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Presidential Statement of the Day

[ 11 ] May 19, 2008 |

Harry Truman, in a message to Congress, 19 May 1947:

National health insurance is the most effective single way to meet the Nation’s health needs. Because adequate treatment of many illnesses is expensive and its cost cannot be anticipated by the individual, many persons are forced to go without needed medical attention. Children do not receive adequate medical and dental care. Symptoms which should come early to the attention of a physician are often ignored until too late. The poor are not the only ones who cannot afford adequate medical care. The truth is that all except the rich may at some time be struck by illness which requires care and services they cannot afford. Countless families who are entirely self-supporting in every other respect cannot meet the expense of serious illness. . . .

A national health insurance program is a logical extension of the present social-security system which is so firmly entrenched in our American democracy. Of the four basic risks to the security of working people and their families–unemployment, old age, death and sickness–we have provided some insurance protection against three. Protection against the fourth–sickness–is the major missing element in our national social insurance program.

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Karl Rove: Still Entitled to "The Math"

[ 19 ] May 19, 2008 |

In addition to his election maps, here are a few other items that Karl Rove has offered the credulous Jake Tapper:

  • a shoebox filled with old baseball cards, the highlight of which is a 1981 Von Hayes rookie edition with “Karl’s Kard — Go Away” written on the back in blue crayon;
  • a small Glad sandwich bag filled with oregano, which Rove insists is from his “totally sweet” private stash;
  • an expired parrot;
  • stock certificates from Zim’s Crack Cream;
  • his Newton MessagePad100, which Rove insists still “totally kicks the new Blackberry’s ass”;
  • exit polls showing that Republicans totally won the 2006 mid-term elections;
  • that slice of pizza over there.
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Part of the American Democratic Process

[ 16 ] May 19, 2008 |

In response to Eugene Volokh, I should say that I’m perhaps making a slightly different argument than the one he’s addressing. My point about the vote in the legislature, as well as the support for same-sex marriage signaled by the governor urging the courts to resolve the issue and opposing a referendum to overturn it, is that claims of judicial usurpation of the prerogatives of the political branches are not in any way a useful description of this case, as a majority of legislators and the governor almost certainly agree with the court’s ruling. As is often the case, the California Supreme Court’s decision does not involve a zero-sum struggle for power, but rather is a case where the courts are resolving an issue because it cross-cuts existing party coalitions. This, in itself, doesn’t mean that the court’s decision was right; it’s possible to disagree on the merits. In many cases, one can also argue that the courts should respond to evasion by the other branches by throwing the ball back, but in this case it’s complicated by California’s silly system allowing its constitution to be amended (and hence judicial decisions overridden) by a simple majority of the popular vote.

I am, however, somewhat puzzled by his implication of disagreement with the proposition that “California Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision actually consistent with the democratic process.” In the American system, for better or worse, it’s part of the democratic process for the judiciary to scrutinize the actions of the other branches as well as (in California’s case) popular initiatives and pass judgment about their constitutionality. Strong-from federal review is a well-established part of this process, making California’s effectively very weak-form review certainly consistent with it (as Volokh somewhat concedes here.) I can imagine, in the abstract, an argument that the courts should always defer to other branches or the people unless the text of the constitution is clear. But, in practice, virtually nobody in the American system believes this or acts like this in practice, so these claims generally amount to arguments that progressives should unilaterally disarm. I don’t know if this is true of Volokh specifically, but certainly most of the critics of the California decision have no objection to cases where the courts use ambiguous constitutional materials to override electorally accountable officials to reach more congenial policy results (cf. Parents Involved, Garrett, Morrison) and are also strongly critical of the court in some case where it does defer in the face of ambiguity (cf. Kelo, Raich, Grutter.)

The California court could, I suppose, be criticized for usurping the democratic process if its reading of the state constitution were simply unreasonable, but that’s not the case. The majority’s reading is not commanded by the constitution, but it’s certainly defensible. And if we’re going to have judicial review, protecting unpopular minorities from being arbitrarily excluded from fundamental privileges strikes me as being at the type of case where judicial intervention is most defensible. But even if one disagrees, I fail to see how the court’s holding is in any way inconsistent with democracy as it is actually practiced in this country.

