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[ 0 ] December 25, 2008 |

A happy one to all of our loyal (or intermittent) readership.


Gosh Darn It, People Like Him

[ 1 ] December 25, 2008 |

Bye-Bye Norm. That is, unless the Supremes discover another mysterious “no, the Republican has to win” clause in the 14th Amendment…

The "Invoking A Meritocracy That Never Existed" Gambit

[ 0 ] December 23, 2008 |

Quebec premier Jean Charest has, for the second time, selected a cabinet with equal numbers of men and women, perhaps establishing this as a norm for future premiers. Lysaine Gagnon is displeased:

This development is being touted as a progressive move by Mr. Charest. It certainly added a touch of gloss to what would have been a rather lacklustre event, since most senior cabinet ministers were simply given their former posts. But it’s sending our governments down a very bad path, because it means that some of these appointments will be made regardless of merit and qualifications.

Oooh, fetch me the smelling salts. Are you telling me that a cabinet appointment in Canadian government may be based on any factor other than “merit or qualifications”? What an unprecedented development! When I read this I was planning a string of snark about what an amazing coincidence it was that every Liberal who managed to get elected in the prairies turn out to be remarkably qualified for the federal cabinet, etc. etc., but the striking thing about her argument is that Gagnon completely recognizes this: “There are many factors apart from merit that must be taken into account when a premier creates his cabinet – geography, political considerations and so on.”

At this point, then, one is compelled to ask why exactly the train of political considerations should stop with the inclusion of traditionally underrepresented groups. This is a classic Charles Murray move: justify the exclusion of African-Americans by citing a non-existent American tradition of judging people on their individual merits. Somehow, the door always stops in front of discriminated against groups (legacy admissions are OK, but suddenly when more people of color start attending universities standardized tests are absolutely sacrosanct.) One can quibble with Charest’s precise mathematical equity, I suppose, but in general it seems likely that appointing more women is as likely to improve the quality of people serving in the cabinet as anything, and certainly redressing the gross gender inequality in political institutions is certainly a more compelling consideration than, say, rewarding the premier’s cronies. Which brings us to the last point: what exactly are the “qualifications” to be a lower-level cabinet minister anyway? Cabinet appointments are always in substantial measure political, and this is not only inevitable but not particularly undesirable.

Pravda as a Jouralistic Standard

[ 0 ] December 20, 2008 |

Shorter Weekly Standard: If American journalism wants to restore its reputation, the only acceptable form covering Dick Cheney is the fellatio cool objectivity of Stephen Hayes.

Almost any part of this review could be a “verbatim,” but I think this was my favorite passage:

There is the cherry-picking of evidence. Much is made, for example, of an Australian intelligence report debunking the purchase by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq of electronic maps of the United States and of the doubts regarding aluminum tubing suspected of being useful in making centrifuges for a nuclear bomb. Angler reflects almost none of the fairly consistent foreign intelligence agreement that Saddam had, or was close to having, weapons of mass destruction.

Yes, clearly the fact that Hussein might have been “close to having” some “weapons of mass destruction” that posed no threat whatsoever to American civilians provides evidence that he was close to having nuclear weapons, and debunking straightforward lies made by administration officials is “cherry picking evidence.” Now that’s journamalism that I can get behind.

The "Hate Speech" Lie

[ 0 ] December 19, 2008 |

To follow up on this, it’s not merely that the California court’s decision was directed entirely at state actors, and had no bearing on the actions of private churches at all. It’s that the whole category of “hate speech,” as it pertains to American law, doesn’t exist. The state cannot restrict speech solely based in its content no matter how hateful or potentially dangerous; this has been well-settled federal law for nearly 40 years. (The separate category of hate crimes, which deal with the intent of the perpetrators of violent crimes — which is always relevant — as opposed to their beliefs per se is again of no relevance to Warren’s claims.) This is recognized by critics of the libertarian American approach as well as those (like me) who generally favor it.

Whatever the decision Prop 8 sought to overturn had said, therefore, it simply could not have made any action by a church criminal, and anybody who actually knew anything about American politics and constitutional law would know that. Whether Warren himself is fully immersed in a world of paranoid conservative fantasia or is simply cynically pandering to the ignorant paranoia of his audience I can’t say, but either way it doesn’t speak well of him.

Coleman Cites Bush v. Gore

[ 0 ] December 18, 2008 |

I’ve believed for a while that the most constructive way for progressives to deal with Bush v. Gore is to play it straight — that is, to pretend that it actually stands for a principle that vote counting standards should be fair and uniform. Norm Coleman, however, has an approach much closer to the spirit of the Supreme Court’s indefensible intervention into the 2000 election. Obviously, his claim that the 14th Amendment requires ballots that were improperly excluded to remain excluded is a legal argument with the rare distinction of being more farcical than Bush v. Gore itself. But when you consider that the actual “principle” (to distort the word beyond any possible meaning) that the Supreme Court seemed to be applying in that case was that arbitrary, non-uniform recounts are perfectly acceptable unless they threaten the election of a Repblican candidate, in which case states are required to conduct a recount according to uniform statewide standards restore the arbitrary recount that benefits the Supreme Court’s preferred candidate…well, you have to admit that the Coleman team’s cite is directly on point. Fortunately, I doubt that the Minnesota courts are going to go along….

