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The Other Edge of the Anti-Privacy Knife

[ 0 ] September 18, 2006 |

The Happy Feminist (who certainly wouldn’t be happy if she knew that women were walking around…with breasts! If feminism stands for anything, it’s that wearing an Ann Taylor top is equivalent to an offer of a blow job, and anyone who believes otherwise is clearly some sellout…) discusses this story about about parents who tried to force their daughter to obtain an abortion. (Personal to James Joyner: see, that’s kidnapping.) On a related note, it’s worth pointing that if critiques of Roe that start from the basis that there’s no such thing as a implied right to privacy or security of the person implicit in the Constitution are correct, the state can force women to obtain abortions as well as preventing them from obtaining abortions. Indeed, a crucial foundation of Roe was a case that held that the involuntary sterilization of pretty thieves was unconstitutional. (This also reminds me of perhaps my favorite example of abortion bans being about regulating sexuality rather than fetal life: Pat Robertson’s defense of forced abortions in China. See, if abortion is about coercing women, that’s fine!)

And a question for sensible pro-choice centrists: since you’re always claiming that parental notification and consent laws are not about preventing classes of young women from obtaining abortions but about giving parents input and information like they would allegedly have for any medical procedure, I’m sure you’ll agree that a law that required parental notification or consent if a young woman decided to carry a pregnancy to term is equally desirable? After all, given that this is considerably more dangerous to a woman’s health than obtaining an abortion, the justification for such a bill would be if anything more compelling…

Our Shrill Constitution

[ 0 ] September 18, 2006 |

Greenwald on John Yoo.

I used to finish discussions of Yoo by pointing out that the Constitution did not, in fact, inscribe 18th century conceptions of the British Monarchy into American law. But as Pithlord reminded us, this was actually unfair…to Blackstone: “Blackstone did not claim that Crown prerogatives in relation to war and the military were beyond Parliamentary regulation. On the contrary, if Parliament had said that the King’s military commissions had to have the same procedures as his courts martial, then they damn well had to have the same procedures. (Indeed, it was an offence akin to treason in eighteenth century England to assert that there were prerogatives of the Crown that could not be modified by Parliament — a view associated with the Jacobites who wanted the Stuarts back. Blackstone would presumably have had Yoo handed over to the local constabulary.)” Or as the Poor Man put it, “arguments about whether or not laws apply only at the pleasure of the head of state is an argument from the 13th century, and it is an argument about whether law, in the sense that Western civilization has for some centuries generally understood it, is something that even exists.” Executive power, in a society where the rule of law means anything, does not mean that the President can declare himself no longer bound by laws he declares “obselete” by fiat.

…and, of course, not only are Yoo’s positions legally indefensible, he’s also a hack arguing in bad faith. As noted in comments, Orin Kerr has dug up this gem from Yoo’s 2000 essay on the Clinton administration:

First, I think, in order to achieve their foreign policy goals, the Clinton Adminisitration has undermined the balance of powers that exist in foreign affairs, and have undermined principles of democratic accountability that executive branches have agreed upon well to the Nixon Administration. The second thing is that the Clinton Administration has displayed a fundmental disrespect for the rule of law. Not in the sense that they don’t make legal arguments to defend their positions, but the legal arguments are so outragous, they’re so incredible, that they actually show, I think, a disrespect for the idea of law, by showing how utterly manipulable it is. And the the third thing is a matter of consistency. I think one of the things the rule of law demands is that people be consistent, and that institutions be consistent in their legal positions. And I think the Clinton Administration, as I’ll discuss in a moment, has been wildly inconsistent. It has gone to the point of disavowing previous executive branch opinions, and when it does things that it finds so inconvenient legally that it overturns too much law, it just doesn’t say anything at all, and goes ahead and does what it intends to do anyway.

Or this:

President Clinton exercised the powers of the imperial presidency to the utmost in the area in which those powers are already at their height — in our dealings with foreign nations. Unfortunately, the record of the administration has not been a happy one, in light of its costs to the Constitution and the American legal system. On a series of different international relations matters, such as war, international institutions, and treaties, President Clinton has accelerated the disturbing trends in foreign policy that undermine notions of democratic accountability and respect for the rule of law.

