial activism” means nothing more to most people using the label than “judgifying I don’t like.”

Legalize It

[ 0 ] July 10, 2007 |

This is a great point:

It’s really too bad that when politicians get caught doing stuff that shouldn’t be illegal, they never, ever, ever seem to respond by redoubling their efforts to reduce the criminalization of victimless conduct. Does Vitter think Vitter should go to jail? Does he think the hookers he had sex with should go to jail? If not, then doesn’t he think he should use his authority as one of the guys who gets to write the laws to create a more just legal system?

Right. (It’s also puzzling that legalizing prostitution is something that seems to be rarely discussed, although criminalization is obviously a terrible policy even if you support it for more legitimate ends than the usual purpose of such legislation. The effect of these laws is to make sex workers more vulnerable to violence and exploitation, not less.) Moreover, laws like this are particularly prone to arbitrary and abusive enforcement. And therein lies the problem: the fact that wealthy politicians aren’t going to be punished for violating these laws make them less likely to be repealed; it’s a cost-free way of demonstrating fealty to Moral Goodness.

Feature, Not A Bug

[ 0 ] July 10, 2007 |

It’s always refreshing, in this postmodern age, when political struggles can be clearly drawn battles between good and evil:

The fight over a popular health insurance program for children is intensifying, with President Bush now leading efforts to block a major expansion of the program, which is a top priority for Congressional Democrats.

The seemingly uncontroversial goal of insuring more children has become the focus of an ideological battle between the White House and Congress. The fight epitomizes fundamental disagreements over the future of the nation’s health care system and the role of government.

Democrats have proposed a major expansion of the program, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, to cover more youngsters with a substantial increase in federal spending.

Administration officials have denounced the Democratic proposal as a step toward government-run health care for all. They said it would speed the erosion of private insurance coverage. And they oppose two of the main ideas contemplated by Democrats to finance expanded coverage for children: an increase in the federal tobacco tax and cuts in Medicare payments to private insurance companies caring for the elderly.

White House objections to the Democratic plan are “philosophical and ideological,” said Allan B. Hubbard, assistant to the president for economic policy. In an interview, he said the Democrats’ proposal would move the nation toward “a single-payer health care system with rationing and price controls.”

It is difficult to overstate the sheer horror that lies at the bottom of this slippery slope. If we expand healthcare for children, we may end up with a system…like those in every virtually other liberal democracy! In which — brace yourself, this isn’t for the faint of heart — healthcare is provided to everyone for less money leading to health outcomes as good or better than the completely indefensible American system! How horrifying! What will we tell the children?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

The ones who won’t become ill or die because of Republicans who care more about their paymasters in the insurance lobby than developing a rational health care policy, I mean.

I Admit It

[ 0 ] July 10, 2007 |

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

“It’s just a waffle iron with a phone in it!”

Although she hasn’t mentioned it, perhaps in fear that L, G & M’s head office will be overcome by angry readers with pitchforks, I saw earlier this evening that a certain co-blogger with a legume-themed sobriquet has acquired one of them fancy i-Phones a few of you may have heard of. And…as much as it pains me to admit it, it’s a pretty beautiful thing, just incredibly well-designed and easy to use software. I think the price tag and the allegedly crappy A T & T network can serve as an excuse not to get one, but…I wanted one, I gotta admit. And I don’t even like cell phones.

The Green Lantern Theory Of Domestic Politics

[ 4 ] July 9, 2007 |

To follow up on Ezra’s point about Megan McArdle’s claim that impeachment proceedings would “mean[] not having any achievements to show the electorate next year,” it’s always striking to me the extent to which even many smart, politically aware people don’t fully absorb the implications of the Madisonian institutional framework. As Ezra says, as long as the GOP has more than 40 Senators and the White House, major accomplishments are not an issue. This also came up in certain recent not-to-be-reopened debates, but while there are any number of valid critiques of Clinton to attack him for not achieving any major progressive initiatives after 1994 is bizarre; with a Republican Congress this simply wasn’t a possibility. The President has a lot of power to affect the implementation of existing policy and can do a lot to obstruct change, but his ability to create major domestic policy shifts without Congress is nil. (And this is applicable to reactionary — as opposed to merely conservative — policy shifts as well as progressive ones. As Bush’s attempts to privatize Social Security recently and thankfully dramatized, the only thing harder than creating a major new domestic program is rolling one with anything resembling a broad constituency back once it’s been implemented.)

