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What He Said

[ 0 ] October 4, 2007 |

In response to this excellent Paul Waldman article, Yglesias cuts to the heart of the matter:

I’ll beat that. What’s really, really remarkable is the source of Iowa’s growing significance — arbitrary diktat from the media. If campaign reporters covered Iowa in a manner proportionate to its objective significance — the assignment of a tiny number of delegates by an unrepresentative electorate through an arbitrary and anti-democratic procedure — then Iowa would barely matter at all. But the press, instead of doing that, treats us to this endless valorization of the alleged “authenticity” of Iowa as if the vast majority of Americans who don’t live in all-white rural states are somehow fake.

These narratives of “authenticity” are indeed crucial, because the idea of having the two major candidates for President be effectively selected by a handful of small and unrepresentative rural states, one with a voting system badly designed even by American standards, rather than by the party membership as a whole or at least the party’s elected representatives is transparently indefensible. It’s not as if there aren’t plenty of examples of rational and democratic ways of selecting party leaders to choose from; we’ve just chosen to not to adopt them, and the silly veneration of anachronistic retail politics in Iowa and New Hampshire is a way of ignoring that it’s an incredibly bad way of choosing a President.

The Torture Administration

[ 0 ] October 4, 2007 |

It’s been widely linked, but this is a must-read story:

The debate over how terrorism suspects should be held and questioned began shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when the Bush administration adopted secret detention and coercive interrogation, both practices the United States had previously denounced when used by other countries. It adopted the new measures without public debate or Congressional vote, choosing to rely instead on the confidential legal advice of a handful of appointees.

[…]

After the Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that the Geneva Conventions applied to prisoners who belonged to Al Qaeda, President Bush for the first time acknowledged the C.I.A.’s secret jails and ordered their inmates moved to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The C.I.A. halted its use of waterboarding, or pouring water over a bound prisoner’s cloth-covered face to induce fear of suffocation.

But in July, after a monthlong debate inside the administration, President Bush signed a new executive order authorizing the use of what the administration calls “enhanced” interrogation techniques — the details remain secret — and officials say the C.I.A. again is holding prisoners in “black sites” overseas. The executive order was reviewed and approved by Mr. Bradbury and the Office of Legal Counsel.

Hilzoy sums up:

These techniques are not just morally abhorrent; they are flatly illegal. One might think that since the President is required by the Constitution to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed”, this might be a bit of a problem. Not for the Bush administration. First, John Yoo wrote his famous “torture memo”, in which he argued that interrogation techniques were illegal only if they produced pain equivalent to organ failure or death. When that memo became public, the administration disowned it. But they also issued another secret opinion reaffirming the legality of the various combinations of techniques described above, and then wrote another secret memo saying that none of the CIA’s interrogation techniques constituted “cruel, inhuman and degrading” treatment.

The techniques in question are repugnant. But in many ways, the administration’s disregard for the law is worse. When your policies violate treaties you have signed and laws that are on the books, you are not supposed to come up with some clever way of explaining that appearances to the contrary, what you’re doing is not illegal at all. You’re supposed to stop doing it. When Congress decides to pass a law banning “cruel, inhuman and degrading” treatment, you are supposed to stop engaging in such treatment, not to redefine “cruel, inhuman and degrading” so that it doesn’t apply to anything you want to do.

Right. The article does an excellent job of detailing how this was made possible by turning the Office of Legal Counsel over to utter hacks willing to make arguments as farcical as they needed to be.

The Blackmun Files

[ 0 ] October 4, 2007 |

This online database of papers from the Blackmun files looks like an immensely valuable resources for scholars and watchers of the Court.

Doing the Bartman

[ 1 ] October 4, 2007 |

If I had have enough reason to hope that the Cubs lose, it’s the fact that many Cubs fans seem to still hold a grudge against against Steve Bartman, whose role in the defeat of the Cubs was trivial at best. First of all, it’s far from clear that Alou catches the ball in the first place. More importantly, the Cubs still had a 3-0 lead with one out and one on. I don’t think that Bartman caused Gonzalez to muff a routine grounder or Prior to spit out the bit or Kyle Farnsworth to be Kyle Farnsworth. Enough already. The Cubs lost because they lost; Bartman had nothing significant to do with it.

Bill Simmons’s entertaining roundup of modes of losing (“Is there another fan experience quite like overtime hockey, when every slap shot, breakaway and centering pass might spell doom, and losing feels 10 times worse than winning feels good (if that makes sense)?,” exactly right) brings up another example that’s always annoyed me: Cardinals fans whining about Denkinger’s blown call in the ’85 World Series. Again, they still had a lead with one on after the call; moreover, the winning runs scored with only one out. I can’t see what Denkinger had to do with, say, the crucial Porter passed ball, or the Cards getting the crap beat out of them in Game 7 (same thing for Bartman, of course.) The Cardinals lost because they deserved to lose.

