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More Abstinence Only Clownery

[ 0 ] May 4, 2009 |

Joe has the tape; this guy is even more of a buffoon than the last one, and I don’t mean that in a good way.

While I suspect that complaining about abstinence only education will never result in the actual zeroing of federal funding (it’s a cheap way to pretend to appease social conservatives, which makes Broder and Brooks happy), challenging the claims made in the videos linked above nevertheless has positive effect. By rendering the claims made by abstinence only educators subject to discussion, and by demonstrating the utter idiocy of abstinence education methods, critics give tools to parents who could oppose inviting such charlatans to their own local schools.

Gunning For Sotomayor

[ 1 ] May 4, 2009 |

I am inclined to agree with Christy that Sonia Sotomayor is the most likely Obama nominee, given her compelling personal story and what seems to a moderate liberal record. Stuart Taylor, however, asserts that:

…the Republicans could bleed him some politically if he made an exceptionally controversial pick such as Sonia Sotomayor, a federal appeals court judge based in New York.

Excepitonally controversial? A long-serving (initially Republican-appointed) federal judge who rose from projects in the Bronx to Yale Law? Whose record is, as far as I can tell, if anything more moderate than other frontrunners like Wood and Kagan? So what’s the evidence? Well:

There is a widespread perception on the right and among some moderates who have seen her close up that she is far more liberal than anyone now on the Court. (Some conservatives claim she masquerades as a moderate because she is running for the Court.)

If you read that last sentence carefully, it seems to be a nicely unfalsifiable claim that Sotomayor’s record, while moderates, hides some sort of secret liberal agenda underneath the robes. Oh. And, horrors, she may be somewhat more liberal than other members on a court where the most liberal pole is “Rockefeller Republican.” And this evidence comes from people with an obvious interest in undermining a nominee who looks almost impossible to stop, which certainly wouldn’t lead Taylor to question their motives, heavens no. At any rate, I’m sure these assertions are about as convincing as his claims that Sam Alito was a moderate who would “disappoint conservatives.”

After this silliness, we get to the heart of the issue — Taylor doesn’t like Sotomayor because she disagrees with Stuart Taylor about affirmative action. This is, of course, a field of “acceptable” activism in which conservatives are free to abandon long-standing theoretical commitments to impose conservative policy outcomes on public officials.

Perhaps her biggest problem is her vote in the potentially huge Ricci reverse-discrimination case in New Haven that was heard at the Supreme Court last week. It was an extremely pro-reverse discrimination decision and appeared sneakily (if unsuccessfully) designed to escape notice. And the Supremes seem very likely to reverse it (probably 5-4, with Kennedy joining the conservative bloc), possibly with a good whack at the lower court decision.

Ah, yes, so the shocking news is that Sotomayor issues a plausible, mainstream liberal vote in an affirmative action case, one plausible enough to get 4 votes at the Supreme Court. But…with a good whack! I doubt it will be as good a wack as the Casey plurality gave then-Judge Alito’s claim that states could force women to notify their husbands before seeking an abortion, but funny, I don’t recall Taylor talking about what a political disaster that would be for Bush.

So, anyway, there’s nothing here to suggest that Sotomayor will actually be any more controversial than any other nominee. But Taylor’s contempt has to be considered a major point in her favor. And this is without mentioning her most compelling credential…

The Supreme Court and diversity

[ 0 ] May 3, 2009 |

One of the many interesting things about Obama is that he took such an unusual career path once he left Harvard. I don’t know how many other presidents of the Harvard Law Review haven’t either clerked, or joined or an elite firm, or become tenure-track law professors , or taken a big deal job in the federal legal bureacracy, but my guess would be zero.

Anyway, we’ll see if that maverick streak is on display when he picks Souter’s replacement.

