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More on the Federalism Dodge

[ 0 ] July 26, 2007 |

To follow up on Matt and Ezra, another angle to run at it from is to apply the logic to the civil rights movement. If one takes the Rauch/Brownstein argument seriously, wasn’t it also wrong to “federalize” the divisive issue of segregation? Of course, they wouldn’t say that, but that first of all demonstrates the underlying question-begging; as a normative matter, 99% of the time saying something should be “left to the states” is just another way of saying that the question of social justice isn’t a very high priority. But even more importantly, it also raises obvious problem for their empirical claims: desegregation and disenfranchisement were “protest issues” even when they were left to the states, and became “ordinary politics” issues after they were federalized. And to get on my old hobbyhorse, the gentility of the American abortion debate pre-Roe has been grossly romanticized, and it’s also worth noting that Canada has federalized both abortion and gay marriage, and not only have the issues remained largely “ordinary politics” they aren’t even especially salient, and at least with the former the outcome has been perfectly stable. This suggests that federalism isn’t the key variable here. There’s no reason to believe that allowing 20 states to ban abortion will somehow diminish the conflict over abortion, and of course you have the negative externality of many women being maimed or killed in black market abortions, arbitrarily forced to carry pregnancies to term, etc.

And, of course, there’s the larger issue: why “protest politics” is supposed to be a problem in the first place. People protesting and mobilizing around what they consider to be fundamental injustices, at least in the context of a nation where the basic legitimacy of the state isn’t in question, is the sign of a healthy polity, not a dysfunctional one.

A Grim Prediction

[ 0 ] July 26, 2007 |

The Yankees will be in a playoff spot by early-to-mid August. Sucks, I know, but what can I tell you. A couple of other post-all-star-break notes:

  • Despite his truly historic season — not only by far the best hitter in the world, but playing exceptional defense — Murray Chass has twice in the last month called Tom Hicks stupid for the contract he gave Slappy, the first time lumping it in with the Chan Ho Park signing. Look, Tom Hicks is a complete idiot — for not only trading A-Rod for a much worse player but giving the Yankees a considerable sum to do so. And if Hicks’s contract was so silly, why does virtually everybody assume he’s going to opt this year, and if he does why is he clearly going to get more money? The contract was, in fact, perfectly rational. With the Mariners finally coming back to earth, it’s worth considering what they’re doing with the money they didn’t give to Rodriguez. Rodriguez is making $23 M this year. The Mariners are paying $18M to three guys — Vidro, Weaver, and Ramirez — who are absolutely useless, plus $15 M to Richie Sexson, a player with old player’s skills who has predictably aged very badly. You telling me they couldn’t afford Rodriguez, who would clearly make them the best team in the division? Please. And what exactly have the Rangers done will the money they’re not paying him?
  • I would feel a lot better about the Indians’ chances of staying ahead of the Yankees if they had kept Brandon Phillips rather than playing Josh Barfield at second. I can’t criticize Shapiro too much for this, however, since he got Phillips by pulling off one of the great heists of all time: Sizemore and Phillips and Cliff Lee for a half season of Bartolo Colon. (At the time, I and most other Expos fans I knew thought that Phillips was the real gem; it’s amazing how good Sizemore has become.)

pinko points us to a relevant Fire Joe Morgan! post

A New Third Second Party?

[ 0 ] July 25, 2007 |

Adam Kotsko offers as a “thought experiment” a heighten-the-contradictions scenario that would result in the “liquidation of the Democrats.” And as with all such scenarios, there are several missing links in the causal chain — which goes, roughly, from “electing a few social democratic members of Congress” immediately to “a viable social democratic second party” with no intervening step (except the Democrats losing a lot of elections) being explained. The problems here are obvious:

  • It’s nice, at least, that he proposes to start the liquidation at the congressional level rather than the presidential level, which will at least avoid the Nader problem of electing the most reactionary president since Harding if not McKinley in return for no benefits whatsoever. However, it’s unclear what exactly this will actually accomplish. The few House districts and even fewer Senate seats that could plausibly elect a social democrat are already represented by…very liberal Democrats. If Jim McDermott becomes the leader of SDPUSA and is joined by a few more colleagues, the effect of this would be…nothing. Their up-or-down votes can’t change, since they already take the left-most position on almost every vote. They will have virtually no power affect the content of legislation brought to the floor. Indeed, in the House, a rump party will have no power at all, and even if a couple of SDPUSA Senators are added to Bernie Sanders they couldn’t use their amendment power to do anything but obstruct progressive legislation that isn’t progressive enough.
  • The most recent implosion of a party over a century ago had an obvious cause: the slavery issue combined with demographic trends made a bisectional northern-based party unsustainable. What is going to cause the Democrats to be replaced by an entirely different coalition is unclear, and if Kotsko knows he isn’t saying.
  • Which brings us to the bigger problem: where exactly is this second party getting votes? What evidence is there than “social democracy” is going to be anywhere near the median voter nationally, let alone in a majority of House and Senate districts? How is this going to happen? If the answer is that a winning political coalition can be well to the left of the median voter, this is exceptionally implausible; indeed, a variety of factors (most importantly the malapportionment of the Senate and the laissez-faire campaign finance regime protected by a Supreme Court majority that will be bulletproof for the foreseeable future) skew electoral outcomes to the right of median opinion, not the left. It’s especially unclear why a rump party could effect such a massive change in American political culture when the very liberal Democrats already representing the winnable districts cannot.
  • Under these circumstances, even if a social democratic second party emerged, exactly what it would accomplish, other than to ensure perpetual filibuster-proof Senate majorites for the GOP, is unclear. I leave the last word to Michael Berube, with “SDPUSA” replacing the “Democrats”: “…“divergence” in and of itself is not a value; it needs to be supplemented by the possibility that the newly divergent Democrats will actually beat their opponents. What’s the point of fostering “divergence” if the result is a feral Tom DeLay GOP that controls the entire country and a feeble liberal-progressive Democratic party that controls a few cities and college towns? “Ah, yes, we’re completely powerless, except for that tough new recycling law in Madison, Wisconsin,” the Curtisses will say in 2012 when the parties have diverged a little more to their liking, “but at least we know now that our opposition is truly oppositional.” I’ll pass, thanks.