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Just Getting Creepier

I’m not sure, reading this NY Times story about “purity” balls, whether this incarnation of the ball beast is better or worse than the more common one, in which girls pledge their virginity to their fathers. Here that the event is so patently misogynist (not to mention paternalistic in the wholly negative sense) that the girls don’t even take their own “pledge” of virginity, but instead their fathers vow to “protect” the girls “as their authority.” This whole phenomenon, of girls getting all dolled up to dance with their dads and swear their purity is just flat-out creepy.

Here’s more proof:

For the Wilsons [the event organizers] and the growing number of people who have come to their balls, premarital sex is seen as inevitably destructive, especially to girls, who they say suffer more because they are more emotional than boys. Fathers, they say, play a crucial role in helping them stay pure. [nb: my emphasis]

Does this recall the language of those awful abstinence only programs to anyone else?

And, while studies show that girls who have close relationships with their fathers are less likely to become pregnant as teens, studies also show that many kids do not maintain the abstinence pledges they make (many of the girls at the ball had made pledges at other times even if they did not do so explicitly at the ball), and that these kids are more likely to have unprotected sex as teens.

Oh, and lest we think there is no political undertone: the event’s organizer, Randy Wilson, is also the national field director for the Family Research Council. Nice.

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Burma as Interventionist Talking Point

[ 18 ] May 19, 2008 |

George Packer writes:

If the fear of Baghdad and Falluja is what keeps foreign powers from saving huge numbers of Burmese from their own government’s callousness, that will be one more tragic consequence of the Iraq war.

On the other hand, if it’s going to be done, it should be done quickly. I know all the arguments why we shouldn’t. But there are at least a million counterarguments why we should.

Right…. Yglesias nails this; the appeal of invading Burma to hawks on the left and on the right is, primarily, that there is no chance that the invasion of Burma will ever happen. Packer stumbles into one reason that it won’t happen when he writes that “it should be done quickly”, or not at all. I noted last week some reasons why invasion as disaster relief is likely to prove, well, disastrous in Burma, but here’s another one:

Remember the Mistral? That’s the French naval ship that Bernard Kouchner announced would deliver aid to Burma whether the Burmese junta liked it..or not! The Mistral was supposed to arrive in Burmese waters the middle of this week on its unilateral mission of mercy. But it’s not there.

The Mistral has been steaming around the Bay of Bengal in circles…because it didn’t have any rice in its hold…which it has to buy from India…and is only now completing loading at India’s port of Chennai…and it hopes to reach Burma Sunday…on the two-week anniversary of the cyclone.

That’s not a spectacular improvement over the relief efforts of the Myanmar junta.

It is simply not within the capability of the international community to carry out an invasion as humanitarian operation within the time frame dictated by this crisis. Arguments like Packer’s (or Kouchner’s, for that matter) take on the aspect of fantasy in the face of the practical problems presented by the disaster. As such (and as Yglesias notes), the real curiosity is what hawks, both left and right, think they get out of making the argument for intervention.

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Home Cookin’

[ 4 ] May 19, 2008 |

I remember in the 2004 Playoffs there was a trend of reversing them calls and getting them right. I liked that much more than overruling clear home runs based on nothing in particular. Oh well, if they keep hitting it shouldn’t affect the outcome of the game…

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America is a whorehouse where the revolutionary ideals of your forefathers are corrupted and sold in alleys by vendors of capitalism

[ 21 ] May 18, 2008 |


Just . . . wow. As Thers points out, it takes an extraordinary concentration of assholery to fantasize about Manhattan needing a terrorist “wake-up call.”

But seriously, if you want to read something interesting about Red Dawn, I’d recommend Rob’s review and not the thread at Apuzzo’s site, where the commenters are wetting their pants with anxiety that — I dunno — Al Gore or somebody is going to get a hold of the remake and turn it into a parable about global warming.