Red State: We Need Bigots To Carry Our Banner Against "Judicial Activism"

[ 0 ] May 3, 2009 |

Digby beat me to it, but it was amusing to Red State touting Jeff Sessions as the ranking minority member on the judiciary committee. Digby got most of the good stuff, but here’s another tidbit from the Sarah Wildman’s article:

It got worse. Another damaging witness–a black former assistant U.S. Attorney in Alabama named Thomas Figures–testified that, during a 1981 murder investigation involving the Ku Klux Klan, Sessions was heard by several colleagues commenting that he “used to think they [the Klan] were OK” until he found out some of them were “pot smokers.” Sessions claimed the comment was clearly said in jest. Figures didn’t see it that way. Sessions, he said, had called him “boy” and, after overhearing him chastise a secretary, warned him to “be careful what you say to white folks.” Figures echoed Hebert’s claims, saying he too had heard Sessions call various civil rights organizations, including the National Council of Churches and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, “un-American.” Sessions denied the accusations but again admitted to frequently joking in an off-color sort of way. In his defense, he said he was not a racist, pointing out that his children went to integrated schools and that he had shared a hotel room with a black attorney several times.

Hye-larious. Well, giving Sessions the job would at least provide a useful reminder that the roots of contemporary reactionary critique of “judicial activism” grew out of judicial opinions that opposed apartheid and white supremacy. Oh, wait, I’m sorry — all those “Impeach Earl Warren” signs sprung up because the Court would issue a popular ruling holding bans on abortion unconstitutional years later under a different Chief Justice. My mistake!

A Plague of Swine!

[ 0 ] May 3, 2009 |

This sounds vaguely biblical…

Egyptian authorities have begun slaughtering 300,000 pigs as a precaution against swine flu, officials said. BBC reported Saturday that officials said the measure also was aimed at helping to stabilize Egypt’s pig-rearing industry.

The World Health Organization has criticized the move, saying there is no evidence pigs are transmitting swine flu to humans, the British network reported. BBC noted pig-farming and pork consumption is limited to Egypt’s Christian minority, which is about 10 percent of the population.

An overreaction? Yes, but what with the frogs, gnats, locusts, flies, and previously diseased livestock, I’m inclined to cut the Egyptians a break.

Torture is an impermissable evil, except when it’s, like, really important to find something out

[ 0 ] May 2, 2009 |

That’s the practical gist of this Charles Krauthammer column, which begins by invoking the much-mocked “ticking time bomb” scenario, but quickly moves on to this gem:

The second exception to the no-torture rule is the extraction of information from a high-value enemy in possession of high-value information likely to save lives. This case lacks the black-and-white clarity of the ticking time bomb scenario. We know less about the length of the fuse or the nature of the next attack. But we do know the danger is great.

This is the kind of “exception” which illustrates perfectly why the abstract philosophy seminar question of whether there’s any circumstances in which it might be morally permissable to torture is both much harder to answer and much less practically useful than the real question, which is, should we institutionalize torture? Because as soon as you institutionalize the practice, you’ll end up generating rules like this one, which through the impeccable logic of bureaucratic rationalization are certain to turn every case into an exceptional one.

Every use of torture that is anything other than the purest sadism always proceeds on the assumption that the tortured is a high value enemy in possession of information likely to save lives. Indeed, if the interrogation is failing to demonstrate this it can only be because the subject hasn’t cracked yet. Otherwise, the people doing the torturing are nothing but sadists, and since they know that’s not the case . . .

The spookiest aspect of this column is that Krauthammer is a psychiatrist. Does it not occur to him that every torture regime rationalizes its actions through precisely the sort of exceptions he advocates? Pure sociopaths, after all, are supposedly rare– although reading the sort of pro-torture porn that’s become a respectable part of political debate in this country does make one wonder.

Take it to the Bank!

[ 0 ] May 2, 2009 |

In the three years that readers of LGM have relied upon my Derby prognostication, I don’t believe that a single horse I’ve picked has won, placed, or showed. This, of course, means that I’m due:

  1. Musket Man
  2. Friesan Fire
  3. Dunkirk

Paying for health care and "healthy choices"

[ 0 ] May 2, 2009 |

Matt Yglesias points out he doesn’t really think that raising sin taxes will reduce health care costs. And he doesn’t make that argument in the post in which I attributed it to him, although he does link approvingly to people who do.

