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Presidential Statement of the Day

[ 6 ] May 22, 2008 |

John F. Kennedy, during a news conference, 22 May 1963

[W]e would withdraw the troops, any number of troops, any time the Government of South Viet-Nam would suggest it. The day after it was suggested, we would have some troops on their way home. That is number one.

Number two is: we are hopeful that the situation in South Viet-Nam would permit some withdrawal in any case by the end of the year, but we can’t possibly make that judgment at the present time. There is still a long, hard struggle to go. We have seen what happened in Laos, which must inevitably have its effect upon South Viet-Nam, so that I couldn’t say that today the situation is such that we could look for a brightening in the skies that would permit us to withdraw troops or begin to by the end of this year. But I would say, if requested to, we will do it immediately. As of today we would hope we could begin to perhaps to do it at the end of the year, but we couldn’t make any final judgment at all until we see the course of the struggle the next few months.

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Sistani Shift?

[ 0 ] May 22, 2008 |

This seems like kind of a big deal:

Iraq’s most influential Shiite cleric has been quietly issuing religious edicts declaring that armed resistance against U.S.-led foreign troops is permissible — a potentially significant shift by a key supporter of the Washington-backed government in Baghdad.

The edicts, or fatwas, by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani suggest he seeks to sharpen his long-held opposition to American troops and counter the populist appeal of his main rivals, firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia.

But — unlike al-Sadr’s anti-American broadsides — the Iranian-born al-Sistani has displayed extreme caution with anything that could imperil the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Duss analyzes:

It’s difficult to overstate how essential Sistani’s support has been for the task of rebuilding Iraq, or how quickly the U.S. would lose what little legitimacy it still has there if Sistani were to indicate that U.S. forces were no longer welcome. If this report is accurate, it clearly indicates that he is leaning in that direction.

This could also represent the final nail in the coffin of the neoconservative fantasy of establishing an enduring military presence in Iraq, from which to project U.S. power throughout the region. The article notes that the shift in Sistani’s position “underlines possible opposition to any agreement by Baghdad to allow a long-term U.S. military foothold in Iraq — part of a deal that is currently under negotiation and could be signed as early as July”

Stay tuned. See also Martin and Cernig.

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Triumph?

[ 14 ] May 22, 2008 |

I can’t think of a recent presidential campaign that’s been characterized by as many terrible historical analogies as this one. From Obama’s evocations of Ronald Reagan, to McCain’s addled nonsense about appeasement, to Clinton’s suggestion that the woman suffrage and black voting rights campaigns provide some sort of model for protesting the “disenfranchisement” of Florida and Michigan voters — it’s been a brutal mess. And we haven’t even gotten to the general election campaign yet.

Corrective efforts in the media haven’t been terribly helpful, either. In the Times today, for instance, Nathan Thrall and Jesse James Wilkins attempt to call bullshit on Barack Obama’s occasional references the JFK’s meeting with Khrushchev; they make the uncontroversial point that the Soviet leader handed Kennedy’s ass to him at Vienna, and they suggest that perhaps those meetings don’t offer the most useful historical memories for someone looking to trumpet the virtues of negotiating with one’s adversaries. Of course, Nathan Thrall is a neoconservative who thinks that Reagan was an appeaser, so I’m not sure how much weight his conclusions are supposed to carry. The Vienna summit might have concluded with Khrushchev offering Kennedy a deep tissue massage and a happy ending, and Thrall would be still be offering some sort of captious explanation for why the whole affair was actually a disaster for the free world.

What’s interesting, though, is their suggestion that Khrushchev somehow “triumphed” in the wake of Vienna. He didn’t. Thrall’s and Wilkins’ central point — that the summit encouraged the Soviet leader to push back against the US, especially in his decision to place missiles in Cuba — is true enough. But what they fail to mention is that Khrushchev’s aggressive response helped destroy his own position within three years, as his rivals became persuaded that his concessions during the October 1962 crisis — that is to say, his appeasement of the United States — underscored his other weaknesses as a leader. By 1964, he was toast, replaced by a government that eventually coagulated under Brezhnev’s rule, which over the next 15 years mismanaged the Soviet Union to the brink of destruction.

So I’m not sure what Thrall and Kilkins have actually shown us, except to make the obvious point that historical confrontations are likely to have unanticipated — even disastrous — consequences. That’s true of diplomacy as much as any other strategy for dealing with adversaries. The piece concludes by suggesting that sometimes there’s “good reason to fear to negotiate.” There’s also — call me crazy — good reason to fear the apparent alternative, which is to reaffirm eight miserable years of US policy in the Middle East.

