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"The Administration is bending over backwards to subsidize an enormously profitable corporation"

[ 0 ] January 14, 2009 |

Good to see that the Yankees’ fleecing of the public fisc is attracting more attention, although in policy terms it’s almost certainly too little too late. In fairness, Thompson doesn’t seem to be considering the immense economic rewards that come from such subsidies; after all, without them, it’s hard to imagine that the South Bronx and Willet’s Point would be the engines of economic growth and vibrant culture that they are today…

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Great Moments In Hackery

[ 0 ] January 13, 2009 |

Speaking of Stuart Taylor and Evan Thomas, who can forget their classic Newsweek cover article asserting that Sam Alito was a moderate who would disappoint conservatives? After all, he liked baseball and had a family –pretty clear evidence that he wasn’t the wholly doctrinaire reactionary more trivial sources of evidence like his judicial record would suggest.

Deep Thought

[ 0 ] January 13, 2009 |

I sure hope that 98% of EPSN’s news coverage consists of breathless reports about whether and where the 27th best QB in the NFL will play in 2009, just like it did last year.

As Allen Barra points out, the Jets would have been much better off signing Kurt Warner. This isn’t to say that Warner is a “greater” QB than Favre. Durability matters, and while Warner is certainly a better QB at his best and certainly has been better in the playoffs, Favre has had a much longer career at a usually high (if often highly overrated) level of value. But Favre’s durability was irrelevant to what his signing meant in 2008, and his expensive sub-mediocrity couldn’t have been more predictable. Mangini probably deserved to get fired, but if the Jets bring Favre back at the price they have much worse problems.

Proof of the Pudding

[ 0 ] January 13, 2009 |

Michelle Goldberg on signals that Obama will rescind “don’t ask, don’t tell”:

Granted, he didn’t say when it was going to happen, but it’s definitely an encouraging sign, and one with far more concrete repercussions than the participation of Warren in the inauguration. That doesn’t mean choosing Warren was a good idea – Obama still elevated the already too-high standing of a fundamentalist ideologue. But if this pattern holds – symbolic sops to the right, followed by real-world gains for gays and lesbians – it will be a huge improvement over Bill Clinton, who did almost exactly the opposite.

Of course, as Goldberg implies Obama shouldn’t be given credit for the good policy change until it happens it either. Symbolic losses for policy gains is a tradeoff worth making if he comes through on the former latter, so we’ll see. Which is why, despite the need to talk about something in the dead time for politics, there’s no point in reaching judgments either way until we see what actually does. People who claimed in 1962 that LBJ was playing supporters and opponents of civil rights for suckers would both have had plenty of ammunition. If we’re lucky (and put on enough pressure), Obama will (in the manner of LBJ) will shiv his more unsavory allies; if we’re not, in the manner of JFK he’ll talk a good game sometimes and not actually do much of anything to avoid upsetting his unsavory allies. I’m betting that he’ll be closer to the former (or I wouldn’t have supported him), but until we see how he actually performs in office, the question will simply remain open.

Better Than Hitler? Get Out of Jail Free!

[ 0 ] January 12, 2009 |

I strongly endorse Dahlia Lithwick’s position in the debate in the Sunday Times about the prosecution of Bush administration war criminals. Making Lithwick’s argument stronger are the embarrassingly weak conclusions reached by Charles Fried. First, we get the “Dick Cheney is better than Pol Pot” gambit, which I suspect we’ll be hearing a lot more of and is certainly revealing in a way its users don’t intend:

If you cannot see the difference between Hitler and Dick Cheney, between Stalin and Donald Rumsfeld, between Mao and Alberto Gonzales, there may be no point in our talking. It is not just a difference of scale, but our leaders were defending their country and people — albeit with an insufficient sense of moral restraint — against a terrifying threat by ruthless attackers with no sense of moral restraint at all.

I trust that it doesn’t require extensive argument on my part for you to see how specious and dangerous the “if you’re not as bad as Mao, you should be exempt from prosecution for unquestionably illegal acts” argument is. Hilzoy says what needs to be said about this. The other standard is just as useless. If we’re going to exempt executive officials from facing consequences for illegal actions as long as they really think their actions are in the best interests of the country, we might as well not have any legal restraints on executive officials at all.

To top it off, Fried adds to this a collective guilt argument: “But we must remember: our leaders, ultimately, were chosen by us; their actions were often ratified by our representatives; we chose them again in 2004.” Poor Richard Nixon — if he had only knew that simply being re-elected should exempt him form facing consequences for any past or future acts! And like Brad DeLong, I must have forgotten all the times in which Fried publically asserted during the Clinton impeachment that because he had been elected twice he ipso facto couldn’t be guilty of anything.

That’ll Solve All Your Problems!

[ 0 ] January 11, 2009 |

I know the state of Michigan is reluctant to turn down money from the feds these days, but this kind of thing really should be left to wingnuttier states. In fairness, its administrators certainly can mount a convincing defense:

And a study by the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health, released in late December, shows that youth who take chastity pledges and partake of abstinence-only education will start sexual activity at the same time as their religious and conservative peers, only they are much less likely to engage in behavior to protect from unwanted pregnancies or sexual transmitted infections.