Be Very Afraid

[ 0 ] July 25, 2007 |

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Remember Clarence Thomas replacing Thurgood Marshall?

In case you had any doubt about whether the 2008 election is a high stakes one, Tom Goldstein has a GOP Supreme Court shortlist:

As things stand, my short-list for a first nomination is: Ninth Circuit Judge Consuelo Callahan, Florida State Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero, Sentencing Commission Chairman Ricardo Hinojosa, Texas Supreme Court Justice David Medina, and Fifth Circuit Judge Priscilla Owen.

Yikes, imagine Priscilla Owen replacing Ginsburg or Stevens. In addition to being the bought-and-paid-for pro-business hack you would expect to emerge from the Texas bench, her jurisprudence is an object lesson in why the judicial bypass option for parental consent doesn’t work. She’s written several dissents — yes, dissents, she’s reactionary even for a Texas appellate court judge — arguing that young women haven’t received quite enough pro-life propaganda and religious instruction to demonstrate that they’re “mature.” Particularly remarkable was here unwillingness, contrary to the language of the statute, to grant a bypass given a likelihood that a young woman would be abused after telling her parents:

She further testified that she did not want to inform her mother about her decision to have an abortion because “her mother would tell her father and her father would become angry and physically take it out on her mother.” This was insufficient for Owen, who stated that “the evidence of physical abuse of Jane Doe’s mother was not so direct, clear, and positive that a trial court was required to conclude as a matter of law that if one of Jane Doe’s parents were notified, then Jane Doe may be emotionally abused.” Four justices disagreed, noting that, under the express terms of the statute, a judicial bypass “shall” be granted when the minor shows that parental notification “may lead” to her emotional abuse. [cites omitted]

Anybody who thinks that Kennedy’s opinion in Carhart II wasn’t quite sexist enough will love Owen. And, yes, she’s now on 5CA, in case you had any doubts about whether the “Gang of 14″ agreement was anything bit a crushing victory for the GOP.

"Dial M For Moustache"

[ 0 ] July 24, 2007 |

Tomorrow on Tom Friedman.

And the Award For Most Hackish Column About Economics Not Written By The WSJ Ediotiral Borad or Larry Kudlow Goes To…

[ 0 ] July 24, 2007 |

Bobo! My heartiest congratulations. (Admittedly, I haven’t been keeping tabs on Donald Luskin recently, so the award must be considered provisional.)

National What?

[ 0 ] July 24, 2007 |

Rob says most of what needs to be said about Jonah Goldberg’s inevitably failed attempt to turn the Iraq catastrophe into a policy problem for…liberals. I’d like to address this: “If you can justify causing genocide in order to end a nation-building exercise that — unlike similar efforts elsewhere — is fundamentally linked to our national interest, then how can you ever return to arguing that we should get into the nation-building and genocide-stopping business when it’s explicitly not in our interest?”

The problem here should be obvious: attacking a country that posed no threat to the United States in order to install an Islamist quasi-state that would be a breeding ground for anti-American terrorism was not in the national interest; indeed, it was dramatically contrary to the national interest. Which is why conservatives started a cynical, largely ex post facto attempt to sell it as a humanitarian intervention. If Goldberg means that it would now be in the national interest to find a large network of unicorn stables in Iraq, I can’t disagree, but this would seem to provide an easy out for the strawliberals who want lots of ineffective military interventions with no consideration of the national interest: just raze a country’s government and completely botch the occupation, and then the intervention automatically becomes in the national interest! Rational liberals, of course, can continue to ignore Goldberg’s silly dichotomy altogether, and will also remember that the fact that outcome x would be really nice doesn’t magically produce the capacity to make it possible.

The Doctrines of Yoo Summarized In A Sentence

[ 0 ] July 23, 2007 |

Jules Crittenden excuses corpse desecration by applying “the legal principle of who cares?” With, of course, an approving link from Glenn Reynolds.

