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The coming attacks on Obama?

[ 28 ] April 3, 2008 |

So someone has signed me up for a host of wingnut mailing lists. To the merry prankster (if she/he is a reader of this blog): You, your children, and you’re children’s children are banned from this blog for the next three months.

Anyway, many people (including myself) have wondered with quiet horror what the coming swiftboating of Obama would entail. In my optimistic moments, I think it’s possible they’ll go too far, and it’ll backfire.

In that vein, noted without comment, here is an excerpt from what I believe is the 17th email Ann Coulter has sent me today:

Has anybody read this book [Dreams From my Father]? Inasmuch as the book reveals Obama to be a flabbergasting lunatic, I gather the answer is no. Obama is about to be our next president: You might want to take a peek. If only people had read “Mein Kampf” …

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15 Minutes of Lunacy

[ 0 ] April 3, 2008 |

A few things I learned while listening to Bill O’Reilly during my drive to campus this afternoon:

  1. At least half of all American Jews will vote for Barack Obama no matter what — even if Jeremiah Wright were his Vice Presidential running mate — because “it’s ingrained in their culture that you’re gonna vote that way [i.e., Democratic].
  2. John McCain knows a lot about foreign policy, and he’s not likely to provoke a nuclear war with Russia.
  3. Iraq should now “reimburse” the United States for all the money we’ve spent [on a war that wasn't actually their idea in the first place.] Germany and Japan are wealthy now, and if Bill O’Reilly were President he’d “put it on the table” that maybe they could pay us back now for WWII. (He admits, with a petulant sigh, that “it ain’t gonna happen.”)

I’m seriously considering canceling my night class on the grounds that my brains have been siphoned off through the top of my skull.

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Raising — and Answering — the Question

[ 0 ] April 2, 2008 |

There has been a lot of press recently about a pregnant man — or, to be more specific, a pregnant trans man. Thomas Beatie is a man. He’s happily married to a woman. But because he was born a woman and still has the internal reproductive organs of a woman, he can bear a child. And he is. All without ever questioning his gender identity as a man. It’s a really moving and beautiful story.

But, predictably, Thomas’s pregnancy has caused an uproar. It gets right to the heart of people’s discomfort with our new society, in which sex is fluid and genders impermanent.

Which is why it’ll be so interesting to see what happens when Oprah has Thomas on her show tomorrow. Of course the preview frames the segment in the most sensational way possible. But I’m hopeful that the show can present Thomas and his wife in an open and supportive way. Maybe that’s overly idealistic.

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Lawyerly Arguments

[ 38 ] April 2, 2008 |

Writing about the Yoo memo, Jack Balkin reminds everyone that law-talking-guys “can make really bad legal arguments that argue for very unjust things in perfectly legal sounding language.” It’s an obvious point that for some reason needs restating once in a while. In my courses, I make this argument quite regularly in the context of the late 19th/early 20th century, when it was par for the course for social scientists and other putative experts to make comforting arguments on behalf of all sorts of atrocious phenomena (e.g., anthropologists and psychologists offering intellectual cover for segregation and lynching). So the dynamic that Balkin is describing can be applied to a number of other contexts, law being merely one of them. In a famous decision like Plessy, you actually see these forms of expertise working in tandem, with the majority opinion in that case relying on some bogus arguments about “racial instinct” drawn from evolutionary anthropology.

Unlike Scott, I don’t teach much about the Supreme Court, but to follow up on Balkin’s observation, here’s a good example of boring, lawyerly argument that pretty well disposed of American Indian treaty rights and utterly ruined the land base for several lower plains tribes like the Kiowa. It comes from Justice Edward White’s majority opinion in Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock (1906), one of the most important (if not the most important) case in American Indian law. Lone Wolf permanently altered American Indian law by affirming that the US — acting through Congress’ “plenary power” — could pretty much do whatever it wanted with respect to its treaty obligations so long as Congress, in exercising its “plenary power”:

The power exists to abrogate the provisions of an Indian treaty, though presumably such power will be exercised only when circumstances arise which will not only justify the government in disregarding the stipulations of the treaty, but may demand, in the interest of the country and the Indians themselves, that it should do so. When, therefore, treaties were entered into between the United States and a tribe of Indians it was never doubted that the power to abrogate existed in Congress, and that in a contingency such power might be availed of from considerations of governmental policy, particularly if consistent with perfect good faith towards the Indians.

