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The Problem With Attracting Conservative Evangelicals

[ 0 ] August 21, 2007 |

The story about the Bush administration pre-empting states from expanding healthcare programs for children reminds me that I forgot to comment on the latest Michael Gerson joint. To follow up on a point I’ve made before, Gerson is often used an example of how conservative evangelicals can be brought into the fold to support Democratic economic policies if only women, gays, etc. could have their policy priorities thrown under the bus. But this is the problem:

First, Rove argues that Republicans win as activist reformers, in the tradition of Lincoln, McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. “We were founded as a reformist party,” he said in our conversation this week, “not to be against something, but to help the little guy get ahead.” The models he cites are 401(k)s and the mortgage interest deduction — government policies that encouraged individual wealth and ownership.

Yes, Gerson talks in the language of social justice, and is probably sincerely concerned about it. But the problem is that his conception of social justice and helping the poor manifests itself…in support for highly regressive tax breaks and William McKinley being his idea of a reformist president. At any rate, the idea that conservative evangelicals are a “moderate” position on abortion away from joining the Democratic Party is dreaming in technicolor. The vast majority of Republican evangelicals support Republican economic policies, whatever language they express that support in.

Prison Reform & Feminism (Prison Reform vs. Feminism?)

[ 0 ] August 21, 2007 |

In Daniel Lazare‘s smart and biting review of books about America’s incarceration culture, appearing in last week’s Nation, he highlights an incendiary argument from Marie Gottschalk’s book, The Prison and the Gallows (which I have not yet read but which is on my Amazon wishlist. Hint hint). Here’s Lazare’s take on Gottschalk:

Gottschalk’s assault on ’70s feminism is sure to raise the most eyebrows. She argues that the women’s movement helped facilitate the carceral state by promoting a punitive approach to sexual violence that was unmitigated by any larger political considerations. This single-minded focus led to what The Prison and the Gallows describes as unsavory coalitions with tough-on-crime types. In the State of Washington, women’s groups successfully marketed rape reform as a law-and-order issue so that, when the measure finally passed in 1975, it was “in part by riding on the coattails of a new death penalty statute.”

In California a new rape shield became known as the Robbins Rape Evidence Law, in honor of one of its legislative sponsors, a conservative Republican named Alan Robbins. In pressing for limits on the cross-examination of alleged rape victims, feminists “generally did not consider what effect such measures would have on a defendant’s right to due process,” Gottschalk adds, even though due process at the time was under assault from a growing war on crime. More radical elements, meanwhile, strayed into outright vigilantism. In Berkeley, antirape activists picketed an accused rapist’s home. In East Lansing in 1973, they “reportedly scrawled Rapist on a suspect’s car, spray-painted the word across a front porch and made warning telephone calls late at night.” In Los Angeles, a self-styled “antirape squad” vowed to shave rapists’ heads, cover them with dye and then photograph them for posters reading, This Man Rapes Women. A feminist publication called Aegis ran a notorious cover showing a gun with the warning, “You can’t rape a .38; we will defend ourselves.”

The National Rifle Association was no doubt delighted. Gottschalk contends that such activists wound up “profoundly co-opted,” since “by framing the rape issue around ‘horror stories,’ they fed into the victims’ movement’s compelling image of a society held hostage to a growing number of depraved, marauding criminals.” She notes that feminists threw themselves into the battle for the Violence Against Women Act, which passed in 1994 as part of an omnibus anticrime bill that “allocated nearly $10 billion for new prison construction, expanded the death penalty to cover more than fifty federal crimes, and added a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ provision mandating life imprisonment for federal offenders convicted of three violent offenses.” Yet feminists’ involvement was relatively modest two years later when a few liberals tried to rally opposition to Clinton’s plan to abolish Aid to Families With Dependent Children, which heavily benefited poor women. Like their nineteenth-century forebears, who advocated bringing back the whipping post to deal with wife beaters, late-twentieth-century feminists got more excited about punishment than defending the welfare state.

The trouble for me is this: Gottschalk is probably on to something. Which bothers the prison reformist part of my brain. But the fact that the feminist movement would be criticized for doing its part to protect women’s sexual autonomy also rankles me — men’s sexual power over women, sometimes expressed through rape, is a big part of what the second wave feminist movement was fighting against (and what third- and post-wavers continue to fight). This conflict is perhaps nowhere clearer than in my posts about exonerations: because of the availability of DNA in their cases, the vast majority of those exonerated were wrongly convicted of rape or rape/murder. The fight to hastily “get” alleged rapists and to make examples of them clashes with the desire to ensure that defendants’ due process rights are not infringed.

