Subscribe via RSS Feed

Author Page for Scott Lemieux

rss feed

Republic Party Jagoff of the Day, Scientific Illiterate Division

[ 0 ] January 24, 2007 |

Kantian Nihilist Chris Muir.

Republic Party Jagoff of the Day

[ 0 ] January 24, 2007 |

President George W. Bush.

I’m In Ur Think Tank Supporting Ur Opponents’ Policeez II: The Heretic

[ 0 ] January 23, 2007 |

Having Benjamin “legalizing abortion was a disaster for abortion rights” Wittes as a scholar at Brookings would be like having Kenneth Pollack and Michael O’Hanlon as foreign policy scholars at Brookings. Oh, wait

The Solution To Failed Wars is More Failed Wars

[ 0 ] January 23, 2007 |

Matt notes that there’s no discernible difference between the substantive positions of The New Republic and Liz Cheney’s widely and justly mocked op-ed on Iraq. Meanwhile, it seems as if Marty has discovered a new toy to play with:

So why did Marty take the unusual step of teasing Michael Orin and Yossi Klein Halevi’s forthcoming Iran piece on his blog? According to TNR office scuttlebutt, the piece is causing shpilkis about being yet another hysterical, warmongering embarrassment to the magazine. Right now it’s just a rough draft, but insiders fear it could still emerge in print as something pernicious — hence Marty’s preemptive guarantee of publication.

Great. Maybe he thinks TNR‘s circulation is too high.

Speaking of which, Glenn “more rubble less trouble” Reynolds asserts that the only problem with Bush’s foreign policy is that he hasn’t used more troops that don’t exist to start more disastrous wars. His innovation is to use Talleyrand to defend the Green Lantern theory of foreign relations: “you can do anything with bayonets except sit on them.” Leaving aside the fact that I’m quite sure that the point of the Talleyrand quote is the opposite of what Reynolds claims (it’s translated by a more reliable source as “the one thing you cannot do with a bayonet is to sit on it,”) somebody may want to explain to Reynolds what happened with the French Revolution…

The "Convienience" Trope

[ 0 ] January 23, 2007 |

It’s been widely linked, but this post by (former L, G & M guest-blogger) Lizardbreath is good enough to merit further discussion:

Continuing that pregnancy wouldn’t have been an epic tragedy for me; any proposal for abortion rights that requires abortion to be permissible only when the only alternative would be starving on the streets would leave me right outside.

But man, did I not want to be pregnant. I did not want to be locked into a minimum eighteen-year relationship with someone I’d been dating for a couple of months. I did not want to be responsible forever for someone who didn’t exist yet. I didn’t want to be physically pregnant. I had no idea of where I was going professionally — I was a temp receptionist, thinking about maybe taking the LSATs — or of how I would support myself or a child, and had no idea of how I’d find my way into a career with a new baby. The only thing being able to get an abortion did for me was give me some control over the course of the entire rest of my life.

So, politically useful as it is, I get a little edgy about rhetoric that stipulates that abortion is always a strongly morally weighted decision. I don’t think it is, and if it were I’m not certain that my reasons for not wanting to continue a pregnancy at the time qualify as sufficient to do a wrong thing — if abortion is an evil, it’s not clear to me what evil would have been the lesser under those circumstances. But I am thankful every day of my life that I had the option to end that pregnancy back in 1995.

Some other bloggers have already addressed one important implication: the long-term cost of the potential short-term political games inherent in “abortion is icky” rhetoric. To make a somewhat different point, LB’s post reminds me that a common rhetorical strategy of the forced pregnancy lobby is to describe an abortion obtained under any but the direst cirumstances as an abortion for “convenience”–Byron White used it himself in his dissent in the first abortion cases. As LB’s story suggests (see a similar one from A Rational Animal) , this is a grossly misleading and offensive description. “Convenience” invokes something nice, but trivial–it’s “convenient” to have a branch of your bank open up a few blocks close. A decision about whether to bear a child, conversely, involves large, irrevocable effects (or potential effects) on your employment, intimate relationships, education, and financial situation–the central pillars of most people’s lives, in other words. To describe large changes in these aspects of life reflects an essential belief in the subordination of women–do you think that if pregnancy had similar effects on men’s lives, an unwanted pregnancy would be a mere “inconvenience?” Implicit in such arguments is the assumption that for women educational and career advancement is sort of a luxury, nice if you can get it but easily displaced by a woman’s “natural” role as a mother (a role a woman apparently agrees to take on every time she engages in heterosexual intercourse, which is of course silly.) The description trivializes pregnancy, and trivializes women’s lives.