As Matt Weiner notes in the comments to my post, I over-interpreted what Yglesias was saying — he was arguing that “sin taxes” are a desirable way to raise revenue to pay for health care, and may well improve public health in the bargain. I’m more skeptical than he is about the latter point, for reasons I reference in my original post.

But my real concern is an argument that shows up all over the comments to Matt’s post, and, somewhat more significantly, is implicit in such pronouncements as Obama’s preposterous claim during the presidential campaign that rolling back obesity rates to 1980 levels would save Medicare a trillion dollars.

That argument is that people get sick because of lifestyle choices, which means that being sick is your own fault, which in turn means that “forcing” me to pay for your health care means I’m being forced to subsidize your bad lifestyle. This argument isn’t completely false, but it wildly exaggerates the extent to which “bad” lifestyle choices are responsible for health care costs. (As I pointed out in the context of cigarette smoking, it’s not even clear that a healthy lifestyle produces a net health care savings to society in comparison to a less healthy one). And it’s fueling such dubious innovations as quasi-mandatory “wellness programs” for employees

In other words, the really invidious effect of this argument is that it provides yet another handy excuse for not socializing the cost of health care, since needing health care at all, in the most extreme version, becomes a “choice.” And it’s disturbing how many people buy into some version of that claim.

Tortured Defenses

[ 0 ] May 2, 2009 |

Shorter Condi Rice: We didn’t want to do anything illegal responding to 9/11. Happily, if the President does it, it’s not illegal! I also think that Iran is a fair standard for evaluating our country’s human rights record.

Don’t Look At Me, I Didn’t Do It

[ 0 ] May 1, 2009 |

Mark Penn has uncovered an excuse for blowing huge institutional advantages in the Democratic primary, wondering what would have happened if John Edwards hadn’t run. Myself, I think the more interesting hypothetical is what would have happened had Hillary Clinton’s campaign not been run by an apparently innumerate pollster whose primary strategy seemed to involve relentlessly insulting the intelligence of Democratic primary voters.

Souter’s Legacy

[ 0 ] May 1, 2009 |

I have some thoughts up (with a somewhat misleading title) at Comment Is Free.

Stop Oppressing Affluent, Expensively Educated White Men!

[ 0 ] May 1, 2009 |

Yep, were going to see a lot more of this type of whining. Which, given that when it comes to Supreme Court appointments you’re obviously choosing from among a large pool of potentially good candidates rather than trying to identify the “best qualified” candidate in any meaningful sense, is even sillier than usual. Although, in fairness, I’m sure it would be difficult to find a woman who’s a towering intellectual and legal giant on the order of Anthony Kennedy.

Meanwhile, some useful information about Diane Wood and Sonia Sotomayor.

…The inevitable whining is going to be even funnier coming from Ed Whelan. In addition to the usual boilerplate about how anybody who disagrees with Ed Whelan’s assertions about what the Constitution means is insufficiently “dispassionate” and a list of potential consequences of an Obama appointee, all of which reflect positions for which there is not a single vote on the current Court, which would be a neat trick), here is his case against Elena Kagan, in its entirety:

Or Elena Kagan, who led the law schools’ opposition to military recruitment on their campuses, who used remarkably extreme rhetoric—“a profound wrong” and “a moral injustice of the first order”—to condemn the federal law on gays in the military that was approved in 1993 by a Democratic-controlled Congress and signed into law by President Clinton, and who received 31 votes against her confirmation as Solicitor General.

Oh, horrors, she opposed discrimination against the unimpeachable moral authority of Bill Clinton. How appalling! At any rate, if I understand the Republican coming position, to exclude qualified gay and lesbian people from military service entirely is not only acceptable but opposing it is downright un-American, while nominating a qualified woman to the Court while there might be a qualified white man out there is beyond the pale.