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Presidential Statement of the Day

[ 0 ] May 18, 2008 |

Lyndon Johnson, requesting an additional $125 million in economic and military aid to Vietnam, 18 May 1964:

The vigorous decisions taken by the new Government of Vietnam to mobilize the full resources of the country merit our strongest support. Increased Communist terror requires it.

By our words and deeds in a decade of determined effort, we are pledged before all the world to stand with the free people of Vietnam. Sixteen thousand Americans are serving our country and the people of Vietnam. Daily they face danger in the cause of freedom. Duty requires, and the American people demand, that we give them the fullest measure of support.

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Sunday Book Review: Forgotten Armies

[ 0 ] May 18, 2008 |

Between December 1941 and August 1945, Japan and the United Kingdom fought an extraordinarily brutal war over control of Southeast Asia. In the larger arc of World War II history, this campaign is often treated as a sideshow, as it had neither the glory nor the decisive character of the Eastern Front or the drive across the Pacific. In the United States, the campaign is understood in specifically American terms; we know about Joseph Stilwell and the problems SE Asia presented for the China theater, and we know that Errol Flynn and a few American paratroopers liberated Burma, and we of course know that William Holden facilitated the self-actualization of Obi Wan Kenobi, but we don’t know a lot else. In fairness, there is some good cause for the neglect of the theater; had the British failed utterly in their efforts to recapture Burma, Japan would still have surrendered in August of 1945. In Forgotten Armies, Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper make the case that while the campaign was not decisive in terms of victory or defeat in World War II, it did firmly set the direction of the British Empire following the war.

Bayly and Harper do a fine job of detailing the contours of the campaign. The Japanese conquest of British SE Asia was astonishingly swift. With the benefit of bases in French Indochina and Thailand, the Japanese were able to capture an enormous chunk of British territory within a few months. The destruction of the most important Pacific units of the Royal Navy on December 10, 1941 meant that the Imperial Japanese Navy had free rein to conduct amphibious assaults and support land offensives against British targets. Malay was captured through the former, while Singapore and Burma largely through the latter.

The SE Asian reaction to the swift Japanese conquest was ambivalent. In Malaya, the British Empire lay lightly over a set of older governing institutions. Popular discontent against the British was quite mild, and the Japanese promise of “Asian for the Asians” didn’t resonate as loudly as it could have. The Malay elite believed in the British Empire, and believed it could protect them from enemies internal and external. Moroever, many Malays had close connections with the ethnic Chinese community, and that ethnic Chinese community had close connections with various kinship networks in China. The brutality with which the Japanese were conquering China produced considerable local suspicion about Japanese motives in the rest of Asia. It didn’t help that Japanese occupation policies would have made Paul Bremer look like a genius; in at least one case, Japanese administrators required local Muslims to pray in the direction of Tokyo, before a portrait of Emperor Hirohito. Unsurprisingly, Japanese hopes for a general declaration of jihad against the British Empire went unheeded.

In other parts of Asia the situation was different. In Burma, where the British had replaced the native dynasty, Japanese propaganda was received much more enthusiastically. It was also received enthusiastically in parts of India, where early British defeats were met with declarations of jihad by various tribes in the northwest. The war and the resulting disruption of trade helped produce a famine in India, and contribute to considerable discontent. This grafted on to existing Indian social resistance movements, resulting in a very touchy situation for the British in 1942 and early 1943. Indian soldiers, who made up the larger part of the British forces in SE Asia in 1941 and 1942, returned with stories of unbeatable Japanese soldiers coming to liberate all of Asia. The Indian Nationalist Army, made up of surrendered Indian soldiers and local recruits, played an important role in the conquest and later defense of Burma. Of course, enthusiasm for the promise of Japanese liberation didn’t long outlast actual Japanese liberation.

The early defeats were a tremendous blow for British prestige in Asia, amongst both those favorably and unfavorably disposed towards the Empire. British power depended on the perception of British supremacy, and the Japanese shattered that image in the early months of 1942. The British didn’t help themselves over much; even at the height of the Japanese offensive, British military briefings in India began with the situation in the Northwest tribal areas. The British also had a difficult sale; while there were some in SE Asia who would welcome the return of the Empire, even those nationalist groups who disliked the Japanese resented the British. The British regained their empire, but only for a short while; they would largely be gone from the Japanese conquered territory by 1958.