Blogging For Choice Day: Why I Am Pro-Choice

[ 1 ] January 22, 2007 |

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Honourable Madam Justice Bertha Wilson

This year’s Blogging For Choice topic is to write about why you’re pro-choice. On the merits of being pro-choice, I have an extensive body of work, and I will hopefully have a piece coming out at the Prospect later today about abortion as a class issue. So today perhaps I’ll take a slightly more personal tack.

My direct interest in the abortion issue is easily traced. The first court decision I remember hearing about and discussing was R. v. Morgentaler, the 1988 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada that ruled Canada’s federal abortion legislation unconstitutional. I gave a speech defending it at that year’s persuasive speech at my high school, and my interest in the subject has never really waned. (One can probably also trace my eventual decision to become a scholar of law and courts back to that decision too, although I would have never dreamed it at the time.) Morgentaler is worthy of examination by American supporters of reproductive freedom, because it addresses some issues that its American counterpart (with the partial exception of William O. Douglas’s short, brilliant concurrence in Doe v. Bolton) doesn’t. While I strongly believe that Roe v. Wade was correctly decided (1, 2, 3), like almost everybody I find Blackmun’s opinion for the Court deficient in many respects. Morgentaler is not the perfect opinion, but is does a much better job with similar legal materials.

The Court in Morgenlater was divided and produced two broad rationales, both of them compelling. The first–based in procedural due process–I’ve already discussed. Canada’s abortion law required that a woman obtain a certificate from a “Therapeutic Abortion Committee.” (This is very relevant to the American case, because similar legislation was the preferred “reform” legislation in American states as well. Being more concerned with the rights of doctors than the rights of women, it’s sort of the holiest of holies for abortion “centrists.”) The opinions of Chief Justice Dickson and Justice Beetz meticulously detailed the irrational construction and arbitrary operation of these committees, and correctly argued that a women’s fundamental rights could not be violated in such a manner. As I’ve said before, I like this opinions because 1)they focus on how abortion statutes work in practice and their tenuous-at-best relationship to protecting fetal life, and 2)because they call the bluff of the “pro-lifers.” The other (and most famous) concurrence was by the first woman to serve on Canada’s highest court, Justice Bertha Wilson. I wish that she had linked her analysis to the gender equality provisions of The Charter of Rights and Freedoms rather than making a more straightforward substantive due process argument (although it’s embarrassing to Harry Blackmun that her opinion shows much greater command of the relevant American precedents than its American counterpart.) Wilson does, however, explain very eloquently why reproductive freedom is critical to the dignity of women, and her explanation is a good way to conclude a post on Roe‘s anniversary:

I agree with my colleague and I think that his comments are very germane to the instant case because, as the Chief Justice and Beetz J. point out, the present legislative scheme for the obtaining of an abortion clearly subjects pregnant women to considerable emotional stress as well as to unnecessary physical risk. I believe, however, that the flaw in the present legislative scheme goes much deeper than that. In essence, what it does is assert that the woman’s capacity to reproduce is not to be subject to her own control. It is to be subject to the control of the state. She may not choose whether to exercise her existing capacity or not to exercise it. This is not, in my view, just a matter of interfering with her right to liberty in the sense (already discussed) of her right to personal autonomy in decision-making, it is a direct interference with her physical “person” as well. She is truly being treated as a means — a means to an end which she does not desire but over which she has no control. She is the passive recipient of a decision made by others as to whether her body is to be used to nurture a new life. Can there be anything that comports less with human dignity and self-respect? How can a woman in this position have any sense of security with respect to her person? I believe that s. 251 of the Criminal Code deprives the pregnant woman of her right to security of the person as well as her right to liberty.

…In comments, Pithlord points out that s.15 of the Charter didn’t apply at the time of the alleged offense, so Wilson couldn’t refer to it (and, for reasons I don’t fully understand, the explicit guarantee of gender equality in s.28 has done very little work in Canadian constitutional law.)

It’s National Forced Pregnancy Day!

[ 0 ] January 22, 2007 |

George the Obtuse issued the following proclamation on the occasion of the anniversary of Roe v. Wade:

America was founded on the principle that we are all endowed by our Creator with the right to life and that every individual has dignity and worth. National Sanctity of Human Life Day helps foster a culture of life and reinforces our commitment to building a compassionate society that respects the value of every human being.

Among the most basic duties of Government is to defend the unalienable right to life, and my Administration is committed to protecting our society’s most vulnerable members. We are vigorously promoting parental notification laws, adoption, abstinence education, crisis pregnancy programs, and the vital work of faith-based groups. Through the “Born-Alive Infants Protection Act of 2002,” the “Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003,” and the “Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2004,” we are helping to make our country a more hopeful place.

