Subscribe via RSS Feed

Author Page for Scott Lemieux

rss feed

Out On The Road, You’re Willie Loman and You’re Tom Joad, Vladimir and Estragon, Kerouac, Genghis Kahn

[ 0 ] January 5, 2007 |

Light posting from me will continue for a couple of days as my vacation wraps up; it has involved more success at acquiring hockey tickets than anticipated, with more predictable compelling friends away from family responsibilities and taking advantage of the big new kitchen. Tonight involved a dinner engagement, followed by some winning ugly, which nonetheless made me happy, because it’s the last time I’ll see the Flames in Jeebus knows how long and I’m still pissed off at Florida for that ridiculous Luongo/Bertuzzi trade. Less intermittent posting should resume after the weekend.

The Rehnquist Files

[ 0 ] January 4, 2007 |

The FBI files on the late Chief Justice contain some interesting information. For example, on his pooling booth goonery and his confirmation hearings with bonus John Bolton material:

In July 1986, when President Ronald Reagan nominated Rehnquist to be chief justice, the Justice Department asked the FBI to interview witnesses who were preparing to testify that Rehnquist had intimidated minority voters as a Republican Party official in Arizona in the early 1960s. According to a memo in the Rehnquist file, an unnamed FBI official cautioned that the department “should be sensitive to the possibility that Democrats could charge the Republicans of misusing the FBI and intimidating the Democrats’ witnesses.” But then-Assistant Attorney General John Bolton — who more recently served as ambassador to the United Nations — signed off on the request and said he would “accept responsibility should concerns be raised about the role of the FBI.” It is unclear whether the FBI ever interviewed the witnesses.

Court watchers will be more aware of his painkiller dependence in general, if not every detail. It does strike me that this is relevant information for a confirmation hearing:

The FBI’s 1986 report on Rehnquist’s drug dependence was not released at the time of his confirmation, though some Democratic senators wanted it made public. But it is in Rehnquist’s now-public file, and it contains new details about his behavior during his weeklong hospital stay in December 1981. One physician whose name is blocked out told the FBI that Rehnquist expressed “bizarre ideas and outrageous thoughts. He imagined, for example, that there was a CIA plot against him.”

The doctor said Rehnquist “had also gone to the lobby in his pajamas in order to try to escape.” The doctor said Rehnquist’s delirium was consistent with him suddenly stopping his apparent daily dose of 1400 milligrams of the drug — nearly three times higher than the 500-milligram maximum recommended by physicians. The doctor said, “Any physician who prescribed it was practicing very bad medicine, bordering on malpractice.”

In fairness, being all hopped up on goofballs would at least explain his Bush v. Gore concurrence, although I don’t know what excuse Scalia and Thomas have for joining it…

Late Notes On Federalism and Jim Crow

[ 0 ] January 4, 2007 |

I’m very late in wading into the Jim Crow/federalism debate, but a couple of points I haven’t seen anyone else make yet:

  • Volokh is right that the “federalism permitted Jim Crow, and hence it’s bad” argument is fallacious. Just as no constitutional theory can consistently prevent normatively odious outcomes when they have substantial political support, there is no institutional arrangement that can always produce outcomes than one considers to be normatively desirable. (If asked to design a new American constitution, I would unquestionably choose a Parliamentary model with a very powerful federal government; but while I strongly believe that this would produce more congenial political outcomes from my perspective in the long run, it would also have produced much worse outcomes from my perspective than the current Madisionian framework in 2002-6.) However, I don’t think this is the real problem with “states’ rights” and Jim Crow. The bigger problem is that the slavery and Jim Crow eras demonstrate that most people who invoke federalism don’t actually care about it. From the Louisiana Purchase to the Fugitive Slave Act to the Tennessee Valley Authority, political actors who used “states’ rights” to defend slavery and apartheid had no problem with expansive (and, in many cases, constitutionally shaky) constructions of federal power so long as they were consistent with their substantive preferences. Similarly, while there were some rare exceptions (such as Barry Goldwater), most people who opposed Brown and the Civil Rights Act also opposed desegregation at the state and local level; it was a substantive preference for apartheid, not a commitment to federalism, that motivated George Wallace to invoke the 10th Amendment. To borrow Roy’s line about libertarians, people willing to routinely subvert strongly-held political commitments in favor of particular conceptions of federal/state power relations are as rare of Pieces of the True Cross.
  • As much as I hate to agree to side with Ann Althouse over a blogger I respect, I couldn’t disagree with Radley Balko’s assertion that “were it not for state-mandated segregation, the private sector would have integrated on its own” more strongly. Most Jim Crow laws were largely symbolic codifications of existing practices; they ratified a social order rather than creating it. Aggressively enforced civil rights legislation was crucial to crushing apartheid because 1)within this social order, economic incentives for private actors compelled toward segregation rather than desegregation and 2)as a result, outside of a few urban centers blacks who challenged the status quo were likely to lose employment, housing and/or credit (in addition to the always-present threat of private terrorism.) To believe that Jim Crow would have withered away absent any state intervention is implausible in the extreme.

[Also at TAPPED.]

And the GOP Medicare Bill Continues To Be Justified By "Patch Adams"

[ 0 ] January 4, 2007 |

Personal to Michael Ledeen: if you’re going to defend an appallingly executed execution using a movie, couldn’t you at least use a watchable one?

The Sacrificing of the Overrated Bowl: An Annual Event

[ 0 ] January 4, 2007 |

Wow, Notre Dame abjectly (and gloriously) humiliated in a bowl game it had no business being in–what are the odds?

If You’re Female and Go Out For a Drink, You’re Asking For It

[ 0 ] January 3, 2007 |

Why is Women’s E-news publishing this crap?

Many other posts on the subject; Shakes has a comprehensive roundup.

Today in Hobbyhorses

[ 0 ] January 3, 2007 |

Via Ezra, I see that Paul Campos’ terrific article (which I’ve tried to link to before) has been taken out from behind the subscriber wall by TNR in time for New Year’s Resolution time. As he argues, if you’re interested in health, make a resolution to exercise regularly and eat a nutritious diet, not to lose weight:

Perhaps America’s most common New Year’s resolution is to lose weight. This week, as we push ourselves away from the increasingly guilty pleasures of the holiday table, we will be bombarded with ads imploring us to slim down with the help of health club memberships, exercise equipment, or the latest miracle diet. Yet, however common it may be, the resolution to lose weight appears to be a particularly ineffective one: The latest figures indicate that 65 percent of the adult population–more than 135 million Americans–is either “overweight” or “obese.” And government officials are increasingly eager to declare America’s burgeoning waistline the nation’s number-one public health problem. The Surgeon General’s recent Call to Action to Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity labels being fat an “epidemic” that kills upward of 300,000 Americans per year.

Such declarations lend our obsession with being thin a respectable medical justification. But are they accurate? A careful survey of medical literature reveals that the conventional wisdom about the health risks of fat is a grotesque distortion of a far more complicated story. Indeed, subject to exceptions for the most extreme cases, it’s not at all clear that being overweight is an independent health risk of any kind, let alone something that kills hundreds of thousands of Americans every year. While having a sedentary lifestyle or a lousy diet–both factors, of course, that can contribute to being overweight–do pose health risks, there’s virtually no evidence that being fat, in and of itself, is at all bad for you. In other words, while lifestyle is a good predictor of health, weight isn’t: A moderately active fat person is likely to be far healthier than someone who is svelte but sedentary. What’s worse, Americans’ (largely unsuccessful) efforts to make themselves thin through dieting and supplements are themselves a major cause of the ill health associated with being overweight–meaning that America’s war on fat is actually helping cause the very disease it is supposed to cure.