Guaranteed 100% Accurate Playoff Predictions!

[ 0 ] October 3, 2007 |

Ah, what an interesting year this figures to be. Dammit, why can’t the Mets let me know if I won the playoff ticket lottery? I’m rarin’ to go!

Wait, what?

PHILLIES v. ROCKIES In some ways the most interesting first round matchup. Both teams are fun to watch. The Phillies have a tremendous offense hooked around 3 legitimate MVP candidates and a terrific young starter. The Rockies have a solid offense and a good pitching staff with an outstanding bullpen. The latter, I think, will be decisive in a series played in good and great hitter’s parks. Colorado’s run differential shows them as 4 games better than Philly, and that seems about right. Philly has the home field, but the evidence says pick pitching over offense in the playoffs. Another problem for the Phils: when it comes to Charlie Manuel in the postseason, I’m thinking “Don Zimmer, 1989.” ROCKIES IN FOUR.

DIAMONDBACKS v. CUBS. Your classic symbol of national league mediocrity. Although any team with Webb in its rotation can win a short series, the Diamondbacks are a fluke, a .500 team that somehow lucked into the playoffs. Their bullpen — which is their main strength — outside of Velverde has a lot of ERAs that aren’t backed up by peripherals or past performance. Besides, the Cubs have to carry their fans for a round before choking. Plus, while the Cubs don’t have a great offense its power-heavy oreintation is a good one for the playoffs (cf. their South Side neighbors in 2005.) CUBS IN FOUR.

INDIANS v. YANKEES. Another good matchup. The Yankees have an obvious edge in offense — only Sizeomore and Hafner would start for the Yankees. Basically, the Indians need two great starts from Sabathia and for Carmona to be as good as his 2007 ERA, and I don’t quite see it. And while to find a time when the Yankees lost to a team with a closer whose sole credential for the job is having both Randy Myers makeup and Jeff Reardon pancake foudation you have to go all the way back to 2006, having Borowski at the back end in a short series certainly doesn’t help. Plus, I think the relevant precedent for A-Rod’s playoff performance will be Bonds v. Overmatched Major League Pitching (2002). GREATEST MANIFESTATION OF EVIL ON THE FACE OF THE EARTH IN FOUR.

RED SOX v. ANGELS. Granted, I underrate the Angels every year. Granted, Lackey is the most underrated pitcher in baseball and I’m not surprised that Escobar had a big year. Still, the Angels are more than ten games worse that the Red Sox in run differential despite Ramirez, Ortiz and Drew all having off years that I don’t think mean much in terms of predicting post-season performance; basically, the Red Sox do everything better and have home field. Plus, Guerrero is hurting and I don’t think the Angels’ put-the-ball-in-play approach can work against the Sox defense the way it used to work against the Yankees. SOX IN THREE.

…As several people have noted, the claim about Ortiz is an egregious blunder; particularly before I made the comment I should have actually looked at the data. I stand by Posada over Martinez, although the latter is certainly very good. (I’ll grant that the difference between the two offensively is not as great as it appears in the 2007 stats, but Martinez having a better year throwing than Posada is also anomalous.)

Executions on Hold In Texas

[ 0 ] October 3, 2007 |

Obviously, this is only going to last as long as it takes the Supreme Court to give the green light again, or for the state to find a new lethal injection formula that might lessen the chance of being tortured to death, but the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has taken the obvious step. The cases are interesting, in that the problems with lethal injection to my mind raise clearer cruel and unusual issues than other recent death penalty decisions, especially since the almost universal adoption of lethal injection when it was considered more humane makes clear that popular support of the death penalty rests in some measure on accidental torture not being involved. But there’s no way this Court will hand down a decision that makes it significantly harder to execute people; at best, there will be some tinkering around the edges.

Sleazeballs of the Day

[ 0 ] October 3, 2007 |

James Dolan and Isiah Thomas.

Carhart II and "Polarization"

[ 0 ] October 2, 2007 |

Most of this lament for the polarization of the Roberts Court I addressed in a TAP article recently. The short version is that 1)Roberts will certainly fail in his attempt to create a consensual Court that papers over major substantive divisions, and 2)since I don’t think the Court is entitled to a fixed degree of legitimacy and think that legal and political politics should be open and explicit this doesn’t concern me.

However, Wittes does get at one thing I’ve never understood: how people who criticized Kennedy’s opinion in Carhart II but supported the outcome actually wanted the case to be disposed of. I can certainly understand why the anti-Roe pro-choice crowd didn’t like Kennedy letting the gender subordination and hack pseudo-science cats out of the anti-choice bag — they’d like to war against judicially protected reproductive freedom with the anti-choice movement they wish they had, not the one that actually exists — but without these reactionary assumptions about women’s rational incapacities the legislation (which the state conceded at oral argument would not protect fetal life) has no rational connection to any state interest at all. Wittes explains how he wanted the Court to rule:

Not one of the nine justices was willing to apply to the federal partial-birth abortion statute the logic the court had unanimously articulated the year before for a New Hampshire parental notification statute–in which it had refused to throw out the statute on its face but had ordered the lower courts to block applications of it that would run afoul of its case law.