And, although he’s open to criticism on many fronts, Clinton never claimed that he could simply violate acts of Congress.

More Yoo v. Yoo.

"Ruthlessly honest, uncompromisingly ethical…"

[ 0 ] September 18, 2006 |

Well, if your book review must give space to something written by Joe Eszterhas, Joe Queenan is definitely the man for the job. Tannehaus has his faults, but I’m happy he’s at least letting some reviewers unleash snark when it’s warranted.

Last Words. Really. I Hope.

[ 0 ] September 18, 2006 |

Ezra notes the larger importance of the right wing’s Potemkin “Feminism.” Lance points out the obsession with the Clenis. (TM) Lindsay records the parade of sexist comments. Dawn Eden, to her credit, does the right thing (and demonstrates than seeing how contemptible Althouse, Reynolds et al. were being requires being “feminist” only in the broad sense that feminism holds that people should be treated with dignity.) Ilyka Damen makes a fair point here. To be clear, I brought up the consensual nature of the Lewinsky/Clinton relationship only with respect to the narrow charge that Clinton was a sexual harasser or “groper.” I’m certainly not arguing that his behavior doesn’t raise serious ethical issues, or that he had no choice but to exploit an employee for sexual favors. (And, of course, when it comes to feminist criticism of Clinton-the-man in general, fire away if you think it’s justified.)

But, most importantly, Dave offers this sage advice: “They want attention? OK — we’ll give it to the people they are trying to humiliate. When they try to win by degrading and humiliating people, it’s important to make our stand with them.” I know more people come here for the exposure of wingnuttery than for the discussions of constitutional law or battleships, and I’m not saying I won’t sometimes still do it (and it’s different when an actual substantive point is involved.) But from now on, every time I consider linking to someone like Althouse, I’ll give extra consideration to linking to a blog that’s actually worth reading instead.

…speaking of the Clenis (TM), if you listen to her podcast on the subject, not only does she make up stuff about Feministing being “all about” breasts and featuring women in bras, she claims that the “simplest explanation” for one of the most prominent feminist bloggers being invited to a meetup with Clinton by Hillary’s blog person is…so that she could be set up with Bill! Personally, I think it was so that Jessica could help Bill raise money to keep the people he paid to kill Vince Foster because he knew too much about his drug smuggling quiet.

Making Disastrous Ideas More Disastrous

[ 0 ] September 17, 2006 |

DeLong, invoking Daniel Davies, makes the first obvious point about Jon Chait’s attempt to mount a “liberal” defense of the Iraq War. Chait wasn’t just defending some abstract Iraq War–he was defending George Bush’s war. A war in which the ruling administration wasn’t run by the kind of people who would base crucial hiring decisions in Iraq based on people’s positions on the United States Supreme Court’s abortion jurisprudence, or who would actually sacrifice other domestic priorities to use a huge invading force, was simply never on the table. And Chait, who wrote well about the ineptitude of the administration’s conduct of domestic policy, is in a particularly bad position to make such an argument. It makes no sense at all to say that you were defending some hypothetical war that never had any chance of being fought.

Another classic D-Squared post, however, allows to bring Yglesias’ important point about policy looking forward:

Anyway, the secret to every analysis I’ve ever done of contemporary politics has been, more or less, my expensive business school education (I would write a book entitled “Everything I Know I Learned At A Very Expensive University”, but I doubt it would sell). About half of what they say about business schools and their graduates is probably true, and they do often feel like the most colossal waste of time and money, but they occasionally teach you the odd thing which is very useful indeed. Here’s a few of the ones I learned which I considered relevant to judging the advisability of the Second Iraq War.

Good ideas do not need lots of lies told about them in order to gain public acceptance. I was first made aware of this during an accounting class. We were discussing the subject of accounting for stock options at technology companies. There was a live debate on this subject at the time. One side (mainly technology companies and their lobbyists) held that stock option grants should not be treated as an expense on public policy grounds; treating them as an expense would discourage companies from granting them, and stock options were a vital compensation tool that incentivised performance, rewarded dynamism and innovation and created vast amounts of value for America and the world. The other side (mainly people like Warren Buffet) held that stock options looked awfully like a massive blag carried out my management at the expense of shareholders, and that the proper place to record such blags was the P&L account.

