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The spectacles and pagaentry/The thousand things you’ve got to see

[ 0 ] July 26, 2007 |

I am in Washington D.C. this weekend for the American Constitution Society conference, so blogging from me will be sporadic for a couple days. However, for your reading pleasure I have a new TAP article arguing that, in spite of predictions from various quarters that John Roberts would be the harbringer of the “Unity ’08!” Court, last term’s highly divided Court illustrates the vastly more likely scenario.

The Story On Louise

[ 0 ] July 26, 2007 |

A flashback from GFR about the NYT reporter who implied that Foer had some doubts about whether “Scott Thomas” was a soldier: apparently she was responsible for one of those “based on some highly dubious random anecdotes I will assert that women now want to be housewives” stories.

Embarassment

[ 0 ] July 26, 2007 |

The phrase “ad hominem attack” acquires new meaning… The primary evidence against Beauchamp is, uh… I’m not sure. They think he’s kind of a loser, and since Americans don’t do such things, he must be lying.

Look, I have no idea what Private Beauchamp experienced in Iraq. I would think, however, that the fact that we know he was in Iraq would serve to bolster, rather than detract from, his credibility. That he’s written in various fora in the past would also, I think, serve to bolster his credibility. Not for this bunch of losers, though.

There probably is some subset of the wingnutty stupid enough to believe that American soldiers do not commit atrocities. I doubt that anyone who has ever served in or closely studied the military could believe such a thing, but wingnuts and facts have never mixed well. I suspect that for most of the bloggers involved in this nonsense, however, the point is to rebuild the fantasy of the American soldier. Americans may do awful things, but our job is to pretend that they don’t; on the one hand, revealing the true costs of war makes it harder to argue that we should be in one, and on the other pointing out such atrocities is a betrayal to the troops that are fighting. This last, I think, comes most often from people with actual military service. It’s bad enough that somebody wrote such things, but to find out that the author is actually a soldier is a kick in the gut, a betrayal. This is why there’s so much more rage now that we know who Beauchamp is; he betrayed his comrades, betrayed America, and gave aid and comfort to the enemy by talking frankly about the things that happen in war. Recall that one of the primary wingnut complaints against John Kerry was that he talked about the awful things that happened in Vietnam; no meaningful effort was made to deny the things that he said, because the fact that he had spoken at all was the true disloyalty.

On some level, I can even respect that sentiment. Young men in war suffer incredible pressures, pressures that civilians can’t begin to comprehend. Sometimes they do horrible things, but they probably wouldn’t have done them if they hadn’t been placed in extraordinarily difficult situations. Facing criticism about such actions from people who cannot understand the context can be extremely unsettling. Nevertheless, horrific behavior on the part of soldiers is an inevitable part of war, and as such needs to be taken into account when we think about war. To do that, we need to face facts, and not pretend that awful things never happen.

Oh, the Things We Won’t Know

[ 0 ] July 26, 2007 |

Via Jessica and Yglesias, a sad reminder of how far we haven’t come. In fact, of how far we’ve regressed:

A Personal Defense

[ 0 ] July 26, 2007 |

Scott Thomas issues a defense of his TNR Diary. The fact that he’s willing to open himself up to the inevitable wingnut smear jobs does give me more confidence in the veracity of his accounts.

…and the smears begin.

Poverty: The Other Transfat

[ 0 ] July 26, 2007 |

Poverty is bad for your health. And if the Bush Administration has it’s way, it’ll stay that way.

A bipartisan coalition in Congress has agreed to raise the budget for S-CHIP, the joint federal/state program that provides health insurance for millions of American kids who are not poor enough to be on medicaid, but whose families cannot afford private healthcare. The program expires September 30, so Congress must take action before then. The proposed plan would allow 3.3 million kids who are not now ensured to be covered under the program (bringing the total to about 9 million). This still leaves about 40 million Americans uninsured, but it’s a start. The hike in funds to SCHIP would be financed by raising the tobacco tax. Makes sense to me — tax something bad for people to provide something good for people.

Democrats are behind it. Republicans are behind it. Not behind it? The Bush Administration, who , which has announced plans to veto the bill and has unloaded a load of BS about the plan being bad because it will move too many people onto government-funded healthcare, when they believe we should be privatizing (which has worked so well…). Because nothing’s scarier than socialized medicine, not even dying kids.