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A Conclusion In Search of an Argument

[ 9 ] May 22, 2008 |

Glenn Greenwald makes the obvious point about Ben Wittes’ critique of the California gay marriage decision: for all intents and purposes, there’s no argument in it. The shallow, bumper-sticker versions of democracy Wittes invokes — that the decision represents the “undermining of the right of people to govern themselves” — prove too much unless you believe that liberal democracy means nothing but simple majoritarianism, which virtually nobody does and at any rate certainly isn’t the constitutional logic of any government in the United States. If taken seriously, these claims are equally applicable against Brown and Loving. Wittes builds his argument around the assertion that arbitrary discrimination on the basis of race is just different than arbitrary discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Maybe it is, but he just asserts it repeatedly without defending it. The fact that a majority of Californians may oppose gay marriage is irrelevant to this distinction. Citizens and public officials in most of the states where segregation was ruled unconstitutional were far more committed to apartheid than California is to bans on same-sex marriage. And yet, as Greenwald says, Wittes says nothing about the court’s opinion at all; he doesn’t even begin to make the case that it was poorly crafted or an implausible reading of the California constitution.

This brings up to another point, which is that even if the democratic support for provisions is relevant to construing ambiguous constitutional provisions, we also have to consider what constitutes democratic support. Shouldn’t the fact that a majority of state legislators and the state’s governor almost certainly support the court’s ruling at least be considered when decrying “accretion of power to courts”? But Wittes ignores this, just as suddenly a supermajority in the Massachusetts legislature affirming Goodridge was not longer enough, but instead democratic legitimacy required not just representative majoritarianism but plebiscitarianism. We’ve seen similar shell games about democratic legitimacy from Wittes before: the incredibly shoddy and unprincipled Bush v. Gore is legitimate because it didn’t affect public opinion about the court, but public support for Roe v. Wade is irrelevant to that decision’s “legitimacy problem.” Other than his remarkably consistent conviction that decisions that piss of conservatives are bad and decisions that piss off liberals are good, I frankly don’t know what the content of his standards regarding the democratic legitimacy of judicial review is.

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Exclusive! Must Credit LGM!!!! McCain’s Support Entirely Non-Existent!

[ 0 ] May 22, 2008 |

Obviously, one has to agree that the fact that a band played before an Obama rally is an immensely important issue which proves his popularity is a fraud. I particularly admire Geraghty inferring the effect of the opening act from Rolling Stone reviews rather than some less important metrics as record sales or usual size of venue played. I can’t believe the MSM is covering this up this critical fact.

However, some unimpeachable sources have informed me that the crowd of 1,500 that John McCain recently drew in Indianapolis was a product of a rare free appearance by the Recess Monkeys, whose latest show was rated “five stars all the way!” by the Birch Bayh Junior High Herald:

“This is real wholesome, old-fashioned music, none of that noise pollution! Although frankly I’d prefer a little Frank Mills.” –M. Goldfarb.

I can only conclude that John McCain’s real drawing power is -30,000 people. When, on when, will the MSM stop covering up this important story?

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So There You Have It.

Yesterday, I officially got my J.D. It was a bizarre and exciting culmination of a tough three years.

And what do I get for celebration? I’m now sitting in my first BarBri bar review course. Happy graduation indeed.

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On Not Getting Into the Mud

[ 0 ] May 22, 2008 |

Evidently, Clinton using the civil rights and suffragist movement to defend her attempts to count the North Korean Michigan not-even-a-straw-poll is beyond appalling. But nonetheless, I can’t agree with Isaac Chotiner here:

I suppose I see the utility of this strategy on Obama’s part, but there is something unseemly about the Illinois Senator going out of his way to praise Senator Clinton at a time when her entire posture in the campaign is so aggressively negative and pathetic. And now that Clinton has decided that there is no distinction between her quest and the quest of women everywhere, it would be best if Obama resisted the temptation to hold her up as a feminist icon.