So the justification for various abortion regulations and subsidies of anti-abortion organizations is that there is an “unalienable right to life” that applies to fetuses, and that the principle that “every individual has dignity and worth” apparently applies to fetuses. So I can only assume that the next step will be an intense national campaign to have abortion immediately prosecuted as first degree murder in all 50 states–the only defensible policy flowing from Bush’s premises. At the very least, every women who obtains an abortion, every doctor who performs and abortion, and everyone who assists in the abortion should be executed, and everyone who knows about the abortion be prosecuted as an accessory to capital murder. It’s the least he can do and sleep at noght.

Or, alternatively, Bush could stop justifying stupid, irrational laws using moral arguments that as applied to abortion he (like most people who use them) obviously doesn’t take seriously. And in doing so, cynically degrades our highest constitutional principles (and, indirectly, uses the dignity of the civil rights movement to justify the restriction of women’s rights.) That would be good too.

As for the other revolting irony of George W. Bush announcing “National Sanctity of Human Life Day,” Maha, Shakes, and Mona are on the case.

Today’s Games

[ 0 ] January 21, 2007 |

New Orleans (+3) at Chicago: Like all decent people with no a priori rooting interest, I’ll be rooting for the Saints, so take my pick with a grain of salt. But Chicago’s defense is monumentally overrated (as the game they should have lost last week made clear)–given how a nowhere-near-100% Alexander ran last week, McAllister and Bush will break some big runs, and Brees should shred their secondary. You can move the ball on the Saints, but Grossman will turn the ball over. You hate to take a dome team playing in Chicago in January, but…I think Cinderella’s going to the ball.

New England (+3) at Indianapolis: Indy could win, and at even odds I would pick them. The Pats are become a little like the last Yankee dynasty. The Yankees won in 1998 with a historically great team, got complacent, but continued to win with teams that eked out increasingly threadbare wins against better teams, which were evidence not of catching some breaks but of their incredible Character and Knowing How To Wintiude and Jeterology. And then the breaks started going against them and the Character mysteriously vanished although the teams got better again. The analogy isn’t perfect–the Pats’ dynasty started with a Super Bowl win against a much better team, but became great–but because of their success their win last week is being discussed more as evidence of some incredible force of their team’s karma rather than more accurately as a stone fluke. Part of me thinks that today is when the gig will finally be up. Still…the Pats are better coached, have a better defense, and Manning has been awful the last two weeks. I can’t justify leaving points on the table to pick against them.

While Nero Surges

[ 0 ] January 20, 2007 |

But were any schools painted today?

On one of the deadliest days for United States forces since the Iraq war began, an American helicopter crashed in a Sunni area north of Baghdad on Saturday, killing all 13 aboard, the United States military said. Iraqi officials in the area said it had been shot down, though there was no immediate confirmation from American officials.

In separate episodes, five American soldiers were killed and three wounded in a battle with gunmen who attacked the local governor’s office in the Shiite holy city of Karbala, and two soldiers died from other attacks, military officials said.

If all those on the helicopter were Americans, 20 American servicemen died Saturday. On the worst day of the war for American forces, Jan. 26, 2005, 37 American service members died. Thirty-one of them died when a Marine helicopter crashed in the western desert, and six others in combat that day.

And on the Democratic Side…

[ 0 ] January 20, 2007 |

Clinton is in.

…I think Hilzoy has about the right take on the merits. I should also say that I don’t think she has much chance of winning the Dem nomination; Kevin Drum disagrees.

Charles Murray: Yet More

[ 0 ] January 20, 2007 |

Ezra presents a very useful summary of critiques of Charles Murray in light of his latest repellent op-ed. To add to this, I’ve put excerpts from the New Republic symposium on The Bell Curve online here and here.

Murray claims that his belief that the government can’t do anything to redress poverty and racial inequality is not due to his indifference to these problems, but reflects sincere libertarian beliefs. The Iraq War is a useful way of testing one’s commitment to this principle: surely, if welfare programs are a bad idea, then razing a government and hoping that an entirely new state and society can be constructed in its place is a really bad idea. Murray, needless to say, was all for the Iraq War, not only contemporaneously but in retrospect.