Our lecturer, in summing up the debate, made the not unreasonable point that if stock options really were a fantastic tool which unleashed the creative power in every employee, everyone would want to expense as many of them as possible, the better to boast about how innovative, empowered and fantastic they were. Since the tech companies’ point of view appeared to be that if they were ever forced to account honestly for their option grants, they would quickly stop making them, this offered decent prima facie evidence that they weren’t, really, all that fantastic.

Application to Iraq. The general principle that good ideas are not usually associated with lying like a rug1 about their true nature seems to have been pretty well confirmed. In particular, however, this principle sheds light on the now quite popular claim that “WMDs were only part of the story; the real priority was to liberate the Iraqis, which is something that every decent person would support”.

Fibbers’ forecasts are worthless. Case after miserable case after bloody case we went through, I tell you, all of which had this moral. Not only that people who want a project will tend to make inaccurate projections about the possible outcomes of that project, but about the futility of attempts to “shade” downward a fundamentally dishonest set of predictions. If you have doubts about the integrity of a forecaster, you can’t use their forecasts at all. Not even as a “starting point”. By the way, I would just love to get hold of a few of the quantitative numbers from documents prepared to support the war and give them a quick run through Benford’s Law.

Application to Iraq This was how I decided that it was worth staking a bit of credibility on the strong claim that absolutely no material WMD capacity would be found, rather than “some” or “some but not enough to justify a war” or even “some derisory but not immaterial capacity, like a few mobile biological weapons labs”. My reasoning was that Powell, Bush, Straw, etc, were clearly making false claims and therefore ought to be discounted completely, and that there were actually very few people who knew a bit about Iraq but were not fatally compromised in this manner who were making the WMD claim. Meanwhile, there were people like Scott Ritter and Andrew Wilkie who, whatever other faults they might or might not have had, did not appear to have told any provable lies on this subject and were therefore not compromised.

The mendacity of the administration’s selling of the war was telling in terms of the rank incompetence with which they’ve pursued it, yes. But the dishonesty of the sale was also necessary because fighting a war with Chait’s objectives was always a terrible idea. The war might have been justified to disarm a grave security threat–which is why, revisionism aside, this was always the centerpiece of the administration’s defense of the war–but implanting a pro-American liberal democracy in Iraq via force was always an exceptionally implausible idea with costs that vastly outweighed the negligible chances of success. The administration’s ineptitude may have moved the chances of it working from “exceptionally unlikely” to “less than infinitesimal,” but that’s about it. It was always a bad idea, and if something similar is proposed with a better President in the White House it will still be a bad idea.

Clowntime Is Ongoing

[ 0 ] September 17, 2006 |

Ann Althouse, right on schedule, has dug herself deeper with respect to her puerile crusade in a post accusing people of “poor reading skills,” the fabled lack of a sense of humor invoked by anti-feminists everywhere, and–this is classic–”political hackitude,” without responding to a single substantive critique. When it comes to the points that 1)several participants at the event have contradicted her ludicrous assumption that the picture was arranged so that Valenti could show off her breasts to Bill Clinton, 2)only a creepy misogynist would call a picture of a woman in a T-Shirt “breast blogging,” 3)that it’s perfectly rational to privilege policy outcomes over personal behavior, 4)that people making (generally unsupported or exaggerated) assertions about Clinton’s treatment of women are opportunitsts who couldn’t care less about the same behavior when it comes from their political allies, 5)that it’s risible for someone who would use sniggering about a young woman’s body to drive up her hit count and so utterly in the tank for the egregiously anti-feminist Bush administration that she would write a clown-show op-ed that because of her position might lead people to quite mistakenly believe that she had some evidence for her claim that Sam Alito was a moderate (and by the way, did Clinton ever belong to a group trying to keep women out of Yale Law School?) to challenge anyone’s feminist credentials, needless to say she’s got nothing. And yet, I think that this is the most instructive part of her response: “Moreover, they’ve got some scary blindness about the way to help poor Hillary Clinton, who was the whole reason they were wrangled into Bill’s presence in the first place.”

