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Penn Primary

[ 16 ] April 23, 2008 |

I don’t have much to add, and watched about as much coverage as Ezra, because the result is clear: Obama remains a near-lock, and Clinton’s not going to drop out after a 10-point win. I would like to second what should be an obvious point from Isaac Chotiner: claims that Obama “has to” start winning or seriously cutting into Clinton’s core constituencies in upcoming states are silly. He already has a majority coalition for the primary, and as far as the general election poor people and older women aren’t going to suddenly turn into a Republican constituency.

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Give Us This Much

[ 9 ] April 23, 2008 |

Hey, at least unlike certain cities I could name, my old hometown was certainly devoid of rioting!

(I really shouldn’t joke about this, since I was in Montreal for the Gucci Riot following the Habs winning in ’93, which came a few block from my apartment; fortunately, I was one of roughly 14 people at the 12-inning Expos game that night, so they were over by the time I got home…)

Ace in the Hole

[ 10 ] April 23, 2008 |

Photobucket

Ang Lee speaks out against proposed Tory legislation that would deny the usual Canadian tax credits to “films and videos deemed offensive to the public.” (In fairness, if it would have stopped Lost and Delirious from being made it would prove that even social conservatism has its upside.) More important tonight, however, is that he can serve as a good luck charm, as he shows good judgments about both Western Canadian cities and hockey teams:

Lee captivated his audience with his friendly, unassuming demeanour.

His next movie, he disclosed, is “a comedy about the sixties,” but he would also love to make a film one day in Vancouver.

“I think this is the most beautiful city in the world …. I hope it’s a hockey movie. I want to make a movie where Canadians win, not always Americans,” said Lee, who became a fan of the Calgary Flames during the filming of Brokeback Mountain.

Hopefully Game 7 will be a little more suspenseful than tonight’s primary. (For some reason, I’m guessing some LG&M readers care more about the latter, so this can serve as a Primary Open Thread.)

…ugh, this fiasco has been much more The Hulk than The Ice Storm…

In-the-Tank Hack of the Day

[ 7 ] April 22, 2008 |

Mr. Richard Cohen, ladies and gentlemen!

Pandering We Don’t Need

[ 0 ] April 22, 2008 |

Seriously, Obama needs to stop with this public-health-damaging nonsense immediately.

…what Megan says in comments is worth elevating here:

And to second (third, fourth, whatever) those above – the science is not inconclusive. But I am willing to concede that this is one of those times when the precise language of scientists (and in particular, statisticians) can become misconstrued. In particular, no study can ever ‘disprove’ much of anything. All it can do (and many, many studies consistently have, in this case) is fail to find a link. In statistical terms we always call this ‘failing to reject the null hypothesis of no relationship.’ It’s a weird double negative, but it’s careful for a reason – we always set up our experiments assuming the thing we’re trying to disprove is true. Our conclusion options are to reject the null (and conclude that a relationship exists) or fail to reject the null. We typically shy away from clearly stating that this means conclusively that no relationship exists, since as scientists we’re always open to the possibility of being wrong – perhaps another study will come along with better/different methodology and contradict our findings, perhaps someone will have more money and more time and collect more data and contradict our findings, etc. However, all that hemming aside, just like a scientific theory is treated with more confidence than the layman interpretation of the word ‘theory,’ when numerous studies consistently fail to reject the null hypothesis, most reasonable scientists are comfortable assuming that this means that no relationship exists.

Clinton too, ack.

This Thing Isn’t Over Yet?

[ 13 ] April 22, 2008 |

I guess my prediction today will be…Clinton by 13.

"Elitism" Without Economics

[ 0 ] April 21, 2008 |

What Frank said:

“Elitism” is thus a crime not of society’s actual elite, but of its intellectuals. Mr. Obama has “a dash of Harvard disease,” proclaims the Weekly Standard. Mr. Obama reminds columnist George Will of Adlai Stevenson, rolled together with the sinister historian Richard Hofstadter and the diabolical economist J.K. Galbraith, contemptuous eggheads all. Mr. Obama strikes Bill Kristol as some kind of “supercilious” Marxist. Mr. Obama reminds Maureen Dowd of an . . . anthropologist.