Prison reform and criminal defense work are not the only areas in which feminists have forged odd alliances in order to facilitate their goals (and in which they have allowed themselves to be co-opted after doing so). Most notoriously, Catharine MacKinnon worked with conservative Christians in her fight to ban pornography. But her alliance came back to bite her: the first books and films confiscated under the Canadian law based on her theories were from gay and lesbian shops.

Most damning to feminists, I think, is the movement’s general passivity (which Lazare notes) when it came to opposing laws that would hurt (predominantly poor and minority) women, like the 1996 Welfare “reform”. It’s not fair to feminism to make generalizations about the movement based on the old trope of the middle class white feminist leader. Feminists were, in 1996, on the whole opposed to the parts of the welfare law that incentivized marriage and allowed further intrusion into women’s private and sexual lives. Still, Gottschalk’s portrayal is not far off: historically, it’s been easier to rally the feminist movement offensively than it has been defensively. Reproductive rights advocacy is a stark exception to this, since we have always been on the defensive. But it’s not an exception that I think we should hold up as a model of effective feminist activism.

What to make of all of this? The tension I feel is a microcosm of the tension in the feminist movement: at what price women’s autonomy? Or at what price a less aggressively carcereal state? I’m not sure. This is uncomfortable and, I think, should remain so. Problematic alliances and mis-steps are part of any political movement. The question is how to resolve a tension that sometimes seems intractable.

(Also at Feministe)


[ 0 ] August 21, 2007 |

Via Matt, Mike Crowley:

The Anti Defamation League has fired its New England regional direction for insisting that the group recognize as genocide the circa-1915 slaughter of perhaps a million Armenians by the Ottoman Turks… A resolution pending in Congress would make it official U.S. policy to recognize that the Armenians were genocide victims. But the ADL, along with other leading Jewish-American groups, apparently considers friendly relations between Israel and Turkey–whose government takes genocide claims as a massive provocation–more important than the underlying historical question

In other words, the Anti-Defamation League is trying to prevent recognition of the Armenian Genocide, an event that Adolf Hitler *explictly* used to justify the Holocaust.


Well I’ll be damned . . .

[ 0 ] August 20, 2007 |

. . . She had a heart?

I suppose there’s a good argument to be made that if Helmsley had been a man, her crimes wouldn’t have earned more than a year in the clink. Still, she was a noxious human being who abused her employees and cheated the Reagan administration out of millions dollars it could have spent on pointless weapons systems, tax breaks for Helmsley’s wealthy peers, and illegal, covert operations in Central America.

Presidential A#*holery Continues re: SCHIP

[ 0 ] August 20, 2007 |

[Image Removed]

Under the headline “White House Acts to Limit Health Plan for Children,” I just read this gem:

The Bush administration, continuing its fight to stop states from expanding the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program, has adopted new standards that would make it much more difficult for New York, California and others to extend coverage to children in middle-income families.

Administration officials outlined the new standards in a letter sent to state health officials on Friday evening, in the middle of a month-long Congressional recess. In interviews, they said the changes were aimed at returning the Children’s Health Insurance Program to its original focus on low-income children and to make sure the program did not become a substitute for private health coverage.

After learning of the new policy, some state officials said today that it could cripple their efforts to cover more children by imposing standards that could not be met.

So. During a recess, the president acts to prevent implementation of a law that Congress has passed and for which it could likely override what would be a very unpopular veto. Because the Bushies are so afraid (at least ostensibly) of the specter of socialism (so far off at this point that it’s laughable), that they prevent kids (KIDS!) from getting health insurance.

It gets worse. One of the conditions the Bush administration wants to impose is to mandate that states which set their cutoff for SCHIP participation at a level the federal government deems too high (above about $50,000 per year for a family of four) must require a family to be uninsured for a year before the children of that family can benefit from SCHIP. So a kid must be uninsured for a whole year before she or he can be covered by SCHIP. Nevermind what might happen during that year.

Jaw on the ground yet? Mine is.

Go read the whole article to find out more about the Bush administration’s vindictiveness.

Great Moments in Oblivious, Right-Wing Affluence

[ 0 ] August 20, 2007 |

After reading the latest complaint from VDH about the Pussification of the Republic, Atlas nearly loses grip on her breakfast martini:

And while it seems painfully obvious, we have recklessly abandoned our duty to teach our young. Public school education is worthless. Bottom line is if you can’t afford a private school that actually educates (as opposed to indoctrinates), you must home school.

Of course. Because families that “can’t afford private school” would be engaging in perfectly rational behavior by withdrawing one potential wage-earner from the labor market, while somehow mustering the additional resources they’d need to dodge the ideological poisons emanating from a free public education. Better to follow Pammy’s own model and devour the children in their cribs as they sleep.

