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Apparently, Jews CAN be Pirates!

[ 0 ] April 23, 2009 |

It appears, contra Cartman’s assertion in last night’s pirate themed South Park, that Jews CAN be pirates. Someone has even written a book:

But Jews were to be found among the pirates too. Kritzler introduces us to more than one Jewish buccaneer, including a remarkable man named Samuel Palache, a “pirate rabbi” who sent a flotilla of privateers to operate against Spanish shipping in the Mediterranean under the flag of Morocco in 1611 even as he served as the rabbi of the first synagogue in Holland. “Carved on the bow of his ship was a phoenix,” writes Kritzler. “It was his way of saying that the Inquisition might burn individual Jews, but could not destroy their ancestral faith.”

Pirate and rabbi are probably the two cultural markers that I’d least expect to mix…


Pitchfork Wielding Mob Assails Yankee Stadium!

[ 0 ] April 23, 2009 |

Um… this seems like outrage for the sake of being outraged. The point about taxpayers subsidy of athletic stadiums is reasonable, although it would be kind of absurd to have a mass transit system that doesn’t offer common destinations (like ballparks). But really, if somebody wants to pay $2500 to see the same Yankee game that you can see for $50, I’m ok with that.

The forthcoming "immolation of privacy and human dignity in symbolic opposition to drug use."

[ 0 ] April 22, 2009 |

Lithwick and Savage bring the depressing news about yesterday’s oral argument in the case in which a 13-year-old young woman was strip-searched by school officials because of an entirely uncorroborated and self-interested (and ultimately inaccurate) accusation that she possessed ibuprofen, without even contacting her parents first. Alas, in the former’s words “it’s plain the court will overturn” 9 CA’s persuasive holding that the search violated Redding’s constitutional rights.

Judging by the reports, the lineup seems to be going according to the worst-case scenario I feared. Ginsburg seems a sure vote to uphold 9CA, with Stevens and Scalia at least reasonably likely. Souter is dubious, and seemed suckered by the state’s irrelevant hypothetical scare scenarios. Alito and Roberts (of course) seem certain votes to overturn and Thomas doesn’t give clues in oral argument but might be the least likely of all given his position on the constitution’s application in schools. I will admit that I held out some hope that this case would awaken Kennedy’s Rip Wan Winkle conscience — my bad. The weaselly “minimalist” opinion likely to emerge in this case is going to be especially infuriating. Frankly, I would have more respect for the Court if they just explicitly adopted Thomas’s position that as long as school officials don’t go so far as to violate a criminal statute they’re not required to put any weight on their students’ privacy and dignity at all. Because given this set of facts, it’s pretty much what they’ll be holding anyway.

And Breyer. Breyer, Breyer, Breyer. A very intelligent and charming man, but between his deference to business interests and deference to petty-dictator state officials also a Clinton-era liberal in the worst sense (and indeed, in Clinton’s defense there is substantial evidence that even he was very reluctant to appoint him.) Lithwick:

This leads Justice Stephen Breyer to query whether this is all that different from asking Redding to “change into a swimming suit or your gym clothes,” because, “why is this a major thing to say strip down to your underclothes, which children do when they change for gym?”

This leads Ginsburg to sputter—in what I have come to think of as her Lilly Ledbetter voice—”what was done in the case … it wasn’t just that they were stripped to their underwear! They were asked to shake their bra out, to stretch the top of their pants and shake that out!” Nobody but Ginsburg seems to comprehend that the only locker rooms in which teenage girls strut around, bored but fabulous in their underwear, are to be found in porno movies. For the rest of us, the middle-school locker room was a place for hastily removing our bras without taking off our T-shirts.

But Breyer just isn’t letting go. “In my experience when I was 8 or 10 or 12 years old, you know, we did take our clothes off once a day, we changed for gym, OK? And in my experience, too, people did sometimes stick things in my underwear.” [Unaltered quote–ed.]

I don’t even know what to say to someone who doesn’t see a significant distinction between being strip-searched and wearing gym clothes. To state the obvious, this is the kind of argument that belongs on a third-rate wingnut talk radio show, not in the mouth of a Democratic-appointed Supreme Court justice.

As a coda, djw noted in comments to my first post that conservative bloggers like Tom Maguire and Ed Morrissey to their credit agreed with 9CA that the search was unconstitutional but to their discredit bizarrely seemed to attribute their positions to their heroes Alito and Roberts. (Morrissey: “The question won’t be whether Redding will win. It will be whether it goes 9-0 in her favor. I’d put that at even money.” Uh, care to make it interesting?) Maguire seems to have read the tea leaves, and yet can’t resist a little delusion:

Maybe the court is positioning itself for a switcheroo – my recollection is that sometimes the questoiners are tougher on the side they favor. We should find out in late June.