Talk about projection! See, here’s the thing: I, and most of the people outraged by this, are not diehard political operatives who see everything into the lens of partisan politics. When I see a colleague attacked in the most vicious, mean-spirited terms by a major blogger, I really couldn’t care less about whether exposing this mendacity is good or bad for Hillary or the Democratic Party or whatever. To see feminism invoked as a Potemkin facade for someone engaging in absolutely reprehensible personal attacks against a (serious) feminist blogger is worthy of contempt, and I wouldn’t give a second thought to how it would affect Hillary’s Senate campaign. Only an alleged “feminist” who’s willing to have–nay, actually support–Roe v. Wade being overturned to help prop up the most reactionary administration in decades could think in such debased terms.

Over 1,000,000 Served! (Or, Alternatively, Over Five Satisfied Customers!)

[ 0 ] September 17, 2006 |

One good thing about fake libertarians–they got us past the landmark days before I anticipated it.

Anyway, I’m really amazed at the number of people who have read us, and thanks to everyone, especially to the best commenters in the blogosphere(TM). Special thanks to Matt and Brad, the first A-list bloggers to promote the site. And the mighty Atrios for directing so much traffic this way. And to the many bloggers who are not just readers but friends…I don’t want to start listing for the fear of leaving someone out, but you know who you are and extra special thanks.

That Explains Why Ann Althouse Loves Bush!

[ 0 ] September 16, 2006 |

If you examine this picture of her beloved Bush signing the All Your Uterus Are Belong To Us Act of 2003, it all makes sense:

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Now that’s taste and decorum. Thank Jeebus, not an unsightly breast in sight–there’s a President a feminist can get behind!

Bush: "Let all the laws go unexecuted, and the government itself to go to pieces, unless ones banning torture be violated."

[ 0 ] September 16, 2006 |

Big Book Author Matt really gets this one right:

It’s extremely rare for the Bush administration to pick big fights with congress. When the House and Senate were preparing to send him a campaign finance reform bill he regarded as unconstitutional, he tried to get his allies to kill it. But when they couldn’t, he signed it. When it looked like congress might pass a patients’ bill of rights he tried — and succeeded — in getting House allies to kill it, but indicate that he would sign it if it passed. He hasn’t vetoed any bills. He comes from an ideological tradition nominally committed to small government, but has been willing to increase spending by leaps and bounds.

When it comes to this issue, though, no compromise can be brooked. Bush wants to order intelligence agencies to violate all the country’s traditions and several of its laws in order that they might torture people. To that end, he’s willing to say that if he can’t torture people he just won’t interrogate them at all. Abraham Lincoln, while suspending the writ of habeas corpus, wondered rhetorically, “shall all the laws go unenforced except this one?” Bush’s view seems to be something like the reverse. Unless the one law against torture goes unenforced, his plan is to let them all slide. Then something terrible might happen and we’ll all have learned our lesson.

Indeed. Although in fairness, it must be noted that in addition to be willing to pick fights with Congress in order to defend torture and arbitrary executive power, he’s also willing to use his (one) veto to defend ludicrously incoherent positions on stem cell research, which may result in the premature and painful deaths of who knows how many people on behalf of principles he can’t possibly take seriously.

Sexual Harassment As A Reactionary Prop [UPDATED SEVERAL TIMES]

[ 0 ] September 16, 2006 |

Glenn Reynolds has, of course, joined the ranks of glibertarians charging Jessica Valenti with being photographed while having breasts. He links to this post by Dr. Helen, who calls the people who met the President “a support group for gropers.” Leaving aside the idiocies of the theater critic approach to politics, what she omits is the actual evidence that Clinton is one of the “biggest gropers around.” As far as I know, the only groping accusation against Clinton is the exceptionally non-credible accusations of Kathleen Willey. What he did with Lewinsky is potentially open to criticism on (genuinely) feminist grounds (and he received some), but again–it was not only consensual but initiated by Lewinsky. It is sexual harassment only under an extremely broad definition of the term, and isn’t “groping” (which in context implies a lack of consent) at all. The Paula Jones incident certainly would have been sexual harassment, but (even if true, which is far from clear) one incident from 1991 does not “one of the biggest sexual harassers around” make. Does meeting with George Bush mean that someone is acting as part of a “support group” for “one of the biggest alcoholics and cocaine abusers around?” (Smith’s hubby has been making this silly argument for a while, failing to understand such obvious points as “not supporting a frivolous impeachment” or “not supporting candidates who are far worse on women’s rights” does not constitute giving Clinton a pass, and also failing to explain why the Lewinsky incident was an example of sexual harassment.)