Another example of Murray in practice is his assertion–which he takes to be a slam-dunk case against government intervention–that the 55 MPH speed limit had “no visible difference” on highway fatalities. As Louis Menand noted in his review of Murray’s What It Means To Be A Libertarian:

Having asserted that the 55-mph speed limit made “no visible difference at all,” Murray doesn’t trouble us with the actual numbers. They are as follows. In 1970, 54,600 Americans died in traffic accidents; in 1973, the number was 55,500. In 1974, after the passage of the 55-mph speed limit, traffic deaths fell to 46,400. In 1975, they fell again, to 45,900. In 1976, there were 47,000. Measured as deaths per 100 million vehicle miles, which is the form Murray prefers: in 1970 there were 4.7 deaths per 100 million miles traveled; in 1973 there were 4.1; in 1974, following the passage of the 55-mph law, there were 3.5; in 1975, 3.4; and in 1976, 3.3. These decreases correlate with a decrease in the average speed of cars on interstate highways, which fell from 65 mph, with fifty percent of cars exceeding 65, in 1973, to 57.6 mph, with only 9 percent of cars exceeding 65, in 1974.

It is hard to see how Murray can claim, short of pointing to another cause, that the 55-mph speed limit made “no visible difference” in the number or the rate of traffic deaths. What is notable about the decline in the fatality rate, in fact, is how decisive it was. For the effect of reducing the speed limit to 55 cannot be meaningfully measured against all motor vehicle travel, which is how Murray measures it. The effect is obviously limited to travel on roads where the speed limit was previously higher than 55.

These were, for the most part, interstate highways, which are built, maintained, and regulated by federal and state governments and which are statistically the safest roads in the nation. The least safe, as it happens, are locally built and maintained rural roads. The fatality rate on interstate highways in 1994 was .74 per 100 million vehicle miles—higher (.99) on rural sections, where speed limits have generally been raised, than on urban sections (.58). On noninterstate rural roads, it was 2.66. Murray naturally does not get around to pointing out that by 1994, following aggressive government efforts to require the use of seat belts and air bags, the total number of traffic deaths had dropped to 40,676, or just 1.72 per 100 million miles traveled.

Murray’s whole discussion of this matter starts, of course, from a false premise, which is that Congress voted to reduce the top speed limit in 1974 in an effort to decrease the rate of traffic fatalities. It did not. The purpose of the law was not highway safety; it was energy conservation, a response to the threat of an oil embargo by OPEC. And in this respect the law was also effective (though a steep rise in the price of gasoline no doubt helped). The average number of gallons consumed annually per vehicle fell from 851 in 1973 to 788 in 1974 and 790 in 1975. The 55-mph speed limit was an extremely modest political measure. It added a few minutes to long drives on interstate highways; in return, it helped to save a little oil and, as an unanticipated bonus (and contrary to Murray’s explicit claim), thousands of lives. It was slightly nerve-wracking back in 1974 driving at 55 miles an hour on roads where one was accustomed to doing 75 or 80, but there was also a weird sense of solidarity about the experience, as though people, by driving in what at the time seemed like a farcical slow motion, were pulling together, doing the right thing to meet a national crisis. It was possible to resent the loss of time, but I don’t think very many people experienced it as a loss of freedom.

Indeed. And as Menand notes, Murray makes similar silly claims about Jim Crow (“The notion that the movement toward desegregation between 1954, the year of Brown v. Board of Education, and 1964 was the result of a voluntary and natural trend in human relations below the Mason-Dixon line, unaffected by federal court orders, Supreme Court decisions, and the deployment of federal troops, is of a piece with the notion that a decrease in the number of highway fatalities from 55,500 to 46,400 does not, despite mathematical appearances, represent a saving of thousands of lives.”). The man is simply not a serious thinker or scholar.

Bye Bye Johnny

[ 0 ] January 20, 2007 |

Brad Plumer offers more evidence for Josh Marshall’s thesis that McCain is dead. They’re right. Essentially, McCain was always a longshot for the Republican nomination because (as 2000 demonstrated) he is distrusted by much of the evangelical base. To compensate, he hitched his wagon to 1)becoming Bush’s lickspittle, and 2)being a particularly visible and unrelenting Iraq cheerleader. And as Brad points out, this has worked out about as well as betting your live savings on Ball State to win the BCS, except with a lot more loss of life and money and damage to national security interests.

Given this, and also given that Giuliani’s potential campaign is a farce , the interesting question is, who could win the nomination? Mark Schmitt offers a good lay of the land. He thinks Romney has little chance (for plausible reasons, although it’s hard for me to say whether evangelicals will be able to deal with his Mormonism or not), and likes Gingrich. I think Brownback and Huckabee have the best shot of the candidates under discussion; again, I assume the former is something of a longshot, but 1)I don’t know enough, and 2)distancing himself from the war suggests some political savvy.

Rox was on this last year.