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Black Years in the Clinker

[ 0 ] July 13, 2007 |

Lord Conrad facing 35 years. I’ve never had much sympathy for someone who is so desperate to be part of an anachronistic manifestation of illegitimate hierarchy he would renounce his Canadian citizenship anyway…

"Once the first baby comes along he’s bound to settle down and start treating me right."

[ 0 ] July 13, 2007 |

Matt beat me to the most obvious response to Jeffrey Rosen’s modified limited hangout on Chief Justice Roberts. Although it’s indeed reasonable to have claimed that Roberts was better than some of the other alternatives, this is quite different than his contemporaneous arguments about Roberts, in which he asserted that the new Chief could shift the court to the left, and was a “gift to principled liberal and conservative defenders of judicial restraint” who liberals should confirm “with gratitude and relief.” I think it’s safe to say that such sentiments are inoperative. What I found particularly puzzling about this implied contradiction between cautious language and doctrinaire conservatism is that Roberts’s predecessor, William “throw Roe from the caboose” Rehnquist, also preferred (as Chief) to hollow precedents rather than to overturn them outright, and was also for the most part a party-line conservative. As a terrific New Republic cover story pointed out, the Alito/Roberts method is, if anything, even worse for liberals than the Scalia/Thomas one: it achieves the same results while attracting less public scrutiny. And if you have any doubts about the phoniness of the Potemkin modesty of Roberts joining in de farco overrulings, it’s worth noting that Alito and Roberts did not join the one “narrowing” opinion of any substantive significance: Kennedy’s refusal to go along with the “color-blind” majority in the school desegregation cases.

While Rosen now concedes that the Court has significantly shifted to the right, he still holds out hope for future consensus on the Court. But this continues to strike me as implausible. Explaining why the Court became more divisive this term, Rosen says that “The Court’s shift to the right was driven by the fact that it took up controversial issues, such as race, abortion, and campaign finance, which it had avoided while waiting for O’Connor’s replacement.” Well, I concede the point; Roberts is more likely to achieve consensus on issues that don’t divide liberal and conservative justices. But I’m not sure that the “new Chief Justice” variable is doing much work here. I’ll save this for a follow-up post, but as far as I can tell there’s no reason to believe that the Court will achieve significantly more consensus in future terms, and there never was any reason to believe that the Roberts Court would herald some new era of “judicial restraint.”

Speaking of Which…

[ 0 ] July 12, 2007 |

What’s scary is that I’m now covered by Delta. What’s even scarier is that it is by all accounts better than our previous dental plan. This isn’t going to help my neuroses over going to the dentist…

Edwards is the Press’s New Gore

[ 0 ] July 12, 2007 |

Logically consistent Leslie Wayne: John Edwards’s support for the 19th Amendment stands in sharp contrast to his having a penis. (Apologies if she’s already used that one.)

Evidently, the idea that there’s some disturbing, fundamental contradiction in advocating policies for reasons other than pure material self-interest is both idiotic and systematically skews political discourse in favor the of political reactionaries.

In Which I Date Myself Embarrassingly

[ 0 ] July 12, 2007 |

I first learned BASIC on a Commodore VIC-20. With a cassette drive instead of a floppy drive (which was probably good for educational purposes, since the chances of a surreptitious game loading actually working were highly erratic.) I did use an Apple II in school the next year, but our first home PC was a Commodore-64, with PaperClip (the word processor whose copy protection required you to plug something into the joystick port.) It was good for a lot of hours of Geopolitque 1990, I’ll tell you that!

"No More Questions Asking If This Is a Joke."

[ 0 ] July 12, 2007 |

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

I would like to think that Stephen Hayes’s new book Cheney: An Excess of Torture to Avenge Saddam’s Extensive Role in 9/11 Is No Vice was an elaborate joke, but apparently not. Given Hayes’s record of making empirical claims even the Bush administration isn’t willing to stand behind, I think this has a chance of ranking with Midge Decter’s mash note to Don Rumsfeld as the most risible book in the history of Bush administration hagiographies (and, hence, in the history of American arts and letters.) There’s a lot of competition, though.

Unity Behind Idiocy

[ 0 ] July 12, 2007 |

It’s good to know, if thoroughly unsurprising, that when David Ignatius wanted us all to agree (i.e. with him) about how to respond to security threats, the consensus we’re all supposed to rally around to is to stay in Iraq forever to accomplish nothing except to make all sides in the ongoing civil war more skilled and well-armed fighters. [Via Atrios.]

Also note the somewhat subtle stab-in-the-back routine: “History will be equally unforgiving if their agitation for withdrawal results in a pell-mell retreat that causes lasting damage.” In other words, people who want to end the Iraq fiasco are just as responsible as the people who designed, implemented, and shilled for it if withdrawal from the country they destroyed fails to magically produce a stable, mutli-factional government ruled by wise ponies and unicorns. (And as for how keeping a number of troops much smaller than the number that is already unable to prevent chaos and “training” all sides in a sectarian conflict will somehow avert “lasting damage”…look, it’s Halley’s Comet!)

Nice trick; apparently consensus means “agreeing with David Ignatius while he affixes a ‘kick me!’ sign to your back and frames you for stealing money from taxpayers.” Count me out.

Everything changed for me on 9/11. I used to be a Democrat, but now I’m outraged that people don’t accept hack editorials as the uncontroverted truth

[ 0 ] July 11, 2007 |

Responding to Harry Reid stating the obvious point that the “Surge” shows no signs of working, neo-neocon has a stern admonishment:

It’s clear that Reid doesn’t read the Wall Street Journal. Or if he does, he doesn’t believe it. Or if he does read it and believe it, he doesn’t think his constituency does either, so he can safely ignore it.

Hmm, well, the Wall Street Journal‘s news pages are certainly first-rate, but I read today’s paper and don’t recall a scoop nobody else has that the Iraq state is secure and political reconciliation among warring Iraqi factions is imminent. Strange, maybe I should look ag…oh wait, a link! Which leads us to…an op-ed. Which uses a familiar strategy of evading the fact that none of the most important a priori goals of the Surge are actually any closer to actualization. And was written by…Kimberley Kagan. Yup, someone who had a hand in developing the plan, and whose husband was a primary architect of the plan.

In other words, we have a claim here that Harry Reid is hopelessly divorced from reality because, unlike Ms. neocon, he does not accept the specious arguments made by transparently self-interested hacks in notoriously wingnutty op-ed pages at face value. I think you can see why she finds the Bush administration appealing.

…from a commenter chez Yglesias:

How many Kagans does it take to screw in a light bulb?

One to describe how well it is going, one to say how marvelous the room will look when it is well-lit, and one to tell the workmen that with enough force, the bulb can be screwed directly into the ceiling plaster.

And, of course, another one to feed this nonsense to particularly gullible rubes in one of the nation’s more prominent journals or op-ed pages…

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.

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