Yes, that must be it. And when Alito and Roberts compiled extensive records as statist reactionaries, they were just throwing people off the scent. That case where Alito argued that a strip search of a 10-year-old girl based on a deficient warrant should be upheld (dissenting from a holding by well-known civil libertarian radical Michael Chertoff) — it’s a decoy! I sure hope I get into a poker game with Maguire some day….

Still Perhaps the Best Reason to Cheer Clinton’s Loss in the Primary

[ 0 ] April 21, 2009 |

Mark Penn has a follow-up to the post that Rob made fun of earlier. And it gets worse. Remember, there are people who pay money to this guy to compile and evaluate data:

The question of how much traffic it takes to make a living also comes from the Technorati report. We say it takes “about 100,000 unique visitors a month to generate an income of $75,000 a year” and Technorati states those who had 100,000 or more unique visitors the average income is $75,000.

I trust most of you can spot the glaring logical fallacy without my help, but this is the same kind of sportswriter technique that Bill James used to make fun of because you could make Alfredo Griffin look like Honus Wagner. By bounding the hit count at the low end but not at the high end, you bundle together a ton of blogs that produce very little revenue with a few that make a large amount of revenue and pretend that they’re all part of the same class. But it should be obvious that a site like ours, that gets 200,000 or so unique hits in a typical month, is not comparable to Daily Kos, which gets 800,000, and a greatly disproportionate amount of the income is generated by a few sites at the top end. Even assuming that the $75,000 mean figure is accurate, to argue that $75,000 starts at the lowest point of your arbitrarily bounded class when it’s the overall mean is transparently absurd.

I think we can see why Penn doesn’t show his work much.

White Slaveholders Didn’t Move to Texas for their Health…

[ 0 ] April 21, 2009 |

Mr. Trevino took issue with my claim that Texas has seceded from two different countries in order to protect the right of white people to own black people. Dr. Loomis takes issue with Mr. Trevino, and messes with Texas in the process.

Those Wealthy Bloggers, with their Flashy Clothes and Fast Cars….

[ 0 ] April 21, 2009 |

Mark Penn is messing with my business:

It takes about 100,000 unique visitors a month to generate an income of $75,000 a year. Bloggers can get $75 to $200 for a good post, and some even serve as “spokesbloggers” — paid by advertisers to blog about products. As a job with zero commuting, blogging could be one of the most environmentally friendly jobs around — but it can also be quite profitable.

Back of the envelope calculations indicate that LGM should have generated some $150000 last year alone, and probably close to half a million over the life of the blog. I’m not saying that we haven’t collected that much; who keeps track? My plan was to conceal the profits from my co-bloggers indefinitely, but now that the cat is out of the bag I’m going to have to come up with some story about how I invested it in Florida real estate, rather than just my coke habit.

That, or Mark Penn is still an idiot.

A Rare Roberts Court Victory for the Fourth Amendment

[ 0 ] April 21, 2009 |

Apparently, the ability of the War On (some classes of people who use some) Drugs to act as a solvent in which the Fourth Amendment vanishes has some limits. Today, the Supreme Court ruled that a search of an automobile after the defendant was secured (in this case, for his arrest for driving with a suspended license) for evidence of an unrelated crime (in this case, the police found cocaine, but obviously didn’t need to search his car for evidence that he had been driving without a valid license) was unjustified. The Court did not overrule New York v. Belton — the case which has generally been read to permit the police very wide discretion to conduct searches of automobiles without probable cause — but did argue that it should be read much more narrowly than it has been. Since in Belton the suspects were actually arrested on a drug charge, the case is quite easily distinguished. Today’s case will at least prevent the police from using unrelated minor offenses to justify drug searches without probable cause. Under today’s ruling, car searches without probable cause are valid only “if it is reasonable to believe that evidence of the offense of arrest might be found in the vehicle” or if the suspect might be able to access the car for weapons.

The other interesting thing about the case is the lineup of the Court’s 5-4 decision. This won’t come as a surprise to you if you have a better grasp of the issues than Ann Althouse or Stuart Taylor, but this case presents yet another example of the fact that Alito and Roberts aren’t as bad as Scalia and Thomas — they’re worse. Both Scalia and Thomas showed their sporadic libertarian streak today, joining Stevens’s opinion (with Scalia even writing a concurrence suggesting that, if anything, the Court’s opinion didn’t go far enough.) Alito, on the other hand, wrote a dissent arguing for a bright-line rule that would permit any search of an automobile incident to arrest (irrespective of whether or not there is any threat to an arresting officer’s safety or of whether the search was relevant to the arresting offense.) He was joined by Roberts and (a little more surprisingly, although he’s pretty conservative on most civil liberties issues) Kennedy. Breyer, always a wet on civil liberties issues, also argued that the search should be justified on stare decisis grounds.