However indefensible some of the Clinton campaign’s rhetoric has been, Obama is definitely doing the right thing here. Clinton’s campaign has been historic, and has therefore inspired deep commitment from her supporters. Clinton’s recent tactics are odious but it’s not as if they stand any chance of working or anything; as Chait says, “Democratic superdelegates don’t want to commit suicide.” We political observers should feel free to make fun of hack arguments, but for the candidate to make peace with Clinton’s supporters is appropriate. It’s the winner’s strategy. I personally think it would be better for the party and her reputation if Clinton weren’t going down by saying this kind of thing, but that’s politics; it’s her judgment how to run her campaign. There’s no need for Obama to take the bait — upping the ante would just make things worse.

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Examples?

[ 6 ] May 22, 2008 |

Responding to a WaPo editorial suggesting that Obama offer a Supreme Court appointment to Hillary Clinton, Mori Dinauer interestingly points out that such an offer would seem to be illegal. Does anybody know if there are examples of someone actually being prosecuted under the statute?

On Clinton being appointed, I would respond with one number (1947) and two words (therefore no.) Jack Balkin gives the somewhat longer version.

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Appalachia on Al-Jazeera

[ 0 ] May 22, 2008 |

Check out especially the interview with a coal miner about 2:15 in:

The white people has put the negroes in the back of the bus for years, and if we’re not careful we’re gonna be in the back of the bus and they’re gonna be in the front.

That’s interesting, and suggests an answer to why whites in Appalachia are so much more resistant to voting for Obama than anywhere else; it’s driven by economic insecurity, and by what amounts to perceived competition between two economic underclasses. That’s really not such a shocking interpretation, but it is one, I think, that you’re less likely to see from an American news source than from Al-Jazeera.

Via Barefoot and Progressive.

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Presidential Statement of the Day

[ 0 ] May 22, 2008 |

Benjamin Harrison, in a letter to the Virginia Baptist Convention, 21 May 1892:

Lynchings are a reproach to any community; they impeach the adequacy of our institutions for the punishment of crime; they brutalize the participants and shame our Christian civilization. I have not time to explain to you the limitations of the Federal power further than to say that under the Constitution and laws I am, in a large measure, without the power to interfere for the prevention or punishment of these offenses. You will not need to be assured that the Department of Justice will let no case pass that is one of Federal jurisdiction without the most strenuous endeavors to bring the guilty persons to punishment. I will give the matter you have suggested the most serious consideration and you may be assured that my voice and help will be given to every effort to arouse the conscience of our people and to stimulate efficient efforts to reestablish the supremacy of the courts and public officers as the only proper agency for the detection and punishment of crime and the only security of those who are falsely accused.

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Institutionalized Trolling

[ 69 ] May 21, 2008 |

Politico, via Drezner:

John McCain’s campaign is using their campaign website to encourage supporters to post supportive comments on political blogs, including the most well-known liberal site in the blogosphere. And to make things easier, they’re including talking points with which sympathizers can use to get out the McCain message.

“Select from the numerous web, blog and news sites listed here, go there, and make your opinions supporting John McCain known,” instructs the page.

McCain supporters are asked to send the details of their comment to the campaign, which in turn will verify it and then reward the supporter with “points” (assumedly to accumulate for McCain swag).

I can hardly wait for the McCainiac troll influx.

…incidentally, I think this is one of the best comment threads I’ve ever seen. My favorites:

  • Jon MkKane is grate. He will mak a grate preznit. He is better from Obamar by a lots. You ar librul coksukers. I am not a trol.
  • John McCain is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.
  • John McCain has a bold vision, a clear sight, and a comprehensive plan for America, and for each and every American. For instance, he wants you, George Robotham of 56 Maple Lane, Waltham MA to start investing in our children’s futures, and to stop masturbating in the shower so much. John McCain! He knows what’s best. For YOU.
  • McCain hooked me up with some great weed back in the 80s, when things were really dry.
  • For I was hungry and McCain gave me food; I was thirsty and McCain gave me drink; I was a stranger and McCain took me in; I was naked and McCain clothed me; I was sick and McCain visited me; I was in prison and McCain came to me.
  • John McCain once showed me a video of him making love to my wife, and it was the most beautiful thing I ever saw!
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Ne-Joe-Con

[ 0 ] May 21, 2008 |

Shorter Joe Lieberman:

What America needs right now is a president who — like his cold war predecessors — responds to every conceivable threat by launching disastrous, multi-decade wars that wreck the US economy and hollow out its moral authority; initiating covert operations that inflame civil wars in areas of the world remote from its objective national interests; deliberately exaggerating the capabilities of its adversaries; and demoting or sabotaging their own domestic agendas in the name of waging a metaphysical battle that allows them make tough-sounding statements from time to time.

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