Ah, but Hillary Clinton: Here’s a woman who drinks shots of Crown Royal, a luxury brand that at least one confused pundit believes to be another name for Old Prole Rotgut Rye. And when the former first lady talks about her marksmanship as a youth, who cares about the cool hundred million she and her husband have mysteriously piled up since he left office? Or her years of loyal service to Sam Walton, that crusher of small towns and enemy of workers’ organizations? And who really cares about Sam Walton’s own sins, when these are our standards? Didn’t he have a funky Southern accent of some kind? Surely such a mellifluous drawl cancels any possibility of elitism.

I was also amused by the Crown Royal mistake; I hate to tell this to wealthy pundits pretending to be populists, but very few dive bars have Crown Royal in the well…

I don’t always agree with him, but Frank will make a much better token lefty at the WSJ than Al Hunt or Alex Cockburn…

David Mamet, Constitutional Scholar

[ 2 ] April 21, 2008 |

An appropriately Ruthless Review, pointing out the problem with Mamet’s Voice position paper was not its conservatism but its jaw-dropping banality and many strawman burnings. I’m glad they reminded me about this part:

The Constitution, written by men with some experience of actual government, assumes that the chief executive will work to be king, the Parliament will scheme to sell off the silverware, and the judiciary will consider itself Olympian and do everything it can to much improve (destroy) the work of the other two branches. So the Constitution pits them against each other, in the attempt not to achieve stasis, but rather to allow for the constant corrections necessary to prevent one branch from getting too much power for too long.

Leaving aside that any remotely knowledgeable person would know that the Constitution hasn’t actually worked that way in practice (the separation of powers often leads to the evasion and delegation of responsibility rather than power maximization by all branches), it’s pretty depressing to see a great playwright deciding instead to write summaries of bad sixth-grade civics textbooks and then triumphantly announcing these insights as producing a political transformation so earth-shaking it requires a cover story to elucidate. It is instructive about the intellectual shallowness likely to produce a “since 9/11, I’m outraged by that some unnamed people still allegedly believe in crude reductionist readings of Rousseau” conservative.

Annals of Bad Decisionmaking

[ 0 ] April 21, 2008 |

Apparently, the effect of eating four day-old spinach when you think you might have some kind of stomach flu is to remove all doubt. Hopefully blogging will remove shortly. In the meantime, since between the onset of illness and deluge of Real Work I neglected to blog for Equal Pay Day, allow me to delegate to Kay, who explains why it’s important to override Ledbetter. (Much more good stuff can be found here.)

Very, Very Bitter

[ 26 ] April 19, 2008 |

Kathy unloads some snark on Maureen “Feminism Should Too Be My Dating Service!” Dowd for asserting that, whatever that condescending girly-man Barack Obama might think, she was never bitter:

But there’s another problem with the opening sentence of the Dowd column. “I’m not bitter.” Oh Maureen — who the hell do you think you’re kidding? The woman positively soaks in bitterness. Marinates in it. It oozes out of her pen and pours into just about every damn word she writes. Her bitterness has utterly corroded her soul. It’s turned her into a twisted freak whose chief pleasure in life seems lie in vicious, barking-mad attacks on the only people capable of ending our long national nightmare — the Democrats. Seriously, if there is any other single person in the media who’s been a more powerful enabler of Republican high crimes and misdemeanors than Modo, I don’t know who it is.

[…]

There’s always been a weirdly gendered quality to Dowd’s bitterness. The main, and indeed often the only, point of nearly every column she writes is that male Democrats are girly men and female Democrats are castrating bee-yotches. It’s antifeminist, to be sure, but it goes waaaay beyond that into some warped, dark psychosexual realm of its own. Somerby calls her a “gender nut,” which is as good a term for it as any, I suppose.

Make sure to keep reading for the funny setup-with-MoDo anecdote, which will hopefully give pause to people who accept assertions that the media is obsessed with Bill Clinton’s penis because it’s what the public demands…

Uncomfortable?