The only thing I can say for Alito’s dissent is that his claim that the majority’s analysis of Belton is artificially narrow has some merit; I wouldn’t have objected to overruling it explicitly. But given Alito’s history of, ah, “minimalist” treatment of precedents, he’s the last person in the world who can complain about it. And as Scalia says, even if one agrees that the Court’s holding “does not provide the degree of certainty I think desirable in this field,” Alito’s alternative “opens the field to what…are plainly unconstitutional searches—which is the greater evil.”

[X-Posted to TAPPED.]

Does Heller’s Incorporation Matter?

[ 1 ] April 21, 2009 |

It’s not surprising that the Ninth Circuit has held that the Second Amendment should be “incorporated” and apply to state governments as well as the federal government, and when the case gets to the Supreme Court the only question is how many justices will join the majority to uphold the decision. (I wouldn’t be surprised to see some or all of the more liberal writing a concurrence saying that they disagree with Heller but as long as gun ownership is a fundamental individual right it should also apply against state governments.) It’s true that if you take the standard of incorporation the Court has allegedly applied — whether a right “found to be implicit in the concept of ordered liberty” — this would be a tough case, as plenty of liberal democracies have flourished with draconian gun control regulations. But, then, you could say the same thing about many of the civil liberties in the Bill of Rights that have been incorporated as well. It’s an easy case in context.

The more interesting question is whether incorporating the Second Amendment will actually make much difference. The Court in Heller explicitly said that it was not addressing more narrowly targeted restrictions, and lower courts have taken the hint:

About nine months ago, the Supreme Court breathed new life into the Second Amendment, ruling for the first time that it protects an individual right to own guns. Since then, lower federal courts have decided more than 80 cases interpreting the decision, District of Columbia v. Heller, and it is now possible to make a preliminary assessment of its impact.

So far, Heller is firing blanks.

The courts have upheld federal laws banning gun ownership by people convicted of felonies and some misdemeanors, by illegal immigrants and by drug addicts. They have upheld laws banning machine guns and sawed-off shotguns. They have upheld laws making it illegal to carry guns near schools or in post offices. And they have upheld laws concerning concealed and unregistered weapons.

“The Heller case is a landmark decision that has not changed very much at all,” said Adam Winkler, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who keeps a running tally of decisions based on the case. “To date, the federal courts have not invalidated a single gun control law on the basis of the Second Amendment since Heller.”

My guess is that, at least in the medium-term, Heller is going to be a lot like the federalism “revolution” of the Rehnquist Court — a few regulations of very marginal policy significance struck down, but that’s it. Despite all the excited commentary the decision has generated from both supporters and critics, I suspect that its policy impact will be pretty negligible. Local gun bans don’t have much impact in a federal system, a federal ban is a complete non-starter with or without a Supreme Court, and what precise mix of marginal regulations the state and federal governments adopt probably isn’t very consequential.

Gingrich the historian

[ 0 ] April 20, 2009 |

I realize that it’s factually true that Newt Gingrich has a doctorate in history and that this peculiar fact illuminates, in a weird way, many of the deeply silly ideas dispensed from the gumball machine that people generally mistake for an actual human head. But we should always remember that Gingrich is an “historian” in the same sense that someone who last played golf in 1978 is a “golfer.” Or, to rephrase slightly, Gingrich is an historian in the same sense that someone who lost his PGA tour card in 1978 is still a golfer. I usually read that Gingrich was denied tenure; the alternate version (which I think is technically correct) is that he never actually applied for it because he’d have been turned down anyway. Regardless, Gingrich’s history credentials — to the degree that anyone, anywhere takes them seriously — provide a great case study in the inflation of cultural capital.

And when we take the time to actually read Newt Gingrich’s dissertation, we’re reminded of what a terrible historian he actually was — unless, of course, one believes that it’s perfectly acceptable to write a history of education in the Congo based entirely on Belgian sources. In which case:

Gingrich argues that the Belgians prepared Congolese women for the challenges of modernity, by which he presumably means that learning to wash the dishes of wealthy white women with water from a faucet was a useful 20th century skill to have in place of, say, being able to critically reason or understand what the natural rights imply about subservience and racism.

The silver lining here for the historical profession is that Gingrich did not degrade it further by publishing anything during the eight years he spent as a faculty member at West Georgia.

From Colony to Superpower XVIII: Scooped!

[ 0 ] April 20, 2009 |

Part 18 in our twenty part series on George Herring’s From Colony to Superpower brings us to 1974, and Gerald Ford’s unlikely ascension to the office of the Presidency. The chapter ends with the election of Ronald Reagan. In between, Herring expresses unlikely sympathy for the two occupants of the White House; the main villain of the piece is one Henry “Scoop” Jackson, along with the army of neoconservatives that he helped foster.