What makes this move doubly bad (a wholly unnecesary multiplication) is that poverty is proven to be strongly linked to poor health. Not – mind you – because of anything people living in poverty have control over (no finger pointing here, at least not at the nation’s poor). As Brydie Ragan noted on AlterNet yesterday, it is discrimination, high stress jobs, nutrient-free food that is made cheap by federal subsidies, and environmental hazards that are most common in poor neighborhoods that contribute to the overall poor health of the poor. This is especially true for young children. Among kids, poverty is strongly linked to high incidences of asthma and obesity. As Jill has protested, the pro-life camp ain’t so pro-life once the kid leaves the womb (or even before, for that matter).

I might be crazy, but I’m hitching this star to Bush’s eventual backing down under pressure from Republicans in Congress who fear backlash in their upcoming election cycles. Crazy? Maybe. But not one tenth as crazy as this move by the Bushies.

More on the Federalism Dodge

[ 0 ] July 26, 2007 |

To follow up on Matt and Ezra, another angle to run at it from is to apply the logic to the civil rights movement. If one takes the Rauch/Brownstein argument seriously, wasn’t it also wrong to “federalize” the divisive issue of segregation? Of course, they wouldn’t say that, but that first of all demonstrates the underlying question-begging; as a normative matter, 99% of the time saying something should be “left to the states” is just another way of saying that the question of social justice isn’t a very high priority. But even more importantly, it also raises obvious problem for their empirical claims: desegregation and disenfranchisement were “protest issues” even when they were left to the states, and became “ordinary politics” issues after they were federalized. And to get on my old hobbyhorse, the gentility of the American abortion debate pre-Roe has been grossly romanticized, and it’s also worth noting that Canada has federalized both abortion and gay marriage, and not only have the issues remained largely “ordinary politics” they aren’t even especially salient, and at least with the former the outcome has been perfectly stable. This suggests that federalism isn’t the key variable here. There’s no reason to believe that allowing 20 states to ban abortion will somehow diminish the conflict over abortion, and of course you have the negative externality of many women being maimed or killed in black market abortions, arbitrarily forced to carry pregnancies to term, etc.

And, of course, there’s the larger issue: why “protest politics” is supposed to be a problem in the first place. People protesting and mobilizing around what they consider to be fundamental injustices, at least in the context of a nation where the basic legitimacy of the state isn’t in question, is the sign of a healthy polity, not a dysfunctional one.

A Grim Prediction

[ 0 ] July 26, 2007 |

The Yankees will be in a playoff spot by early-to-mid August. Sucks, I know, but what can I tell you. A couple of other post-all-star-break notes:

  • Despite his truly historic season — not only by far the best hitter in the world, but playing exceptional defense — Murray Chass has twice in the last month called Tom Hicks stupid for the contract he gave Slappy, the first time lumping it in with the Chan Ho Park signing. Look, Tom Hicks is a complete idiot — for not only trading A-Rod for a much worse player but giving the Yankees a considerable sum to do so. And if Hicks’s contract was so silly, why does virtually everybody assume he’s going to opt this year, and if he does why is he clearly going to get more money? The contract was, in fact, perfectly rational. With the Mariners finally coming back to earth, it’s worth considering what they’re doing with the money they didn’t give to Rodriguez. Rodriguez is making $23 M this year. The Mariners are paying $18M to three guys — Vidro, Weaver, and Ramirez — who are absolutely useless, plus $15 M to Richie Sexson, a player with old player’s skills who has predictably aged very badly. You telling me they couldn’t afford Rodriguez, who would clearly make them the best team in the division? Please. And what exactly have the Rangers done will the money they’re not paying him?
  • I would feel a lot better about the Indians’ chances of staying ahead of the Yankees if they had kept Brandon Phillips rather than playing Josh Barfield at second. I can’t criticize Shapiro too much for this, however, since he got Phillips by pulling off one of the great heists of all time: Sizemore and Phillips and Cliff Lee for a half season of Bartolo Colon. (At the time, I and most other Expos fans I knew thought that Phillips was the real gem; it’s amazing how good Sizemore has become.)

pinko points us to a relevant Fire Joe Morgan! post

A New Third Second Party?