My Hands Remain Unwringed

[ 0 ] August 20, 2007 |

I’m frankly not sure even what to say to Josh Patashnik’s response to my post from earlier today. Essentially, he concedes the merits of the arguments Matt and I made but argues that “it would be comforting to at least see a bit more hand-wringing and equivocation from Yglesias and Lemieux before condemning Wittes’s piece” because Wittes –unlike us — is “grappling with the real conundrum here.” But the “conundrum” is perfectly straightforward. Senate Democrats acknowledged the need to update FISA and hammered out a deal. The administration reneged, and then the Democrats simply gave them what they wanted, and what they wanted was essentially a blank check. I don’t think any “hand-wringing” is required to reject this legislation because 1)once these powers are given it’s almost politically impossible to take them away, and 2)because I don’t think unchecked, arbitrary executive power is an effective means of protecting national security, and our Constitution is based on the same premise. The solution, in this case, is worse than the status quo, and it’s also extremely problematic to accede to the blackmail of crying “national security” every time the President chafes against legal restraints.

In addition, as I said last week it’s a mistake to focus too much on the particular nature of the Bush administration. Obviously, it’s especially foolish to give broad powers to a President who has demonstrated again and again that he will push any powers to the brink (and in some cases, as with FISA, beyond) of their limits, but it would be unwise to trust any administration with this authority. This would be bad legislation under a President Clinton or Obama, just as it’s bad legislation now.

Is This A Plot Conceived By Michael Skube?

[ 0 ] August 20, 2007 |

Tristam Shandy points us to this extraordinarily weak piece of media criticism from walking punchline Pajamas Media. As TS points out, the biggest problem is that it’s mostly unfounded speculation. But there are a couple more gems. I like this one:

Let’s go into the fact-checking department. [Beauchamp's wife] Elspeth Reeve was one of three fact-checkers at the magazine.

Did she fact-check her husband’s articles? While it is hard to believe that an established magazine would make such an elementary error, so far no one at the magazine has bothered to address the question. That’s an interesting omission.

Even if Reeve did not double-check her husband’s reporting, she worked alongside the other two fact-checkers and often shared a take-out lunch with them in the magazine’s conference room.

She…had lunch with some of her co-workers! Truly, an enormous scandal. Similarly, I’ve heard rumors that Dick Miniter once had lunch with Roger Simon and Glenn Reynolds, so clearly his piece wasn’t fact-checked at all! And the scandal deepens:

Perhaps the fact-checkers believed that they didn’t have to check his work thoroughly because they knew and trusted his wife, who they affectionately called “Ellie.”

Clearly, we know that TNR committed journalistic malpractice because they called the wife of the person whose article was under review…by her name. I’m convinced! It’s entirely possible (although, the assumptions of this story aside, it’s hardly been proven with any publicly available evidence) that Beauchamp made up the entire story, but this is pretty feeble stuff.

I am looking forward to the story about how that journalistic beacon Pajamas Media was suckered into a laughably false story that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had died, though…

On Face Plausibility

[ 0 ] August 20, 2007 |

One need not investigate the methods used in this study to know that they’re flawed:

Our results suggest that having participants listen to songs by AC/DC in which Brian Johnson served as vocalist results in participants realizing more efficient outcomes. Thus, in terms of a singer’s ability to implement efficient behavioral outcomes among listeners, our results suggest that Brian Johnson was a better vocalist than Bon Scott.

One brilliant single (You Shook Me) aside, I can categorically state that only a 24-carat ignoramus would prefer Brian Johnson to Bon Scott. Highway to Hell, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, TNT, Whole Lotta Rosie, Ride On, and It’s a Long Way to the Top are all better than the rest of the best than the Johnson years have to offer. And seriously, how can someone even debate the genius of a vocalist whose official causes of death were “acute alcohol poisoning” and “death by misadventure”?

The State Department is the Source of All of Our Ills

[ 0 ] August 20, 2007 |

…or so Peter Baker would have you believe. That’s not quite fair to Baker, but it’s not far off, either. Baker allows that slashed budgets and “unforeseen” events have wounded Bush’s pro-democracy agenda, but swallows the line that most of the blame for failure at the feet of State Department and other foreign affairs “bureaucrats”, who manage to gut the pro-democracy programs either intentionally (through refusing or changing the President’s directives), or accidentally (bureaucracies screw things up, don’t you know?). This would be silly if it weren’t sad; as Laura Rozen notes, there are several impressively large examples (Saudi Arabia) that should give pause to anyone who wants to believe that democracy promotion was something that this administration took seriously. Indeed, Baker inadvertently gives evidence about how unseriously they took it; actual State Department professionals were excluded from critical conversations about democracy promotion in favor of Karl Rove, Michael Gerson, and John Lewis Gaddis.