Warren Addenda

[ 0 ] December 18, 2008 |

In addition to Rob’s links below, make sure to read Sarah Posner. And as Steve Benen notes, even defenses based on crude political criteria are exceedingly unconvincing. It’s unlikely in the extreme that Rick Warren’s “purely symbolic” selection is going to attract any non-negligible number of reactionary evangelical voters, while slapping major Democratic constiuencies in the face surely carries its own risks. And worse, it elevates Warren’s stature further, giving him “bipartsian” media credibility when he inevitably attacks any decent part of Obama’s agenda. It’s a dismaying choice, wrong on the merits and wrong on the politics.

Speaking of unconvincing defenses, some low comedy from the woman whose alleged support for gay and lesbian rights and reproductive freedom has long put the “effectively non-existent” in “nominal.” The punchline: “I don’t believe the image of the angry, spiteful gay is helpful to the gay rights cause.” I strongly advocate finding some way of stripping law professors who constantly make excuses for bigots of crucial fundamental rights and we’ll see how many of them don’t start sounding “angry” or “spiteful.”

More Political Expertise In Malkinland

[ 0 ] December 17, 2008 |

Former Cap’n Morrissey gives us a rousing chorus of “Kumbayah”:

Racial divide? Didn’t this election prove that our racial divide had moved to the past? Barack Obama didn’t win from the black vote — he won a majority of white voters as well. While racism will never get completely stamped out, it has thankfully faded out of our public life.


Vote By Race


Obama 43%
McCain 55%
Other 2%

And the thing is, even if you for some reason weren’t aware the exit polls were available free online, if you know anything about politics at all shouldn’t you realize immediately that this assertion is implausible? If you know that Obama overwhelmingly won the Latino vote, the GOP’s African-American vote is basically a rounding error, but McCain only lost by 7 points…how could he have lost white voters?

As for Morrissey’s claim that racism is no longer a factor in public life, yeah, it sure is an amazing coinky-dink that in the 1960 Apartheid Belt McCain did better than Bush in what was otherwise an abysmal year for Republicans.

Today In Left-Medvedism

[ 0 ] December 16, 2008 |

Sacha Zimmerman approvingly cites this New York article. Alas, she doesn’t deal with its fundamental problems, most notably its reliance on anecdotes and otherwise less-than-impartial data and the fact that it’s not clear what an increase in female drinking would have to do with feminism even if it was true (cf. Valenti, Howley, Filipovic.) And, worse, the tut-tutting about young women (rather than, say, young people in general) drinking is pretty clearly anti-feminist.

Rather than addressing any of these problems, Zimmerman makes the kind of argument I’d prefer to leave to the Michael Medveds of the world.

Still, in a pop landscape that turns drunk women into comedic icons, it’s easy to see why bingeing might at least appear empowering. Every swilled cosmopolitan on “Sex in the City” is fetishized; indeed, the pink martini has become a kind of symbol of female liberation. (Never mind that actress Kristin Davis, who plays Charlotte, is an alcoholic who has been sober 18 years.) Meanwhile, every booze-soaked character actress on television, from Karen on “Will & Grace” to the ladies of “Ab Fab,” makes alcoholism seem downright fun–if anti-intellectual. The gals on “How I Met Your Mother” are constantly drinking beer but are rarely shown drunk–unlike the Woo Girls of a recent episode (so named for their penchant to scream, “Wooo!” every time a drink is poured or a great song comes on).

This is strange on a number of levels. First of all, I’m not sure who’s saying that binge drinking (or, for that matter, drinking at all) is “empowering”; as Howley puts it, “I happen to have a female body. It does not follow that my every vice is part of some misguided attempt to achieve gender parity.” I’ve never seen the last show, but I have no idea what SITC or AbFab have to do with “feminism.” The cosmos are fetishized in SATC because all the consumption is fetishized (as most of its fans, I’m sure, are perfectly aware of.) And, most importantly, these are fictional characters in comedy shows. Characters who drink more than is strictly healthy or are otherwise irresponsible tend to being comedic potential to the table; to state the obvious, a show consisting entirely of Ned Flanderses would be considerably less funny than a show with one (usually serving as the butt of jokes.) Leaving aside Zimmerman’s implicit insults to the intelligence of the audiences of these shows, a culture world in which female characters were seen a role models rather than characters would be had for feminism and even worse for art, high and low. To borrow a point from Katha Pollitt, it’s like Irving Howe critiquing Roth because he wasn’t creating good Jewish role models (everyone knows that Portnoy’s Complaint would have been better if it only had the “strongly-felt ethical and altruistic impulses”!)