[ 78 ] April 18, 2008 |

Ann (or, as she as known in the New Yorker, “one blogger”) points out that Aliza Shvarts will be turned into the kind of apocryphal symbol that will be used by anti-choicers for decades. Ross Douthat approves: “there’s a larger sense in which stories like these – with the uncomfortable questions they raise for at least some segments of the pro-choice side – are too helpful to the pro-life cause to be ignored.”

But what exactly are these uncomfortable questions? The approximate percentage of abortions obtained because women deliberately choose to get pregnant specifically to get an abortion is zero. Even if Shvarts had intentionally induced three miscarriages, it would be silly to change one’s political or legal position on abortion based on such an obvious outlier. It’s also true that defenses of reproductive rights, like defenses of all rights, are not premised on the idea that every single person will exercise their rights in ways that everyone else will recognize as responsible or desirable, for the obvious reason that this would be a ridiculous standard.

On the other hand, Shvarts and the kabuki surrounding her does raise uncomfortable questions…for Americans who believe that (poor and rural) women should be forced by the state to carry pregnancies to term. The official position of the Republican Party, and as far as I can tell most pro-life groups, is that performing an abortion should be a serious criminal offense in all 50 states but obtaining an abortion should be subject to no criminal sanctions at all. Apparently, this is because women who obtain abortions are just too “desperate or helpless” to be considered moral agents in the eyes of the law. At any rate, if we are to take the typical public positions of American pro-lifers seriously, if Shavrts had actually done what she claimed to have done this would be much less problematic than an ordinary situation where a woman goes to a doctor’s office to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. So while Shavarts does nothing to undermine the case for legal abortion, she does provide another useful demonstration that the positions of American pro-lifers are a complete shambles: most of their public representatives are unable to explain why abortion is wrong and what should be done about it without collapsing into incoherence, reducing to extremely reactionary notions about women’s rational capacity, or both.

Stevens and the Machinery of Death

[ 21 ] April 17, 2008 |

Given what bean correctly identifies as the complexity of today’s ruling in Baze v. Rees, I’ll have to leave discussion of the fractured holding until tomorrow. For now, let me discuss one interesting and unexpected development. For the first time since the nearly-retired Harry Blackmun, the Supreme Court now has a justice who believes the death penalty to be categorically unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment. Justice Stevens:

Finally, given the real risk of error in this class of cases, the irrevocable nature of the consequences is of decisive importance to me. Whether or not any innocent defendants have actually been executed, abundant evidence accumulated in recent years has resulted in the exoneration of an unacceptable number of defendants found guilty of capital offenses. The risk of executing innocent defendants can be entirely eliminated by treating any penalty more severe than life imprisonment without the possibility of parole as constitutionally excessive.

In sum, just as Justice White ultimately based his conclusion in Furman on his extensive exposure to countless cases for which death is the authorized penalty, I have relied on my own experience in reaching the conclusion that the imposition of the death penalty represents “the pointless and needless extinction of life with only marginal contributions to any discernible social or public purposes. A penalty with such negligible returns to the State [is] patently excessive and cruel and unusual punishment violative of the Eighth Amendment.”

Stevens’s concurrence provoked a rejoinder from Scalia. I hate to admit it, but while I certainly think Stevens has the better of the policy argument, as a matter of constitutional law I think Scalia’s (while I would certainly not endorse every detail) is more persuasive. In particular, I agree that the explicit mention of “life” in the due process clauses of the 5th and 14th Amendments — while not dispositive — certainly puts the burden of proof on those claiming that the 8th Amendment forbids the death penalty in all cases. And questions such as whether the death penalty has a deterrent effect and what role retribution can play in criminal punishments, there’s enough reasonable disagreement to justify leaving the policy judgment to legislators, especially since nobody could argue with a straight face that there’s anything remotely resembling a national consensus against it. I’m open to arguments about the death penalty as applied, but I continue to think that the Marshall/Brennan position on the death penalty isn’t terribly convincing.

The other interesting twist, as many of you have already inferred, is that Stevens voted to uphold Kentucky’s execution regime, deferring to precedent. (In this, he differs from Blackmun — he may think that the death penalty experiment has failed, but remains willing to tinker with the machinery of death.)

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