Blaming the State Department for every ill that afflicts American foreign policy is a strategy that goes back at least to Joe McCarthy. It was on prominent display in Rudy Giuliani’s Foreign Affairs article…

Another step in rebuilding a strong diplomacy will be to make changes in the State Department and the Foreign Service. The time has come to refine the diplomats’ mission down to their core purpose: presenting U.S. policy to the rest of the world. Reforming the State Department is a matter not of changing its organizational chart — although simplification is needed — but of changing the way we practice diplomacy and the way we measure results. Our ambassadors must clearly understand and clearly advocate for U.S. policies and be judged on the results.

…and remains a handy explanation for the failure of any conservative pet foreign policy program that fails to get off the ground. Moreover, as plenty of people have noted, this is all part of the larger family of conservative rejection of expertise. I should add that, if Gideon Rose can’t tell the difference between criticism of an informal group of often self-defined experts who dominated public debate in the run-up to the Iraq War and criticism of professional State Department personnel, he needs better glasses.

The elephant in the room remains, as always, Iraq. Even if we were to allow that this administration’s thoughts on democracy promotion were more sophisticated than “tyranny bad… uh, sometimes”, it’s ridiculous to think about the impediments to that program without first mentioning Iraq. Iraq has poisoned every other American foreign policy initiative, whether diplomatic or military, and it’s hardly surprising that State Department professionals can’t produce results on democracy while they’re fighting the erosion of American legitimacy that Iraq is producing.

Drum and Publius have more.

Weekly Liptak Love: Gonzo & Capital Punishment

[ 0 ] August 20, 2007 |

It’s time for your weekly installment of Liptak love, wherein I sing the praises of the New York Times’ Adam Liptak and his Monday (Times Select-shielded) criminal justice columns.

Today, Liptak takes on the death penalty. Specifically, he exposes the provision in the recent reauthorization of the PATRIOT (blech) Act that allows the A.G. (Gonzo himself) to decide whether condemned men and women have had adequate legal representation, and that shortens the time period for filing a habeas petition and narrows the factors a court may consider in evaluating that petition.

Liptak makes clear (through the quotes of others, of course) the incoherence of the law:

“After the courts had repeatedly found that the states were not providing competent defense representation in capital cases, Congress decided to solve the problem by the simple device of having the attorney general announce that it did not exist,” said Eric M. Freedman, a law professor at Hofstra who submitted testimony opposing a version of the new law for the American Bar Association in 2005.

“The attorney general can certify that the moon is made of green cheese, but that will neither make it so nor advance scientific knowledge,” Professor Freedman said. “The way to fix capital defense systems is not to deny that they need fixing, but rather to dedicate the needed resources to improving them.”

Death penalty prosecutions in this country take a long, long time. In California, as Liptak notes, executions are virtually at a standstill, with only 13 executions taking place since the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976. In Texas, on the other hand, the most execution happy state in the nation, 379 people have been put to death since 1974.

The federal government’s desire to speed executions, or “grease the wheels of the machinery of death,” per Liptak, is nothing new. In 1996, Congress passed the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA). AEDPA put in place the federal habeas restrictions on which this new law builds.

Before the 1996 law, death row inmates who filed habeas corpus petitions in federal court succeeded in overturning their convictions or death sentences about 40 percent of the time. According to the study, which looked at the years 2000 through 2006, that number has dropped to 12 percent. And it continues to fall.

The conservative Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals grants habeas petitions in death penalty cases about 2 percent of the time.

Efficiency might be an admirable goal; death penalty litigation is notoriously inefficient with its mandatory appeals and many opportunities for review (again, narrowed by recent laws). In fact, a favorite statistic of anti-execution advocates is that the litigation surrounding a death penalty prosecution together with the execution itself is more expensive than a life sentence. But efficiency cannot come at the cost of accuracy when death is on the line.

(also at Feministe, where I am guest blogging this week)

Here We Go Again

[ 0 ] August 20, 2007 |

In times past, I’ve described my aversion to start-of-the-semester meetings. Since my banal complaints are permanently archived on the intertubes, I’m not going to rehash them here as I prepare for two — only two?!?!?! — enervating days of conversation about my university’s “Strategic Plan” and its “Accreditation Self-Study.”

I will, however, remind readers in the Seattle or Anchorage areas that Juneau is only a 2-hour flight away, and that if any of you were to take it upon yourselves to come up here and — I dunno — kill me or something, you’d be solving more problems than you’d be creating.

That is all.

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