As Ezra notes, Campos also makes the obvious point that the conflation of “fat” and “unhealthy” is an ex post facto rationalization of aesthetic prejudices; it’s got nothing to do with actual evidence. (Needless to say, someone comes along in comments to bring up the Type 2 Diabetes argument.) His book is worth reading too, but the article is a useful summary.

Kaus and Countermobilization

[ 0 ] January 2, 2007 |

In case you’re in the mood for more, I have a post at TAPPED on the subject. Longtime readers will particularly enjoy the fact that Plano, which last year Kaus was using as anecdotal evidence that even the most liberal elitist communities shared recoiled (just like him) from Brokeback Mountain, is now serving as anecdotal evidence that even the most reactionary communities are motivated by a particular set of crackpot beliefs which requires us to accept the contrarian antiliberalism that Kaus brings to every issue.

Racist Scumbag of the Day

[ 0 ] January 2, 2007 |

Virgil Goode.

The Only Year-End Quiz That Matters

[ 0 ] January 1, 2007 |

Roger has it.

Bad Faith

[ 0 ] January 1, 2007 |

Winner of the Bildungsroman Award for Best Coming of Age Matt Yglesias makes a simple but nonetheless not often enough made point here:

The saddest thing about the 3,000th American death in Iraq is that unlike the first batch of casualties, people getting killed or maimed in Iraq these days are really doing so in the course of a bad faith military option. Iraq Year One was a fiasco, but it was a genuine mistake. Since then, and certainly these days, we’re passed all that. Nobody genuinely believes that they (or anyone else) has an Iraq policy that offers any kind of reasonable prospects for success.

Sending young men and women to die based on a policy error is at least forgivable. Sending them to die to preserve people’s egos is quite another matter. (Or, if you’re enough of a psychopath, you can make a horrible, visibly specious attempt to minimize these pointless deaths by comparing them to homicide deaths for the population as a whole.)

…UPDATE: I agree with eRobin and others in comments that it’s more complicated because of the amount of bad faith inherent in selling the war. Still, I can at least imagine someone (although very misguidedly) in 2003 thinking the war might accomplish something.

We Can’t Afford Not To Have Universal Healthcare

[ 0 ] January 1, 2007 |

To follow up on Atrios and Ezra, let me carry the stats in this Times article one step further. Let’s use their figures to extrapolate government health care spending per capita:

United States $2745
France $2464
Canada $2215

Again, our system doesn’t just spend far more money than France’s much better system and Canada’s heavily flawed but still better system, but more government money. And as Krugman says today:

Part of the answer is that our fragmented system has much higher administrative costs than the straightforward government insurance systems prevalent in the rest of the advanced world. As Anna Bernasek pointed out in yesterday’s New York Times, besides the overhead of private insurance companies, “there’s an enormous amount of paperwork required of American doctors and hospitals that simply doesn’t exist in countries like Canada or Britain.”

In addition, insurers often refuse to pay for preventive care, even though such care saves a lot of money in the long run, because those long-run savings won’t necessarily redound to their benefit. And the fragmentation of the American system explains why we lag far behind other nations in the use of electronic medical records, which both reduce costs and save lives by preventing many medical errors.

The truth is that we can afford to cover the uninsured. What we can’t afford is to keep going without a universal health care system.

The truth to be gleaned from the fact that private insurance companies are willing to spend truckloads of money to ensure that they only insure the healthiest people is not that Corporations Are Evil per se–they’re just acting rationally. Rather, the moral of the story is that while markets are valuable tools for many things they’re horribly inefficient and grossly inequitable means of delivering health care, and having to fill in the gaps with such things as excessive use of emergency rooms also leads to more government spending than is necessary unless we’re just willing to let uninsured people die the the streets. Until people figure this out, Americans will continue to spend far too much money for far too little.

[Cross-posted to TAPPED.]

…see also Echidne and Stoller.