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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 |

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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.

Feature, Not A Bug

[ 0 ] July 10, 2007 |

It’s always refreshing, in this postmodern age, when political struggles can be clearly drawn battles between good and evil:

The fight over a popular health insurance program for children is intensifying, with President Bush now leading efforts to block a major expansion of the program, which is a top priority for Congressional Democrats.

The seemingly uncontroversial goal of insuring more children has become the focus of an ideological battle between the White House and Congress. The fight epitomizes fundamental disagreements over the future of the nation’s health care system and the role of government.

Democrats have proposed a major expansion of the program, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, to cover more youngsters with a substantial increase in federal spending.

Administration officials have denounced the Democratic proposal as a step toward government-run health care for all. They said it would speed the erosion of private insurance coverage. And they oppose two of the main ideas contemplated by Democrats to finance expanded coverage for children: an increase in the federal tobacco tax and cuts in Medicare payments to private insurance companies caring for the elderly.

White House objections to the Democratic plan are “philosophical and ideological,” said Allan B. Hubbard, assistant to the president for economic policy. In an interview, he said the Democrats’ proposal would move the nation toward “a single-payer health care system with rationing and price controls.”

It is difficult to overstate the sheer horror that lies at the bottom of this slippery slope. If we expand healthcare for children, we may end up with a system…like those in every virtually other liberal democracy! In which — brace yourself, this isn’t for the faint of heart — healthcare is provided to everyone for less money leading to health outcomes as good or better than the completely indefensible American system! How horrifying! What will we tell the children?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

The ones who won’t become ill or die because of Republicans who care more about their paymasters in the insurance lobby than developing a rational health care policy, I mean.

I Admit It

[ 0 ] July 10, 2007 |

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“It’s just a waffle iron with a phone in it!”

Although she hasn’t mentioned it, perhaps in fear that L, G & M’s head office will be overcome by angry readers with pitchforks, I saw earlier this evening that a certain co-blogger with a legume-themed sobriquet has acquired one of them fancy i-Phones a few of you may have heard of. And…as much as it pains me to admit it, it’s a pretty beautiful thing, just incredibly well-designed and easy to use software. I think the price tag and the allegedly crappy A T & T network can serve as an excuse not to get one, but…I wanted one, I gotta admit. And I don’t even like cell phones.

The Green Lantern Theory Of Domestic Politics

[ 4 ] July 9, 2007 |

To follow up on Ezra’s point about Megan McArdle’s claim that impeachment proceedings would “mean[] not having any achievements to show the electorate next year,” it’s always striking to me the extent to which even many smart, politically aware people don’t fully absorb the implications of the Madisonian institutional framework. As Ezra says, as long as the GOP has more than 40 Senators and the White House, major accomplishments are not an issue. This also came up in certain recent not-to-be-reopened debates, but while there are any number of valid critiques of Clinton to attack him for not achieving any major progressive initiatives after 1994 is bizarre; with a Republican Congress this simply wasn’t a possibility. The President has a lot of power to affect the implementation of existing policy and can do a lot to obstruct change, but his ability to create major domestic policy shifts without Congress is nil. (And this is applicable to reactionary — as opposed to merely conservative — policy shifts as well as progressive ones. As Bush’s attempts to privatize Social Security recently and thankfully dramatized, the only thing harder than creating a major new domestic program is rolling one with anything resembling a broad constituency back once it’s been implemented.)

Another upshot of this is that debates about impeachment are purely about the politics — obviously there’s no chance of 2/3 of the Senate voting to convict anyone. And here I also agree with Ezra that here McArdle is considerably more persuasive. It’s hard to see how serious impeachment proceedings (as opposed to stepping up use of Congress’ oversight powers in general) would strengthen the Democrats’ political position.

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