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Category: General

The Non-Mystery of Libertarianism’s Marginalization

[ 97 ] December 27, 2010 |

Um, not really so much:

Libertarianism gets marginalized in American politics because it doesn’t fit into the two-party paradigm.

Well, that’s one version of the underlying cause and effect. A rather more accurate one is hinted at earlier in the piece, albeit embedded in some spin:

Maybe it was inevitable that the National Opt-Out Day, when travelers were going to refuse body scans en masse, failed to become the next Woolworth’s sit-in (how do you organize a movement that abhors organization?). It turned out most Americans actually supported the body scanners. But the moment was a reminder of just how strong, not to mention loud, the libertarian streak is in American politics.

The body scanners were, in fact, an excellent example of the fact that libertarianism is marginalized in American politics because it’s a marginal, unpopular view — something that becomes particularly obvious when you consider what percentage of the minority of the people who were opposed to the body scanners supported all manner of arbitrary executive powers in service of the War On Terror (TM) so long as there was no chance that they would be personally effected. Libertarian beliefs on major issues generally range from unpopular to extremely unpopular, and this includes issues where I share libertarian beliefs. There’s really no puzzle here. Principled libertarianism would have very few adherents even it was propounded by hipper band than Rush. Another hint: the primary focus of Republican opposition to the ACA involved arguments that the government should keep its grubby paws of Medicare.

Apparently, There Has Been a Bit of Snow

[ 1 ] December 27, 2010 |

Fortunately and predictably, my strategy of spending Christmas break in Western Canada to escape bad weather has been effective! Plus, I saw local celebrity Theoren Fleury coming out of Costco…

On Dexter Season 5

[ 7 ] December 27, 2010 |

Pretty much what Emily Nussbaum said.

The unadulterated Althouse

[ 32 ] December 26, 2010 |

My parents purchased a new computer, completely devoid of cookies, and I migrated their bookmarks.  My father, with whom I regularly and vehemently disagree, left Lady Ann’s page open about twenty minutes ago and the default advertisement is truly stupendous:

Read more…

Friday Nugget Blogging

[ 19 ] December 25, 2010 |

“Mom, would our President ever send Santa to fight in a war?”

Is Barbour A “Racist?” That’s Not the Issue.

[ 6 ] December 24, 2010 |

Like Matt, I think Cotes’s point here is very important:

I guess I can agree that merely displaying the flag of a white supremacist Army, praising a group which opposed integration in the 1960s, and–at this very moment–is boycotting a Hollywood movie because for casting a black person as a Norse diety, does not make one a racist. I guess I’d also agree that dressing in Nazi regalia, and praising Pat Buchanan’s writings on Jews doesn’t, in itself, make you an anti-Semite. No one can know the contents of person’s heart. But it does make you, as Matt charged,  “dangerously ignorant,” among many other things. Of course Jacobson never quotes Matt–or frankly anyone–charging that Barbour is a racist.
That of course leads us to the second point–that there is an outbreak of liberal bloggers claiming Barbour is a racist. A google search of “Barbour is a racist” is instructive. It does not reveal a single liberal blog of real note making that case. On the contrary it reveals a raft of sites either arguing that Barbour isn’t a racist, or arguing why it’s not relevant. Unable to deal with the actual arguments made by Matt here, for instance, and evidently generally ignorant of the basic facts of American history, Jacobson simply strawmans and changes the subject.

I have no idea whether Barbour, personally, is a racist. Let’s stipulate that he’s not. It’s beside the point. Praising the White Citzens Councils because they weren’t as violent as the Klan may not be evidence of racism — but it is evidence of indifference about racial justice, and general an excellent illustration of the kind of silly formalism that leads to Republicans touting their own “color-blindness” while they make it illegal for schools to voluntarily desegregate.

Garrison Keillor’s War on (behalf of) Christmas

[ 71 ] December 24, 2010 |

I’d like to think this was on purpose, but I have my doubts:

And all those lousy holiday songs by Jewish guys that trash up the malls every year, Rudolph and the chestnuts and the rest of that dreck. Did one of our guys write ‘Grab your loafers, come along if you wanna, and we’ll blow that shofar for Rosh Hashanah’? No, we didn’t. Christmas is a Christian holiday—if you’re not in the club, then buzz off.

Golly gee whiz, Mr. Keillor, if you don’t want us to write your songs, we don’t want you to use our words.

Recommend me some music, please.

[ 50 ] December 23, 2010 |

The West thread below and its kin at Pandagon have yielded some excellent recommendations for music I should listen to on the long drive from rural Mississippi to the northern outskirts of Houston, but just in case those solid souls missed something essential, I thought I’d ask:

What should I have listened to last year?

