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A MoDo Glossary

[ 0 ] September 21, 2007 |

Bad writing and thinking, defined.

Freakonomics and the Klan

[ 0 ] September 21, 2007 |

Yeah, I’d have to say that, when doing an empirical analysis of the KKK, “Perhaps the most limiting feature of our data is that we were unable to obtain any records on Klan members or activities in the Deep South” is one hell of a caveat…

Dept. of Corrections

[ 0 ] September 21, 2007 |

Lindsay has the news about NYC subway stations being wired for cell phone use. However, there is one minor error:

If everything goes according to plan, all 277 underground stations will get cell phone service within 6 years. Unfortunately, the tunnels won’t be wired.

Must be a typo. Here’s the corrected version:

Fortunately, the tunnels won’t be wired, so that people –some of whom are probably the same people who triple egress time from the subway because they can’t wait to get to the top/bottom of the stairs to check their goddamned messages — won’t make subway rides completely unbearable by producing a cacophony of voices on their goddamned cell phones.

Whew, dodged a bullet on that one.

…Kvetch offers a preview of when (God forbid) the tunnels are wired:

“Hello? HELLO? Hey, it’s me. What’s going on? I said WHAT’S GOING ON? WHAT? Nothing, I’m on the subway. What? No, THE SUBWAY! Hold on, you’re dropping out. WHAT? I said YOU’RE DROPPING OUT!! Six train, downtown. No, DOWNTOWN! Yeah. So, anyway, what’s going on? What? I said… WHAT? I SAID WHAT’S GOING ON?!? Yeah, nothing with me either. What? I SAID…”

I can’t wait.

When that happens, please shoot me.

Court Gossip

[ 0 ] September 20, 2007 |

From a (generally unfavorable) David Garrow review of Jeffrey Toobin’s new Brethrenesque book about the Supreme Court:

Toobin devotes two chapters to Bush vs. Gore, the case that decided the 2000 presidential election. He asserts, based on unidentified sources, that Justice Anthony M. Kennedy was overly eager for the court to resolve the dispute even before it came to them. He also stresses that Justice Stephen G. Breyer felt that the Florida Supreme Court’s decision to order a statewide recount “didn’t pass the smell test.” He relies heavily on not-for-attribution comments from law clerks who worked for the court that year, and he states that the clerks “set the tone in the building” each year, not the justices.

Obviously, one has to take off-the-record assertions from clerks with several grains of salt. But this rings true to me, partly because it seems consistent with the resolution of the cases. There are other sources confirming that Kennedy’s vote was never in play, and his claim in his abjectly embarrassing opinion in Bush v. Gore that the Court has exercising its “unsought responsibility” can be most charitably described as black comedy. Meanwhile, if the story about Breyer is true this would help to explain why Breyer didn’t — as I would have — pull his dissent when it became clear that Kennedy was playing him for a sucker. Apparently, he actually thought (unlike the majority) that there was an equal protection problem with the recount and was willing to apply it seriously. But it still makes no sense for Breyer to make this argument after he signed an opinion specifically instructing the Florida courts not to apply a statewide standard; like the majority, the impossibility created by his collective positions is basically inconsistent with the rule of law.

Meanwhile, like Michael O’Donnell, I have to admit that however dubious Toobin’s analysis is I’m happy to have some good clerk gossip, and he passes along more of the book’s dish: for example, “After Rehnquist died, Dick Cheney pressed for hunting buddy Antonin Scalia to be named chief justice.” Apparently, the book also repeats something I’ve discussed before — Ginsburg circulated an appropriately tough dissent in Bush v. Gore but immediately withdrew the passages that offended Scalia after he complained. (Coming from Scalia, these complaints about tough rhetoric exposing the illogic of a majority opinion are especially ridiculous, and I still can’t believe that Ginsburg would give in to the bullying.) He also claims that Souter wept and almost resigned after Bush v. Gore, although as Garrow points out this has been rebutted by Warren Rudman and Souter is known for his relatively leak-free chambers.

Today in Good Lines

[ 0 ] September 20, 2007 |

Garance reminds me of Belle Waring on Fred Thompson: “First of all, are women voters, taken as a whole, really so much like retarded kittens in our motivations? And secondly, doesn’t Fred Thompson pretty much look like a basset hound who’s just taken a really satisfying shit in your hall closet? Finally, even if we restrict our field of play to Republicans who have played prosecutors in the later seasons of Law and Order, I would much, much rather have sex with Angie Harmon, even though I’m not gay.” Indeed.