“What we know is that there are study after study that shows this stuff (abstinence-only) doesn’t work,” said Lori Lammerand, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Mid and South Michigan.

“Well, I disagree with you that studies show that it (abstinence-only education) doesn’t work,” said MDCH spokesperson James McCurtis when asked about the studies. “I challenge you to cite one study that shows that.”

When presented with a study from the Guttmacher Institute web site, McCurtis responded, “I am not going to amend my previous comments. Thank you for the study.”

Well, I’m convinced!

Distinction Without A Difference

[ 0 ] January 10, 2009 |

Jacob Weisberg:

The disputed dates and details go to the most interesting larger issues about what went wrong during the Bush years. Did Bush’s own innocence and incompetence drive his missteps? Or was it the people around him, most importantly his vice president, who manipulated him into his major bad choices? On so many issues—the framing of the war on terrorism, the use of torture, the expansion of executive power—it was Cheney’s views that prevailed. Yet at some point, perhaps around the 2006 election, Bush seems to have lost confidence in his vice president and stopped taking his advice.

I suspect that in the short-term, attempts to defend Bush (especially by liberalish pundits who inexplicably saw him as an essentially harmless moderate in 2000) will fall along the lines of “he wasn’t really that bad, although he had some bad people around him.” The kinds of distinctions that Weisberg is drawing above, though, strike me as trivial; in any case, the responsibility rests with Bush and exemplify Bush’s incompetence. First of all, he selected these people. And second, he was structurally superior to all of them (and Cheney, in particular, has essentially no meaningful institutional authority the president didn’t grant him, as Weisberg’s last concession reflects.) It’s not clear what difference it makes if he was “manipulated” by people he chose to appoint and then allow to set policy or if he reached his administration’s bad ideas independently. It seems pretty obvious that it’s some from column A and some from column B, but it doesn’t matter. A president works through his administration; to speculate about how a president would have fared with different people is to wish for a different president. Cheney, Rumsfeld et al had their authority for a reason and Bush is fully responsible for their actions. The whole game of trying to abstract some kind of abstract independent president who is a different figure than the one reflected when embedded in a staff of his choosing is a strange and not very productive one.

I Can’t Argue With That Logic!

[ 0 ] January 9, 2009 |

America’s Worst Columnist says that “there are only two possible endgames: (A) a Lebanon-like cessation of hostilities to be supervised by international observers, or (B) the disintegration of Hamas rule in Gaza.” It will not surprise you that he advocates for (B). Alas, it will also not surprise you to know that he doesn’t seem to consider the question of what exactly Hamas would be replaced by should these aims be achieved. The assumption that a lengthy, destructive Israeli bombing campaign will produce a government more sympathetic to Israel and less sympathetic to Iran is so transparently idiotic that I think we can assume it’s the one that Krauthammer is working with.

Deep Thought

[ 0 ] January 9, 2009 |

The fact that more than two and a half million jobs were lost in 2008 proves that upper-class tax cuts are great economic policy. And thank God we took the advice of the great Alan Greenspan and didn’t pay down the debt too quickly; that was always a serious risk and we sure couldn’t use that money now.

Shame Has Consequences

[ 0 ] January 8, 2009 |

One thing to consider, when listening to Will Saletan types talking about how everybody should simply agree that abortion is immoral, is that shaming women about obtaining abortions has real (and bad) consequences. And, of course, starting from the premise that abortion is morally wrong makes even keeping abortion legal more difficult, and encourages arbitrary regulations of abortion that will inevitably lead to some women poor women to choose methods that aren’t as safe because they lack access to safe abortions.

Bullets Dodged

[ 0 ] January 8, 2009 |

The grim possibility that Bob Casey could become Pennsylvania’s best Democratic Senator seems to have been averted.

Seating Burris

[ 0 ] January 7, 2009 |

My position on the Senate’s authority to refuse to seat Roland Burris appears to be in conflict with several of the legal scholars I most admire (cf. Tushnet, Balkin, and Amar, but see also Levinson). My chances of persuading many people against that kind of all-star team are probably pretty remote, but I remain unpersuaded. To be more precise, I certainly agree that the Powell case can be distinguished. What I still don’t see as any compelling reason for why it should be distinguished. I still fail to see any good argument that Burris has not, in Balkin’s terms, “been properly appointed by the executive authority of the State of Illinois.” As far as I can tell, there is no serious question about the legality of Burris’s appointment per se — Blagojevich is still the governor of Illinois, and there does not seem to be a scintilla of evidence that he solicited or received a bribe to appoint Burris. Claims that the appointment were improper, then, have to rely on the much weaker tea of a “tainted process.” I wouldn’t be very convinced by this unless some evidence emerges that the impropriety extends to Burris, and moreover I agree with Ygelsias that on the narrow issue of Senate appointments the indictment of Blagojevich is extremely thin. It seems to me that Powell requires a better argument than “the governor who otherwise has the unquestioned legal authority to appoint an interim Senator is kind of a sleazebag.”

Of course, even if we were to assume for the sake of argument that the courts should defer to the legislatures in this instance, there would still be the political question of whether the Senate should exercise its authority. I don’t think it has any good reason not to seat Burris even if the courts would permit it, so I hope that reports that Reid will ultimately acquiesce are accurate.

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