[ 0 ] July 25, 2007 |

Adam Kotsko offers as a “thought experiment” a heighten-the-contradictions scenario that would result in the “liquidation of the Democrats.” And as with all such scenarios, there are several missing links in the causal chain — which goes, roughly, from “electing a few social democratic members of Congress” immediately to “a viable social democratic second party” with no intervening step (except the Democrats losing a lot of elections) being explained. The problems here are obvious:

  • It’s nice, at least, that he proposes to start the liquidation at the congressional level rather than the presidential level, which will at least avoid the Nader problem of electing the most reactionary president since Harding if not McKinley in return for no benefits whatsoever. However, it’s unclear what exactly this will actually accomplish. The few House districts and even fewer Senate seats that could plausibly elect a social democrat are already represented by…very liberal Democrats. If Jim McDermott becomes the leader of SDPUSA and is joined by a few more colleagues, the effect of this would be…nothing. Their up-or-down votes can’t change, since they already take the left-most position on almost every vote. They will have virtually no power affect the content of legislation brought to the floor. Indeed, in the House, a rump party will have no power at all, and even if a couple of SDPUSA Senators are added to Bernie Sanders they couldn’t use their amendment power to do anything but obstruct progressive legislation that isn’t progressive enough.
  • The most recent implosion of a party over a century ago had an obvious cause: the slavery issue combined with demographic trends made a bisectional northern-based party unsustainable. What is going to cause the Democrats to be replaced by an entirely different coalition is unclear, and if Kotsko knows he isn’t saying.
  • Which brings us to the bigger problem: where exactly is this second party getting votes? What evidence is there than “social democracy” is going to be anywhere near the median voter nationally, let alone in a majority of House and Senate districts? How is this going to happen? If the answer is that a winning political coalition can be well to the left of the median voter, this is exceptionally implausible; indeed, a variety of factors (most importantly the malapportionment of the Senate and the laissez-faire campaign finance regime protected by a Supreme Court majority that will be bulletproof for the foreseeable future) skew electoral outcomes to the right of median opinion, not the left. It’s especially unclear why a rump party could effect such a massive change in American political culture when the very liberal Democrats already representing the winnable districts cannot.
  • Under these circumstances, even if a social democratic second party emerged, exactly what it would accomplish, other than to ensure perpetual filibuster-proof Senate majorites for the GOP, is unclear. I leave the last word to Michael Berube, with “SDPUSA” replacing the “Democrats”: “…“divergence” in and of itself is not a value; it needs to be supplemented by the possibility that the newly divergent Democrats will actually beat their opponents. What’s the point of fostering “divergence” if the result is a feral Tom DeLay GOP that controls the entire country and a feeble liberal-progressive Democratic party that controls a few cities and college towns? “Ah, yes, we’re completely powerless, except for that tough new recycling law in Madison, Wisconsin,” the Curtisses will say in 2012 when the parties have diverged a little more to their liking, “but at least we know now that our opposition is truly oppositional.” I’ll pass, thanks.

Bad News

[ 0 ] July 25, 2007 |

Ulrich Muehe, the Stasi agent in The Lives of Others, has passed away. I had no idea he was sick, but apparently he’s been suffering from stomach cancer.

Rest in peace.

Brief Thoughts on Ward

[ 0 ] July 25, 2007 |

From someone at CU:

The one thing that makes me feel OK about this, is that our faculty peers have found him [Ward Churchill] guilty of academic misconduct serious enough to recommend sacking him. The only people I trust to do, or at least to try to do, the right thing in this situation are the faculty. That various faculty committees more or less determined that he is a fraud is the biggest thing that makes me feel OK about the firing. Only caveat there is that those of us who love this place really love this place. It is a wonderful institution that has been stained in the last several years with lots of bad things. The little voice in the back of my mind does wonder whether even faculty might have let this sway their judgment toward the expediency of firing Ward (in terms of getting some of the stink off of CU) over the long-term and more general interest in protecting speech and tenure. I hope it’s not the latter, and for the moment I satisfy myself that faculty acted correctly (and certainly not as instruments of some neo-con conspiracy).

Right. There’s obviously a danger of rush to judgment in such situations, but the fact that he was convicted of academic misconduct by a group of people with a deep, vested interest in maintaining the protections and integrity of tenure helps relieve me of the concern that Churchill was railroaded. While the initial investigation may have been motivated by Churchill’s political statements, I think there’s good reason to believe that the conclusion wasn’t.

Laugh Line of the Day

[ 0 ] July 25, 2007 |

It’s so early in the day, and I’ve already had what may be the biggest laugh of the day. From the Center for American Progress daily Progress Report:

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), who championed the confirmation John Roberts and Samuel Alito, plans to review the Supreme Court justices’ Senate testimony to “determine if their reversal of several long-standing opinions conflicts with promises they made to senators to win confirmation.”

Feels like a little too little too late from Arlen. Is there really any redress for this now? Methinks not.

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