The problem here is that Ayotte doesn’t actually make any sense. While it’s certainly a sound principle to construe ambiguous legislation to assume its constitutionality, to read a health exemption into a legislative enactment when the legislature specifically considered and rejected one makes no sense at all (and to describe it as “judicial restraint” is Orwellian.) The appropriate remedy is for the Court to send the issue back to the legislatures and invite them to craft legislation consistent with the Court’s precedents (or to overturn the precedent), not to distort the legislation beyond recognition. And Ayotte makes even less sense in this case. While a health exemption, at least in theory, leaves a substantial number of cases in which parental notification would be necessary, to permit doctors to perform D&X abortions when they plausibly believe them to protect maternal health would defeat the purpose of the statute entirely (why would doctors choose a method they believe to be less safe?)

And this is my central problem with this consensus-above-all-other-virtues jurisprudence. The courts owe the public transparency and some measure of internal logic. If they’re overturning precedents (pace Roberts) they should say so, and if they’re effectively nullifying legislation they should do so openly.

The Zimbabwe Disaster

[ 0 ] October 2, 2007 |

It gets worse and worse:

Zimbabwe’s bakeries have shut and supermarkets have warned there will be no bread for the foreseeable future as the government admitted that wheat production had collapsed following the seizure of white-owned farms.

The agricultural ministry announcement that the wheat harvest is only about a third of what is required, and that imports are held up by lack of hard currency, came as a deadline passed today for the last white farmers to leave their land or face prosecution for trespass.

[…]

The agriculture minister, Rugare Gumbo, has blamed the food shortages on black farmers who have taken over formerly white-owned land.

“I am painfully aware of the widespread theft of stock, farm produce, irrigation equipment and the general vandalism of infrastructure by our new farmers,” he said.

“I am disappointed that our new farmers have proved to be failures since the start of the land reform programme in 2000. In spite of all the support government has been pouring into the agricultural sector, productivity and under-utilisation of land remain issues of concern.”

The ministry of agriculture has also blamed electricity shortages for the wheat shortfall, saying that power cuts have affected irrigation and halved crop yields per acre.

I trust beyond the obvious (“wage and price controls don’t work!” “Having no rule of law is bad for economic development!”) that the lesson in the need to temper claims of abstract justice with wisdom here is clear. Even if every farmer whose land was expropriated owed their property ownership quite directly to colonialism and apartheid, and some state policy to broaden ownership was desirable, you also have to ask what a particular policy will accomplish. Having productive land turned over to cronies of the state with no ability or willingness to farm had predictably catastrophic results.

A Victory for the Secular State

[ 0 ] October 1, 2007 |

The Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal seeking to nullify a New York law, upheld by state courts, that requires Catholic Charities to provide contraception to women as part of health coverage requirements. I think this point is especially important, and often distorted when debates on the subject come up (the question of whether Catholic hospitals should provide EC to rape victims being another example):

The New York law contains an exemption for churches, seminaries and other institutions with a mainly religious mission that primarily serve followers of that religion. Catholic Charities and the other groups sought the exemption, but they hire and serve people of different faiths.

New York’s highest court ruled last year that the groups had to comply with the law. The 6-0 decision by the state Court of Appeals hinged on the determination that the groups are essentially social service agencies, not churches.

This distinction gets things exactly right. It is appropriate to exempt churches qua churches from some neutral laws and civil rights protections. Nominally religious organizations that hire people of different faiths, serve people of different faiths, and perform secular services with taxpayer subsidies and/or tax breaks should comply with generally applicable statutes except in rare cases when they are specifically targeted at religious groups.

Useful Idiots of the Day

[ 0 ] October 1, 2007 |

Maureen Dowd and Frank Rich. Nice to see that we’re in for more than a year of vapid and sometimes sexist attacks on Clinton from ostensible liberals on an ostensibly liberal op-ed page…

Greg Sargent has more.

Pundit Rule #1: Blame Must Always Be Equally Apportioned Among the Parties Irrespective of the Facts

[ 0 ] October 1, 2007 |

Shorter David Ignatius: The fact that the Bush administration reneged on a deal brokered between the director of national intelligence and Democrats in Congress proves that Democrats are unwilling to compromise and putting political interests above national security. Democrats are also to blame for assuming that a general acting as an apologist for a catastrophic Republican policy did not represent an impartial conception of the national interest. [via publius]

Indeed.

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