Even if one accepts Zimmerman’s dubious proposition that one can’t really be a feminist if one drinks more than Zimmerman considers appropriate, let’s please not use “empowerment” as the primary criterion for evaluating art.

Veto Points and the Bailout

[ 0 ] December 15, 2008 |

John Judis brings the appropriate level of outrage to the failure of the auto bailout. And I actually think Kevin Drum is being too charitable when he attributes Republican opposition to the bailout to “ideology.” This implies that there’s some “free market” principle at stake. As today’s news again reminds us, the GOP doesn’t seem terribly concerned about much more problematic things like the disgusting, virtually no-strings-attached re-re bailouts of Citigroup and AIG. Rather, Republican senators want to drive down wages for American autoworkers and create competitive advantages for their right-to-work states so much that they’re willing to inflict massive blows to the American economy to do so. (As Molly Ivors cracks, if there was some way of putting together a bailout that would pay executives and not workers, the bailout might have had a chance.)

It’s worth noting, however, the unique institutional features of the American system that permit an unrepresentative minority of one (already grossly malapportioned) house of Congress to block legislation supported by clear legislative majorities and the executive (and that doesn’t even arguably violate any constitutional norms.) As Rob says, it’s not entirely clear whether Josh Marshall opposes getting rid of the filibuster or just using certain means to get rid of the filibuster. If it’s the former, though, he’s dead wrong. Adding another supermajority requirement onto the already high-veto-point American system makes no sense, and while there will be isolated cases in which it serves liberal interests over the course of history is is extremely damaging to progressive social change, and in any case conservative majorities are also entitled to govern and be held accountable.

The bailout fiasco also serves as a reminder that the Democrats blundered severely by not forcing the GOP to use the “nuclear option” to break a filibuster of Alito. Creating a precedent that would inevitably led to the end of the filibuster was far more important than “keeping the powder dry” for…er, remind me, what did they save it for again?

Long Fuse

[ 0 ] December 15, 2008 |

In addition to the many other ways in which it’s abominable, Reuel Marc Gerecht’s op-ed supporting Stalinist interrogation methods and opposing the rule of law contains one of the most farcical invocations of the “ticking time bomb” scenario ever:

But this third way, which is essentially where America was before the Clinton administration embraced rendition, is plausible only if Mr. Obama is lucky. He might be. If there is no “ticking time bomb” situation — say, where waterboarding a future Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (the 9/11 mastermind) could save thousands of civilians — then there is neither need for the C.I.A.’s exceptional methods, nor the harsh services of Jordan’s General Intelligence Department.”

The “ticking time bomb” is always useless because it requires certainly about a number of things that are inherently uncertain. But any “ticking time bomb” scenario that allows for a time-consuming rendition of terrorists to other countries is pretty much by definition not a “ticking time bomb” scenario at all, since we seem to be conceding that there’s nothing imminent and that taking more time isn’t an issue. And, of course, if we have a genuine “ticking time bomb” scenario it’s not clear why we would need extraordinary rendition at all; does anyone think that a Jack Bauer who really did prevent a nuclear bomb from going off in Manhattan would be convicted? Rather, Grecht is giving away the show: invocations of the “ticking time bomb” pretty quickly turn into “well, if we arbitrarily torture enough people somebody may have some information of uncertain reliability that may lessen the probability of a future terrorist attack” arguments. Why the New York Times thinks that we need people to be making these types of arguments on its editorial pages is unclear.

…I agree with lp in comments that Henley’s take is classic.

Candid Stupidity

[ 0 ] December 14, 2008 |

There’s one thing, and one thing only, you can say about this nonsense: at least Silva makes no effort to hide the fact that he’s serving as a willing conduit for GOP propaganda:

The “unanswered questions” — as the Republican National Committee and others are calling them — will continue to haunt President-elect Obama and staff in the sordid case of the Illinois governor accused of attempting to sell Obama’s Senate seat.

What Silva never quite gets around to answering is what exactly these questions are, or why on earth anyone should care. This strikes me as relevant:

It’s important to remember that federal prosecutors, who have accused Blagojevich of dialing for dollars with his power of appointment over the seat that the junior senator from Illinois left after election as president, have implicated neither Obama nor his staff in the Blagojevich scandal.

I think this settles the question. So, again, questions about what? Who cares whether Blagojevich talked with Emmanuel if the latter didn’t do anything wrong? What’s the scandal here? We’re in Whitewater territory here — again, there will always be troubling “unanswered questions” that somehow can never be answered correctly, and once you’ve established that such “questions” don’t actually have to have anything to do with any wrongdoing the number of potential questions is infinite.

And, actually, I’m giving Silva too much credit. While at least he’s admitting to passing on feeble GOP talking points, note the “[t]hese are questions that Obama and staff will continue to face this week” construction. Needless to say, the role of hacks like Silva in ensuring that Obama will have to continue to face “questions” that imply some sort of scandal with no evidence whatsoever just sort of drops out of the picture. The “questions” just sort of magically appear out of nowhere, I guess.

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