Of course, his objective attractiveness has nothing to do with why (predominantly heterosexual male) political reporters believe him the height of rugged handsomeness. Rather, it’s because he’s a Republican, and hence therefore represents an ideal type of masculinity to some journalists, just like America’s Mayor and Straight Talkin’ John McCain. (Alas, given his history when Matthews called Thompson an Aqua Velva man I’m pretty sure he meant it as a compliment.)

…I think this from Michelle Cottle’s profile, about conservative activists who seem to think they’re voting for his Law & Order character, is also relevant:

Happily for Thompson, his on-screen record of leadership is more successful–and vastly better known. Indeed, his four-year stint playing District Attorney Arthur Branch on “Law & Order” is arguably his number-one qualification for a presidential run. It’s not merely that Thompson’s character is a commanding yet avuncular figure; it’s that he’s an explicitly and appealingly conservative one, a type you don’t often find on network television. Within the context of the show, Branch is a down-to-earth, common-sense conservative surrounded by twitchy liberal Manhattan types whom he can lecture about their squeamishness on capital punishment and their ludicrously broad interpretations of the Constitution.

Authoritative but not authoritarian, paternal but not tyrannical, strong but not scary, Branch is, in many ways, the portrait of an ideal conservative. And, in the minds of countless Americans–including many inside the Beltway–Fred Thompson is Arthur Branch. As Bob Novak put it in a column a few months ago, “Sophisticated social conservative activists tell me they … are coming to see [Fred] Thompson as the only conservative who can be nominated. Their appreciation of him stems not from his eight years as a U.S. senator from Tennessee but from his role as district attorney of Manhattan on Law & Order.” One shudders to think how the unsophisticated activists decide whom to support.

I guess they didn’t learn their lesson with George Allen

The Pretentious, Highly Unreliable Music Criticism Gap

[ 0 ] September 20, 2007 |

Apparently Pitchfork is an almost entirely all-male preserve — indeed, there are more reviews by guys named “Mark” than by women. [Via Ann and Amanda , the latter of whom explains why women leave the otherwise promising field of Insufferable Music snobbery.]

Is Clinton Evitable?

[ 0 ] September 19, 2007 |

Matt said recently that he “feels like Clinton is drawing close to checkmating her opponents.” Dana reminds us that it’s still early; Ezra avers that “it’s hard to make up 20 points when you won’t take chances.”

Understanding that a lot can happen, etc., and without quite being ready enough to say “lock,” I think that it’s pretty much over. What allowed Kerry to come out of nowhere was concerns about Dean compounded by the inept, undisciplined endgame to his Iowa campaign. Clinton, whatever else one can say about her, is a very disciplined campaigner; she’ll be very, very difficult to haul down from behind. I’m also inclined to think, given her strong basic political abilities and her lead, that the fact that she was two viable opponents probably helps her more than anything; both Obama and Edwards will stay in long enough to prevent a single anti-Clinton candidate from emerging until it’s too late. This is unfortunate, given that I think she’s both the least progressive and the weakest presidential candidate of the three, but I would be extremely surprised if she wasn’t the nominee.

GOP: Magna Carta Placed Too Many Restrictions on Executive Power

[ 0 ] September 19, 2007 |

The Habeas Restoration bill failed 56-43; Christy has the tally. Unless I missed one, no Democrat voted “naye,” including Nelson, Landrieu, and Conrad. The ever-more-disgraceful Joe Lieberman, of course, did. My question: where exactly is the ongoing “Rebellion or Invasion“? Hopefully the Supreme Court will correct Congress’s straightforward illegality, but it’s the sign of debased politics that they have to.