So Lone Wolf provided Congress with virtually unlimited authority over Indian treaties, unencumbered by executive or judicial oversight, based on the laughable proposition that it would use its power rarely and forever with the interests of Native peoples in mind. Unlike Plessy or Dred Scott — two of its obvious peers if we’re measuring the injustice of a decision — Lone Wolf remains mostly undisturbed as a precedent. (I’m not sure if this is a measure of its obscurity, but for the sake of trivia if nothing else, I’ll note that the case doesn’t even have its own Wikipedia entry.)

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Deep Rot

[ 10 ] April 2, 2008 |

Although Yoo certainly deserves all of the criticism he’s getting today and far more, it’s also important to remember that his analysis only meant something because he was telling the President and his subordinates what they wanted to hear. Consider this, for example, from GOP Moral Sage James Dobson explaining why he’s not wild about John McCain:

Mr. Dobson took issue with a litany of Sen. McCain’s positions, including support for embryonic-stem-cell research and opposition to a Constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Those stances, plus Sen. McCain’s discussion of global warming and his push to outlaw torture and shut down the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have “frustrated” conservatives “whom McCain seems to have written off,” Mr. Dobson said.

So McCain’s (nominal) opposition to torture is a good reason to be worried about his tendency. And in these policy preferences, as far as I can tell, Dobson is hardly an outlier. The mean and median GOP voter and public official seems to believe (or at least are not strongly oppose) the ideas that 1)the president should be able to torture people at his whim irrespective of any statutes or treaties, and 2)morality requires that the United States Constitution explicitly make gays and lesbians second-class citizens. The fact that so many people share these views is the real problem here.

And as Glenn points out, Democrats in Congress haven’t covered themselves in glory here either. It’s outrageous that it required an ACLU lawsuit, rather than strong Congressional action, to get these documents (which had no business being classified in the first place) declassified.

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Let’s Discuss Enlargement… No, Not That Kind of Enlargement

[ 0 ] April 2, 2008 |

Like Matt, I don’t have any principled opposition to Ukrainian membership in NATO. It will irritate the Russians, yes, but I don’t have a terrible lot of sympathy for Russia on this point; making it more difficult for Russia to intimidate its neighbors seems, on balance, like a good thing. It also seems as if NATO membership does have a real stabilizing influence on domestic political arrangements. I’m less interested in Georgia, in large part because “frozen conflicts” in Abkhazia and South Ossetia that risk putting Georgian and Russian forces in the field against one another.

On the other hand Ukranians, as opposed to a substantial segment of their political elite, don’t seem terribly enthusiastic about NATO membership. NATO membership would have genuine costs for Ukraine, in terms both of Ukraine’s relationship with Russia and Ukrainian military transformation. Like Poland, Ukraine has virtually bankrupted its military transformation process through participation in Iraq. Things have gotten better since the withdrawal, but membership in NATO wouldn’t necessarily make things easier for Ukraine.

Dan at Duck does make a good point, however; how can President Bush claim that NATO is no longer in the business of defending against Russia, while at the same time claim that Ukraine and Georgia need to join so that they can remain sovereign and independent? Who, besides Russia, is threatening the sovereignty and independence of these two states? Dan makes the perfectly cromulent suggestion that robots might be the problem, but I’d still like further clarification from the President.

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Ode to SF

[ 27 ] April 2, 2008 |

First things first, thanks to those who recommended eating establishments. We ended up eating some fine Chinese food, some excellent sushi, and some burritos the size of my head. Advice was much appreciated.

As I suggested before, it was nice to be in a real city again. Standing on the corner of Mission and 16th, you can really understand why Bill O’Reilly and his ilk HATE San Francisco; it represents a challenge to their entire vision of what America is and ought to be. Part of it is the politics, yes, but the culture is more; it’s about being able to hear half a dozen different languages at one time and see people from, literally, everywhere.

For O’Reilly, San Francisco represents a rejection of America, which is to say a rejection of the set of imaginary traditions that social conservatives hold dear. The hopeful thing, I think, is that fewer people share O’Reilly’s vision than he believes; these charts seem to indicate that Americans, on the whole, are pretty tolerant of the cosmopolitan idea. I think that the failure of anti-immigration politics (in spite of the handwringing of folks like Mickey Kaus) to really gain much traction in the last couple of election cycles indicates that more people think about San Francisco in the way I do than the way that O’Reilly does. It makes me optimistic that there’s space for a genuinely (almost uniquely) American civic nationalism, even if that nationalism is at deep odds with those who most enthusiastically wrap themselves in the American flag. I’m also hopeful that, in twenty years, Cincinnati will become more like San Francisco than the reverse, and that we’ll all be the better for it.