Feel free to base your recommendations on the assumptions that 1) my taste is wildly eclectic and 2) the only album I bought was originally an LP pressed the year before I was born … because that’s close enough to the truth for government work.

But then you’ll never have to stop beating your wife either!

[ 24 ] December 23, 2010 |

Colonel Mustard puts to lie the conservative claim to care about anything other than raw power:

With a solid Republican majority in the House, the filibuster takes on less importance for Republicans.  The threat of a filibuster still will play into the politics of judicial nominations, but not much else.  With so many Democrats in the Senate up for reelection, the “centrist” block of Democrats may make a filibuster unnecessary in most events.

So if Democrats change the filibuster rule, will they be shooting themselves in the foot?

He’s not concerned with whether the newly invented tactic of Total Obstructionism Via Filibuster violates the spirit of the Constitution, nor is he concerned with whether said Obstructionism is good for the country.  His one and only concern is whether Democrats, in doing what is right, might rob themselves of the ability to similarly abuse the filibuster rule when they are inevitably returned to the status of minority party.  Because it is inevitable, though the good Colonel’s timeline may be a little off:

In 2012 there is a reasonable likelihood of a Republican majority in both houses of Congress.

I know he and his white friends are very excited about the win they scored in a midterm election in which the voter demographics were absolutely not one whit like those of the 2008 election, but sources close to the Colonel tell me that he tosses and turns at night when he thinks about whether marijuana would be legal in California if Proposition 19 had been on the ballot in 2008 or 2012.

Lind and the Pentagon Papers Case

[ 36 ] December 22, 2010 |

A few points about Michael Lind’s argument here:

Even if WikiLeaks is defined as a news organization, American law allows both prior injunctions halting publication of government secrets and prosecutions of media organizations following publication, in certain circumstances. In New York Times v. Sullivan, the Pentagon Papers case, the Supreme Court held that the government failed to pass a heavy test in trying to prevent publication of state secrets in advance — but conceivably in some cases that test could be met. And according to the Court, the federal government had the right to prosecute the New York Times and the Washington Post after publication, although it chose not to. The government’s case against Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony Russo for leaking the Pentagon Papers was thrown out because of the gangster-like methods used against them by Richard Nixon’s sinister “plumbers,” not because the government lacked the power to prosecute them under the Espionage Act.

  • The case is NY Times v. U.S., not Sullivan (the landmark 1964 libel case.)
  • Lind’s assertion that the Court said that the government had the “right” to prosecute the newspapers is, at best, deeply misleading.   It implies that the Court found that such a prosecution would not violate the First Amendment, but the Court’s three paragraph per curiam is entirely silent on the subject of an after-the-fact prosecution.
  • Similarly, while the Court did theoretically hold open the possibility that prior restraints on the press would be constitutional, it is exceptionally unlikely that any of the WikiLeaks material would come close to meeting that burden, which must involve immediate and direct harm (such as revealing troop positions for an imminent attack.)
  • It is true that (absent the Nixon administration’s other illegal actions) the government had the authority to prosecute Ellsburg, but that’s conflating two very distinct issues:  stealing/directly leaking classified data and publishing data leaked by a third party.    Wikileaks is comparable to the newspapers, not to Ellsburg.   The government has the legitimate authority to prosecute Bradley Manning (although it shouldn’t have the authority to torture him.)    That’s an entirely different question for whether the government can prosecute Assange, and even after the fact it faces an extremely high First Amendment burden.   I very strongly doubt that a prosecution of either Assange or the New York Times for publishing the leaks could pass constitutional muster.   And if it did, the chilling effect would be appalling.

On Barbour’s Praise of the Citizens Councils

[ 42 ] December 22, 2010 |

Rick Perlstein has a typically brilliant analysis.   Read the whole etc., but a preview:

What happened between Brown v. Board of Education and that January day in 1970 comprises some of the most monstrous inhumanity in the cruel annals of American history. Recently, in a cover feature in the conservative Weekly Standard on his presidential ambitions, Mississippi governor and fellow Yazoo native Haley Barbour had occasion to reflect on that place, in those years. The best that can be said about his recollection is that it is not 100 percent a lie — just deeply confused, mostly wrong, and indicative above all of a cynical man who has made a lucrative career of exploiting racial trauma when it suited him, or throwing it down a memory hole when it did not; which is to say, an archetypal Dixie conservative.

I especially recommend Perlstein’s post to William Jacobson, who defends Barbour with one of the worst analogies in known human history:

1947 was the year in which the color barrier was broken in Major League Baseball. Prior to Jackie Robinson taking the field, MLB (or whatever it was called at the time) was segregated. Actually, it was more than segregated, it excluded blacks completely.