The Barbour of Jackson

[ 0 ] September 19, 2007 |

Brad Plumer and Noam Scheiber have a good article about the loathsome GOP corporate lackey Haley Barbour, the kind of “small government” Republican who ensures that any budget deal contains plenty of tobacco subsidies. And the kind of “anti-tax” Republican who, given an ultra-regressive 7% grocery tax in the second-poorest state in the country, well:

If the tobacco companies were hoping all this would pay dividends for them in Mississippi, they cannot be disappointed. In 2006, the state legislature passed a so-called “tax swap” bill. Supported by Amy Tuck, the lieutenant governor and, until then, a faithful Barbour ally, the measure would have raised the state’s tobacco tax, one of the country’s lowest, and lowered its ultra-regressive grocery tax. Barbour twice vetoed the plan and twisted enough Republican arms to sustain it–despite the fact that some 70 percent of Mississippians supported the legislation. “The tobacco companies, we barely even saw them,” says Steve Holland, chairman of the House public health committee. “They didn’t have to show up because they had the big boy fighting for them.” To this day, few in the GOP have dared cross Barbour on the matter. Recently, lobbyists from the Mississippi Health Advocacy Program asked several Republicans to pledge to raise the tobacco tax. They encountered near-universal resistance. “A lot of Republicans are saying, Do you know what you’re doing? If I sign this thing, then Haley will come and dump more money into my opponent’s campaign,'” says Roy Mitchell, the program’s director.

This year, legislators tried again, introducing two more bills that would have halved the state’s grocery tax and raised the cigarette tax by $1. Barbour didn’t even lift his veto pen this time around–the bills died at the hands of Senate finance committee chairman Tommy Robertson. Oddly, Robertson had been a vocal advocate of previous tax-swap bills. Earlier this year, however, he and two other Republican legislators–who, in their day jobs, are lawyers–had received a $1.2 million contract from the Mississippi Development Authority, which is overseen by the governor, to help homeowners finalize their Katrina grants. The contract raised more than a few eyebrows. (In an interview, Robertson said the contract–which was cleared by the state ethics commission on a party-line vote–had “absolutely nothing” to do with his stance on the tax swap.)

There’s also some good stuff about Barbour’s contributions to the national GOP’s efforts to bring the Mississippi fiscal and cultural system to the rest of the country. Depressing.

Legislative Protection For Abortion Access

[ 0 ] September 18, 2007 |

A good article here about the conflict surrounding a new Planned Parenthood clinic in Aurora, IL. The clinic has been delayed by zoning issues with the local government, which is also threatening to pass an inevitably useless parental involvement regulation. The tactic of arbitrarily using zoning or other regulations as a pretext to shut down clinics — see also Missouri, Mississippi, and Ohio — is particularly important, with the potential to place far more severe burdens on abortion access than any of the regulations explicitly upheld in Casey. Such actions also attract much less attention than trying to ban abortion outright.

Obviously, using litigation is one important element of a strategy to counter these methods. However, local abortion regulations like parental notification have already been held to be constitutional, and given the current composition of the federal courts one can’t be optimistic of an “undue burden” standard being applied with much teeth when it comes to states using regulations to shut down safe abortion clinics. In conservative states, this is a serious problem for the time being. But in pro-choice states, supporters of reproductive freedom should push for uniform access laws that prevent localities from obstructing poor women’s abortion access and also prevent zoning laws from treating abortion clinics differently than other non-residential entities. Thinking about ways to legislatively protect abortion rights — as Elliot Spitzer has done in New York — should be an important part of the pro-choice arsenal.

Confirm Mukasey?

[ 0 ] September 18, 2007 |

Scott Horton makes the case, which I think is correct. There’s obviously no question that Mukasey isn’t someone I would prefer to see appointed as AG. But the relevant universe of options here is not “people qualified to be AG,” but “people George Bush would appoint as Attorney General.” Given that last time Bush managed to select someone far worse than John Ashcroft, I think it’s pretty clear that Mukasey as as good as we’re going to get. (The fact that many conservatives aren’t happy with a clearly qualified candidate tends to reinforce this.) I also agree with Horton that with respect to the cabinet — as opposed to lifetime appointments to an independent branch of government — the President is entitled to considerable ideological deference. This doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t be subject to tough questioning at his confirmation hearings, of course, but it seems clear that Mukasey is far better than anyone could reasonably expect of this administration.

Times Non-Select

[ 0 ] September 18, 2007 |

This has always been a non-issue for me since I subscribe to the dead-trees edition, but for better or for worse most of the Times website is going to be free again. Actually, although we tend to think of the op-ed columnists, the really good news for non-subscribers and bloggers (and teachers) is that the post-1986 archives and the public domain archives are also going free — not only a valuable source of information, but I presume fewer dead links.

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