But even if she had evidence to back up her charges against Clinton, this is all unserious anyway. When given a candidate who actually did have an extensive history of flat-out sexual assaults on women, Reynolds was outraged…that the LA Times would cover the story. Reynolds doesn’t care about sexual harassment; he cares about bashing feminists while trying to keep his bullshit-libertarian facade. His celebration of Althouse’s reprehensible sniggering about Valenti is just the latest example. Myself, I prefer reactionaries who don’t make any pretense of caring about feminism.

…see also Amanda on the lovely commenters chez Althouse and Dr. Helen. (This is particularly funny because according to Althouse, the Democratic Party is responsible for sexist comments in Atrios’ comment section–including the ones that are obvious attacks in sexism if you have any ability to detect irony at all–but apparently openly misogynist commenters at her site are not only to be tolerated but encouraged.) She also notes the traditional conservative inability to distinguish between consensual and non-consensual acts:

Dr. Helen’s excuse is we feminists are opposed to men groping women in bars. This means we are supposed to avoid men who have consensual sex with women. Dr. Helen’s unwillingness to understand the concept of consent still boggles my mind.

…Dr. Helen has engaged in…what noted feminist scholar Ann Althouse has called breastblogging! Oh, the humanity! I’m afraid I can no longer take her claims of being a feminist seriously.

…This is classic. Reynolds: “And if Atrios thinks that publishing this photo is embarrassing to either of us, well it just proves he’s missing the point as usual.” You think Atrios is missing the point? Perhaps it will help if I put it in boldface: Of course there’s nothing wrong with being photographed while wearing a T-Shirt on your blog. This is exactly why Althouse’s post is such loathsome, mean-spirited nonsense. Yeesh.

Feminism: It’s About Not Having Your Picture Taken in a T-Shirt and Overturning Roe v. Wade

[ 0 ] September 15, 2006 |

Shorter Ann Althouse: “Having your picture taken next to the President while wearing a T-shirt knit top that makes the fact that one has breasts too evident (thanks to Lindsay in comments), and having ads for T-Shirts on your blog, makes you a “clueless fool” who’s done nothing for feminism. A real feminist does things like write op-eds for the New York Times urging that radical opponents of women’s rights be confirmed for appointment to the Supreme Court. ” (More here and here and here.)

Since it comes up a lot, it’s also worth addressing this Althouse fallacy: “I really don’t know why people who care about feminism don’t have any edge against Clinton for the harm he did to the cause of taking sexual harrassment seriously.” First of all, while his behavior raised serious ethical issues, it’s far from self-evident that Clinton’s affair with Lewinsky–which was initiated by the latter, did not involve a quid pro quo, etc.–constitutes sexual harassment. But even if we stipulate that it does, it’s perfectly rational for feminists to support Clinton because politics is about policy, not personality, and Clinton’s record on women’s rights was very good. Conversely, between the Alito appointment, his attempts to block emergency contraception, his use of executive orders to restrict women’s reproductive rights, his appointment of misogynist cranks to important regulatory positions, and his signing of awful federal abortion legislation of the kind Clinton reliably vetoed, the record of the strongly Althouse-endorsed Bush has been appalling. For her to lecture other people about not being serious feminists is risible. Another recent example of Althouse’s theater critic approach to politics is her remarkable attempt to wedge legislation to end military discrimination against gays that is supported by 114 Democrats and 5 Republicans into a “pox on both their houses” narrative; Democratic support doesn’t count, you see, because “they have constituents who are more likely to want the policy changed.” This is the old John McCain fallacy; sure he has a 0% NARAL rating, sure he voted for Robert Bork (and, hence, to overturn Roe 20 years ago), but somewhere deep in his soul I’m sure he’s a pro-choicer! And he may well be, but it’s completely beside the point. Whether GOP (and conservative Democratic) legislators vote for a counterproductive and bigoted military policy because they dislike gays or because they’re pandering to their constituents is wholly beside the point; the vote is the same either way. And, similarly, that Bill Clinton may have engaged in behavior that warrants disapproval from a feminist standpoint pales next to the fact that he didn’t do things like nominate people like Sam Alito to the Supreme Court. Alito’s votes to sustain abortion regulations and bans, and the ruined lives that will inevitably follow in its wake, remain exactly the same even if deep in his heart Bush doesn’t really care about abortion and would act differently if the forced pregnancy [for poor women] lobby wasn’t so powerful within the Republican Party. In politics results matter, not motives.