Using the logic of Matthew Yglesias of Think Progress, who is having his 15 minutes of race card fame, anyone who expresses any measure of praise for the pre-1947 Yankees necessarily would be “expressing affection for a White Supremacist” organization. It would not matter that the praise was for the Yankees’ baseball skills; any expression of anything less than complete condemnation of the Yankees necessarily evidences tolerance for racism because the Yankees were part of a racist system.

This is remarkably silly. While the Yankees were part of an institution that (like many of the time) was racially exclusionary, they were primarily a baseball team; people who remember Joe DiMaggio or Babe Ruth or Bill Dickey or Joe McCarthy or George Pipgras fondly are remembering them because of what they did on the baseball field. Citizens Councils, conversely, existed for essentially the sole purpose of maintaining apartheid. The White Citizens Councils weren’t just a passive “part of a racist system,” they were formed to actively enforce white supremacy and black disenfranchisement. Their ends were the same as the Klan’s, with the only difference being that they favored economic to physical terror. Praising them is like praising the local Klan for handing out free Christmas hams.

In conclusion, given the nature of some of its public officials and their reflexive defenders, I’m puzzled that the GOP’s share of the African-American votes maxes out at about 8%…

Some Fun Holiday Reading

[ 15 ] December 22, 2010 |

I finally finished the final book in The Hunger Games trilogy. (I was not expecting that ending, though in hindsight I’m not sure why.)

For those of you unfamiliar with the dystopian premise: the United States is gone. Its successor nation, Panem, consists of an opulent, entertainment-obsessed capital somewhere in the Rockies and thirteen impoverished districts in which inhabitants farm, mine and manufacture. The Districts are kept in line partly through a Tribute system (developed after an uprising 70 years ago in which the thirteenth district was exterminated): every year a boy and girl are chosen by lottery to fight in an elaborate reality TV show for the entertainment of the Capitol. The winner and his or her family receive a life of ease; the losers die horrible deaths in the arena while all of Panem watches.

So far, not a terribly sophisticated plot, but that’s just the first few pages. What’s interesting are the industries surrounding the games: the audience can bet on the winner, there is a system for providing assistance to the favorites, an elaborate set of strategies for currying favor, and each contender works closely with a team of fixers whose professional success is based not only whether their tributes live or die but on how well they can serve the overall goal of entertaining the masses in order to uphold the fragile, fearsome stability of the system. And then there are relationships among the tributes themselves, who can form alliances and develop friendships even though only one of them will survive. And that’s before things turn “political.”

The books, which are already being taught in sci-fi courses and currently being turned into mega-films by Liongate deal not just with survival under impossible conditions (for a taste, check out this fan-made video by an actress who hopes for a chance at the coveted role of Katniss). More profoundly, they are about repression and inequality, the socio-political-military-entertainment-industrial-consumer complexes that sustain them, and the continuum of resistance mechanisms by which people along a continuum of core to periphery inch toward revolution. (There’s a lot more to work with here than Collins develops in the books; I hope the screenwriters will make the most of these subtexts.)

The series is pitched as “young adult fiction” in the genre of the Twilight series, although why this is true – whereas Orson Scott Card’s novels are generally understood as adult fiction – somewhat escapes me, as The Hunger Games seems far more sophisticated than Twilight (when my daughter was reading it this summer, the adjective she used to describe the book was “complicated.”) Like Card’s Treason, Wyrms, Ender or the Homecoming series’ the characters in The Hunger Games trilogy are young adults, of course, but they are facing very adult situations and more importantly, they are treated as adults by the adult characters and the author in every way that matters. The books are just as brutal (as Entertainment Weekly put it “let’s see the makers of the movie version try to get a PG-13 on this baby”) and – yes – just as complicated as anything cooked up by Card.

In fact, one of the most interesting themes in The Hunger Games is captured pretty well by one of my favorite quotes from Card:

“Sometimes it’s impossible to wear an identity without becoming what you pretend to be.”

Or rather, if you wear too many contradictory identities for too long, it’s very hard to know who you actually are or what you prefer. So Suzanne Collins’ novels are at their root a commentary on the ways in which our subjectivity is mediated by the performances in which we participate – which are constituted by various types of media – to the extent that our various identities are de-stablized by the act of pretending, until ultimately distinguishing the real from the unreal becomes an exercise in blind trust among those we choose as companions. In such contexts, the meaning of political agency shifts significantly and reasserts itself in surprising ways.

[cross-posted at Duck of Minerva]

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