Evidently, this will have a million uses. “The Constitution gives the President virtually unlimited and plenary power to declare and conduct wars.” “Actually, several Constitutional provisions explicitly give such powers to Congress.” “In that case, I’ll apply the legal principle of who cares?” I’d expect Crittenden to get a job in the DOJ soon…

The "Local Control" Fetish: Horrible Environmental Policy Edition

[ 0 ] July 23, 2007 |

I know, what can you expect from Roger Scruton, but it’s pretty embarrassing for someone to assert that “Environmental movements on the Left seldom pause to consider the question of human motivation…[t]he problem with that approach is that it makes mistakes into permanent legacies and provides no incentive to ordinary citizens” when they don’t seem to understand even the most basic aspects of the collective action problem. Even large numbers of libertarians recognize that pollution is a negative externality that requires some state intervention, and anyone who thinks that people will just spontaneously and collectively agree to, say, start driving more fuel efficient cars despite the infinitesimal effect of any individual action on air pollution needs to be permanently enjoined from ever using the word “incentive” again.

Novels of Quality

[ 0 ] July 23, 2007 |

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Since Atrios has responded to Matt’s suggestion that Harry Potter books be a gateway drug with some actual positive discussion of books (I concur with his praise of the beautiful Never Let Me Go, which I think is Ishiguro’s best), since I’ve been trying to read more fiction and I’ve been lucky enough to pick some really good ones recently.

For some reason, despite the generally glowing reviews I was never compelled to pick up Veronica — perhaps my disinterest in the fashion industry? But then a friend recommended Two Girls, Fat and Thin with those magic words “Ayn Rand satire,” and after I read it I bought the new one. Both are absolute knockouts. The first of the Two Girls is the more voluptuous one, who lives in Queens and works the graveyard shift doing clerical work at a Wall Street firm. The second is a conventionally attractive journalist who meets her looking for interviews about an Randian cult. The satire of the Rand-esque group is, as one would suspect, entertaining, but Gaitskill also makes clear that it provided real value for the severely wounded character; a community discussing even bad ideas is better for a smart but isolated person than not having any intellectual outlet at all, the character’s experience implies, and to anyone stuck in a horrible job I think this will ring true. She’s also very psychologically convincing about the journalist, who falls into submissive (and not just role-playing, but genuinely self-abasing) relationships with people she knows to be assholes who should be rationally unworthy of her time.

Veronica focuses on a model’s friendship with an older, plainer woman who contracts AIDS in the early days of the epidemic, told from a period after which her looks have faded and her own health has deteriorated. In addition to a lot of interesting insights it expands on the themes of friendship between people of differing social status developed in the first novel — especially the ways in which pity and obligation can not only coexist with but nourish genuine (if always incomplete) affection — and despite the less interesting story is in some respects even better. (“A long time ago, John loved me. I never loved him, but I used our friendship, and the using became so comfortable for both of us that we started really being friends.”) She writes beautifully and is an incredibly acute and tough- minded observer of relationships. Neither is, I suppose, feel-good beach reading, but both are incredibly absorbing; strongly recommended. More picks later in the week.

As an aside Gaitskill also seems to have really good taste in movies. Even granting the obvious thematic relevance of The Dreamlife of Angels and The Piano Teacher (Rob would want me to mention Breaking the Waves here too) to her own work I’m always impressed by someone who touts them. Oh, and speaking of Dreamlife I was thinking that Zonca was going to become the Ralph Ellison of the film world, but apparently he’s got a movie starring Tilda Swinton coming out soon. I will be cautiously optimistic…

Happily Repressed Memories

[ 0 ] July 23, 2007 |

Huh, until I found it scrolling through a list of the year’s worst films so far I had completely forgotten a picture about some kind of numerology horseshit starring Jim Carrey and directed by Joel Schumacher was released earlier this year. It would seem like a mortal lock for worst movie of the year even with the Tim Allen motorcycle thing and the Robin Williams priest thing, but then there was that Torture Porn For Nice Guys (TM) thing. Gawd, there’s been some horrible, horrible-looking movies this year; I can imagine Bay not even making the top 5. I assume that later in the year Kevin Smith will be directing a sequel to Jersey Girl

On the other hand, as I will get to writing about eventually, I can now unequivocally recommend two mainstream movies that have come out in recent months! Plus conceivably the worst movie I’ve seen in the theater since The Rock

Individual Bad Soliders: They Exist

[ 0 ] July 22, 2007 |

Although I remain, as far as I can tell, the only progressive blogger to whom the TNR diary now creating a firestorm instinctively seemed a bit fishy in its details, I certainly agree with this. Any argument premised on the idea that no solider ever does anything really bad is self-evidently ridiculous, and the idea that reporting on such bad things is some slander on “the troops” in general despicable demagoguery. You may remember this from the attacks on Kerry; discussing (indisputably true) incidences of criminality is turned into a claim that Kerry was accusing “the troops” are war criminals. As I’ve already said, nothing of any political consequence turns on the veracity of this particular account. We already know that some individual members of the military do horrible things, and that they are obviously not representative.

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