The British eventually recovered, solidified their hold on India, and began a counteroffensive against the Japanese in Burma. This counteroffensive, much like the Japanese offensives of 1942, was extraordinarily brutal. The struggle between the British and the Japanese grafted onto a series of local ethnic conflicts, and since both the British and the Japanese employed local proxies, score settling was common. The brutality of the war in SE Asia reminded me of John Dower’s War Without Mercy, which detailed the racial animosity present in the Pacific War. I wouldn’t say that the SE Asian experience invalidates Dower’s thesis about American racism and the conduct of the war (Dower allows more general Western colonial racism and, of course, Japanese racism as causes as well), but I think it does render an account that focuses specifically on how the American conducted the war incomplete. American racism led to brutal conduct by American soldiers, but British, Japanese, Indian, and Burman soldiers engaged in conduct just as brutal, if not more so. On the larger stage of World War II, I think it’s fair to conclude now that the relatively cordial and law-of-war-abiding relations between the European Axis and the Western Allies were the exception, and not the rule. Most of the war, in most parts of the world, was conducted with unrelieved brutality.

Forgotten Armies is an altogether fantastic book on a part of the war that deserves more attention. I highly recommend it.

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What To Do With Lieberman?

[ 24 ] May 18, 2008 |

Publius tries to make a case to keep him quasi-inside the tent. I do share his basic premise — achieving legislative ends is more important than feeling good about punishing someone for its own sake — so his conclusion is not as unreasonable as I might prefer.

I do think he’s omitting a couple of a factors that have to be considered. First, it’s important to remember that committees, and especially committee chairs, are also important gatekeepers and veto points, and having a member of the Wanker Caucus in the wrong place can do a lot of damage (cf. Feinstein at Judiciary.) Second, we have to remember that his vote record can be misleading. One some issues — such as Alito and the bankruptcy bill — he’s cast a meaningless correct vote on the merits while voting with the Republicans on the cloture vote that actually mattered. Since the challenge under a Democratic administration will be more getting to 60 votes on cloture than 50 on the up-or-down, this isn’t very reassuring about the power of party leverage. And finally, it’s also important to remember that he’s potentially constrained in some areas by a blue-state constituency; he doesn’t necessarily have the same freedom of action that a Zell Miller does.

Given these things, if Lieberman were planning on running for re-election I think the balance of factors would dictate kicking him out. However, that’s probably not something that can be counted on. I forget where I saw a commenter suggest this, but the idea I like is to offer Lieberman a deal: vote “yes” on every cloture vote and you can keep your committee slots. If you join a Republican filibuster once, you’re stripped of everything and you can move into a broom closet with no air conditioning. Alas, I suspect what will happen is that Lieberman will keep his positions and Reid won’t get much out of it…

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Oh, That Too?

[ 16 ] May 18, 2008 |

Alex Blaze collects data suggesting that Barack Obama isn’t just a radical angry black Christian liberation theologizin’ Muslim ex-Muslim communizin’ hippie terrorist; he’s probably a gay radical angry black Christian liberation theologizin’ Muslim ex-Muslim communizin’ hippie terrorist.

I, for one, would like to set as many precedents as possible with this election…

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Presidential Statement of the Day

[ 7 ] May 17, 2008 |

Calvin Coolidge, speaking to the American Medical Association, 17 May 1927:

What part the physician will play in the further advancement of the well-being of the world is an interesting speculation. It is a well-known proverb that “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” No one can doubt that if humanity could be brought to a state of physical well-being, many of our social problems would disappear. If we could effectively rid our systems of poison, not only would our bodily vigor be strengthened, but our vision would be clearer, our judgment more accurate, and our moral power increased. We should come to a more perfect appreciation of the truth. It is to your profession in its broadest sense, untrammeled by the contentions of different schools, that the world may look for large contributions toward its regeneration, physically, mentally, and spiritually, when not force but reason will hold universal sway.

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