Anyway, about breasts. My feminist view on them is a very simple one: they are the property of the person who has them on her chest, having breasts does not preclude having brains and having breasts is perfectly acceptable in the public sphere. And women are not responsible for controlling the reactions of some men to the presence of breasts, women don’t have to don burqas for the sake of these men or to bind their breasts, either.

Add to this simple and sane idea the idea of situation-appropriate clothing, and I see nothing wrong in Jessica’s outfit in the picture. Most of the other bloggers in the picture are dressed in business-casual, and so is Jessica.

…see also Salon.

…Althouse is now claiming that when you put a picture of yourself in a t-shirt up it’s something called a “breastblog.” Is she trying for a keynote speaking gig at an upcoming MRA convention or something? Or is she just ultradefensive around women who haven’t sold out all of their feminist principles to support a disastrous administration engaged in a disastrous war? Whatever explains it, it’s profoundly embarassing. And creepy.

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Torture and the Vagueness Paradox

[ 0 ] September 15, 2006 |

The Editors discuss a typically exceptional piece by Dahlia Lithwick, which points to the danger of overly-specific definitions of torture. In his particularly testy press conference today, [more here] President Brags-About-Torture spoke again and again about the need for “clear standards,” which makes the truth of Lithwick’s point manifest:

The president himself raises the real reason for the change in the torture standard. He can’t get his interrogators to interrogate people as long as they are afraid of being dragged into court to answer for it later. The administration has been worried about its interrogators’ liability for their abuses since the debate about suspending Geneva began. And again yesterday, the president was emphatic in his contention that “as long as the War Crimes Act hangs over their heads, they [interrogators] will not take the steps necessary to protect” Americans. The War Crimes Act of 1996, passed by a Republican Congress, made it a felony to violate the Geneva Conventions. But while it sounds like Bush seeks to offer interrogators legal clarity, what he really strives to offer them is legal immunity.


In a superb article last fall in the Columbia Law Review, professor Jeremy Waldron argued that there is “something wrong with trying to pin down the prohibition on torture with a precise legal definition.” That it seems to “work in the service of a mentality that says, ‘Give us a definition so we have something to work around, something to game, a determinate envelope to push.’ ” And indeed it would be worrisome if the president were trying to create a sharp, bright line-rule for when interrogation crosses into torture, so that his agents could dance right up to it and stop, or find tricky ways to tunnel under it. But I suspect that the Bush administration doesn’t seek to clarify the definition of torture so much as to confound it. The whole objective of defining, refining, and then redefining the rules has become an end in itself. It keeps our attention trained where the president wants it: on the assertion that old bans on torture don’t work and that this conflict is unlike any conflict contemplated under existing international law. All this murk and confusion has begun to be the object of the game and not a casualty of it.

Right. Paradoxically, while making the rules a little more specific may seem to place a greater restraint on government, in cases like this, it’s the opposite. Consider the “cruel and unusual punishment” clause of the 8th Amendment. Had the framers tried to define particular forms of cruel and unusual punishment rather than writing it as a vague principle, what would have happened is obvious: the government could have used forms of punishment that were as bad or worse than the listed punishments but not actually prohibited–and, needless to say, this problem would get far, far worse over time as new forms of cruelty were made possible by technology. There are obvious legal problems created by the inherent indeterminacy of the standard, but a standard that will sometimes fail to constrain the state is better than a standard that will not only inevitably fail but actually legitimize forms of punishment it is designed to prohibit. What Bush seems to want is a definition just specific enough to make some forms of the torture he wants people to engage in clearly legally protected, which is much worse than a broader standard that would have greater deterrent effect. What Bush sees as a bug–people worried about facing legal consequences for torturing suspects–is of course a feature.

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