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It’s Just That Evil Life Got You In Its Sway

[ 14 ] April 2, 2008 |

The Yoo torture memos have finally been declassified. Emily Bazelon cites their “glib certainty,” which is part of it. But this would be potentially acceptable if its arguments were more plausible and the implausibilities weren’t in service of such reprehensible ends. It’s one thing to, say, confidently assert a very narrow but plausible reading of a statute restricting executive power. Confidently asserting a broad range of arbitrary executive powers (including the power to torture), allegedly beyond the power of the legislature to regulate despite the explicit textual grants of relevant powers to Congress, during a “war” whose battlefield could be the entire planet and whose duration could be infinite, is another matter entirely.

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NL Preview

[ 30 ] April 2, 2008 |

NL EAST: 1. NY 2. ATL 3. PHI. 4. WAS 5. FLA This is how I would have picked them this weekend, and although I could revise it given the injury to Pedro, I decided to leave it. All of the top 3 teams are very talented and very flawed. I think the Mets have the best chance because they have both a serious pitching and hitting core, although the surrounding cast is getting increasingly decrepit. I think they’ll have just enough, and although the ridiculous Milledge trade may haunt the organization more than the Kazmir giveaway, this year Church could be nearly as productive. The Braves could be back for sure; they’re better than their last two years suggest, and probably have less downside than either the Mets or Phillies this year. The Phils will probably score the most runs in the league but outside of Hammels the pitching is mediocre-to-ugly, and I’m still far from sold on Manuel; I think they’ll have a bit of an off-year, although they can certainly repeat if the Mets and Braves break down enough. Bowden has quietly done a good job reassembling an offense; except for Guzman and maybe the aging LoDuca it’s pretty solid everywhere. Alas, they and the no-hope Marlins will compete with Baltimore for the worst rotation in baseball honor, although their bullpen is OK. The Marlins can console themselves with the best shortstop in the division.

NL CENTRAL 1. MIL 2. CHI. 3. CIN. 4. HOU 5. PIT 6. STL On paper, this is a silly pick, but since I can’t root for the Cubs and Lou Pinella (despite being a good manager overall) has allowed his bullpens and second-line starters to piss away much better talent cores than this, I’ll pick the upset. Milwaukee is probably a year away, but if the Cubs underperform they’ll slip in, and their core is young enough to really break out. The Reds are interesting; I can’t go so far as to call them a sleeper team but they’re putting together a staff to go with the decent (if declining) offense. The rest of the teams in the division are all terrible; I think the Pirates will improve a bit and the Cards (especially with Pujols looking not fully healthy) bottoming out, but I don’t see any of them being competitive.

NL WEST 1. LA 2. ARI(WILDCARD) 3. SD 4. COL 5. SF The young talent at the top of this division may (along with the Santana trade) help the NL restore a little balance. Any of the 4 major league teams in it could win. I;ll pick LA in a tossup because I think the DBacks’ young players are a little overrated and theeir record last were was considerably better than the team, but the team itself should be improved and Webb/Haren is an impressive 1-2. Most projections have the Padres dropping off considerably, and they might, but they’re a good organization and even with the park effects I like their rotation a lot. Colorado had a lot of things break right last year and could win again, but it’s tough to keep a good rotation together in that park and in a tough division I think the Plexiglass Principle will push them back a bit. The Giants are just a staggeringly bad team–the lineup a joke, with one average innings eater and two impressive young starters who might stay healthy the only remotely saving grace. I wouldn’t be surprised if they lost 110.

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Take That

[ 0 ] April 2, 2008 |

Why I heart Elizabeth Edwards.

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Conservatives to Women: You’re Only Important When We Want (to Talk) Sex

[ 7 ] April 2, 2008 |

Wing Nut News yesterday featured a feature highlighting women bloggers…

…but, predictably, the focus of the post was dating – the women’s likes, dislikes, online dating tales, and war stories about converting those dread liberals to conservatives.

I have to wonder at what point women are going to start to realize that the WingNut faction of the Conservative movement isn’t interested in them for their brains.

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Bad Penny

[ 54 ] April 1, 2008 |

I’m apparently a bit late to the conversation, but I’d like to submit my brief as a penny hater. Forget the economic arguments, which are compelling enough; the fact is that the American penny is one of the ugliest coins on the planet.

Of course now that it’s Confederate Heritage Month again, I’m all for retaining currency in circulation so long as it reminds the South of its defeated status.

Also, without the penny we wouldn’t be able to enjoy this excellent Big Black tune. So now that I think about it, I guess the debate is kind of a wash after all.

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