Another upshot of this is that debates about impeachment are purely about the politics — obviously there’s no chance of 2/3 of the Senate voting to convict anyone. And here I also agree with Ezra that here McArdle is considerably more persuasive. It’s hard to see how serious impeachment proceedings (as opposed to stepping up use of Congress’ oversight powers in general) would strengthen the Democrats’ political position.

Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Executive Power, Torture, and the Constitution

[ 0 ] July 9, 2007 |

Marty Lederman has a useful, bookmarkable list of every Balkinization post about the title subjects. Seeing them all in one place reminds me that I while I can take even the most essential blogs for granted sometimes the sheer amount of good analysis is remarkable.

Whatever Happened To Us?

[ 0 ] July 9, 2007 |

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

I really enjoyed this Vanity Fair article about the Wainwright/McGarrigle clan (HT: new well-deserved TAP hire Dana Goldstein.) Plus both male Waingwrights — each, like the McGarrigles, an outstanding live act (and Martha held her own when I saw her on a bill with Joanna Newsom and Neko Case in Brooklyn last year) — have new albums out. Both are good, although with Loudon I prefer his terrific 2005 Bill Frisell collaboration. (Alas, Roy Edroso’s essay on LW III is no longer available for free online.)

OK, OK, Uncle

[ 0 ] July 9, 2007 |

I’m embarrassed that until I read Alone in the Dark’s review I had no idea that Brad Bird had done The Iron Giant, a beautiful film. The only thing stopping me from making Ratatouille a higher priority although everyone says its great is that I found almost-as-universally-praised The Incredibles very disappointing; the setup was excellent, but it became a frequently dull fighting-and-chase movie way too quickly. But, yeah, I really should see it. (And, hey, I’ve been pretty good about non-snooty movie choices recently, seeing two legitimate hits and a movie that wasn’t mainstream only because unlike me most people had enough sense to avoid it like the plague. Plus the Danish noirs and 3-hour Lawrence adaptations and Melville revivals that play more to type; more about all this soon.)

Speaking of which, since I’ve seen even some Bay detractors concede too much on this score elsewhere, AITD has more in comments about the bizarre assertion that Michael Bay is some sort of technical wizard:

I’m glad people are finally shredding the “Bay is such a great visual director” trope. He’s incompetent. I remember a scene in The Rock where the two heroes were surrounded by soldiers who (natch) opened fire. The scene was so badly shot and edited that I couldn’t tell if the soldiers were trying to kill the heroes, each other, or just blow off their own balls.

Right. IIRC, most of his action sequences like this; they’re so inept that they fail to convey such simple and crucial matters as where the characters are in relation to each other, who’s shooting at who, etc. (And while in limited doses and in movies that have characters in them such techniques might be used to intentionally convey disorientation, it’s clear that Bay is just a wanker.) He also lacks other talents of obvious use to the genre director: he has no sense of rhythm or pacing at all, and usually can’t even get good scenery-chewing out of his actors.

Speaking of which, poking around I was reminded of two reviews of Pearl Harbor that rank with J-Pod’s declaring Cinderella Man a peak of American cinema as classics of bad criticism. About Kevin Thomas’s review, which alas doesn’t seem to be online I can only be reminded of John Simon’s response when informed that another LA critic had never been on a studio payroll: “Of course not. Why should they pay for what they’re getting for free?” Then there’s William Arnold, who wrote “I found myself fairly swept away for most of the fast-moving, three-hour running time.” Fast-moving? Unless the last hour when I finally got too annoyed to keep it on even as background was wildly different, the thing moves like Cecil Fielder after a six-course meal.

And because L, G &M prides itself on fair and balanced commentary, I note that fellow Melville revivalist AWB has joined the pro-Transformers consensus. I’m going to take Rob’s word for it, but we report, you decide!

Nobody Cares

[ 0 ] July 8, 2007 |

To follow up on my point from last week, I see that Colin Powell is trying to wipe some blood off his hands. It’s a futile and frankly disgraceful enterprise; when you’re arguably the most important American liar that was involved in selling the war, you take responsibility for it, the end. The fact that you knew is was going to be a disaster makes your behavior less defensible, not more.

[HT: Atrios.]

People Who Should Never, Ever Call Other People "Fatuous"

[ 0 ] July 8, 2007 |

Roger L. Simon, ladies and gentlemen! It’s not exactly news that the co-founder of Trainwreck Media is one of the biggest clowns in the known universe, but “disagreeing with my Trotskyite-turned-Wolfwitzian politics will cause your son to get a DWI rap, which I will take advantage of to sneeringly repeat long-discredited lies and cliches from 1999 Maureen Dowd columns” really merits an entirely new level of contempt.

P.S. Answer to Labs’ question: “No.”