The over-arching theme of the chapter is the retreat (if only temporary) of the imperial presidency. Congress, emboldened by Watergate and by the Vietnam disaster, wasn’t in the mood to give either Ford or Carter an easy time. Herring challenges the notion that Ford was a bit of a dullard, noting that he had a strong record of compromise legislation in the House. The deck was stacked against, however; with the Democrats in control of Congress and in no mood to compromise, Ford had very limited success. Carter, although enjoying significant Democratic majorities, just didn’t have a solid strategy for dealing with Congress. It’s important to remember that the Democratic party of the 1970s is not the one that exists today, and that party discipline was much lower then than now.

In any case, both Ford and Carter faced challenges from the left and the right. The left tried to reduce the President’s ability to launch and wage illegal wars. The interference from the right was a good deal more destructive, and was led by “Scoop” Jackson of Washington. Jackson intervened in nearly every foreign policy question during this period, almost always to bad effect. In particular, he helped undermine several initiatives to further detente and reduce tensions with the Soviets. His interference didn’t end there, however; he also managed to misjudge US relations with China, and with Iran. Overall, Herring’s portrayal of Scoop Jackson is that of a buffoon; a man who’s inadequate knowledge of foreign affairs didn’t prevent him from taking on the role of demagogue, with destructive consequences. It’s not a portrayal that I particularly disagree with, and I think it’s fair to say that naming a ballistic missile submarine Henry M. Jackson is altogether as embarrassing for the Navy as the Carl Vinson and the John C. Stennis.

Herring argues that Jimmy Carter faced a series of nearly intractable foreign policy problems, and proceeded to handle them in a generally inept way. Carter had very little foreign policy experience, and built a foreign policy team that almost immediately went to war against itself. He didn’t have a strong understanding of how to build domestic support for policy, even when the policies themselves were quite solid. Herring lauds Carter’s commitment to the Panama Canal Treaty, for example, but questions his inability to explain why the treaty was a good idea in the face of conservative criticism. The comparisons with Obama are useful; although we don’t know how the Obama administration will be judged 20 years from now, it’s hard not to read Herring’s account of Carter and think that Obama has proceeded in a much more careful and effective manner, at least so far. Carter was also uncertain as to how to deal with the collapse of detente. Herring points out that detente was inherently limited by the fact that the US and the USSR had very different interests; Carter perhaps expected too much, and interpreted what the Soviets viewed as healthy competiton within detente as a break from detente. By the end of his administration, Carter had become a committed Cold Warrior. Of necessity Herring deals at length with the Iran hostage crisis, noting again that Carter inherited a problem with no solution, but that he didn’t distinguish himself even within that constraint.

One country in particular seems to be missing from Herring’s account; Indonesia. Obviously, it’s not Herring’s responsibility to discuss US relations with every country in the world, but there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on between the US and Indonesia during the Cold War, and thus far Herring hasn’t paid it much attention. In this chapter, Herring doesn’t have any discussion of the Indonesian invasion of East Timor (under Ford’s watch), of post-invasion relations between the US and Indonesia (under Carter’s watch), or of the role that Indonesia played in US Cold War strategy. Much the same could be said of the Philippines; I’m curious to see how Herring with deal with the end of the Marcos regime during the Reagan administration.

Harman: Reactionary And Corrupt!

[ 0 ] April 20, 2009 |

Apparently, the old Harman v. Hastings confrontation was tilted even more decisively in the latter’s favor, as Harman would seem to have combined being wrong about pretty much every important issue for years with the kind of corruption Hastings was accused of. I will have to agree with John that it’s a real shame that Harman’s retention as Intelligence chair was derailed by anti-Semitic hippies….

...see also.

The Bush Administration’s Torture Regime

[ 0 ] April 19, 2009 |

Many people have already noted a key takeaway from Scott Shane’s article on the CIA’s arbitrary torture regime: it didn’t work. A couple things about it are also worth noting. First of all, remember this old scam?

In March 2002, when Abu Zubaydah was captured in Pakistan after a gunfight with Pakistani security officers backed by F.B.I. and C.I.A. officers, Bush administration officials portrayed him as a Qaeda leader. That judgment was reflected in the Aug. 1, 2002, legal opinion signed by Jay S. Bybee, then head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.

The memo summarizes the C.I.A.’s judgment that Abu Zubaydah, then 31, had risen rapidly to “third or fourth man in Al Qaeda” and had served as “senior lieutenant” to Osama bin Laden. It said he had “managed a network of training camps” and had been “involved in every major terrorist operation carried out by Al Qaeda.”


Since 2002, the C.I.A. has downgraded its assessment of Abu Zubaydah’s significance, while continuing to call his revelations important.

Makes you wonder how many confident assertions that the allegedly second, third, or fourth most important members of the highly decentralized terrorist organization had been captured have been downgraded.

Even more important, for the gullible few who might be inclined to buy the few-bad-apples defense:

The legal basis for this treatment is uncertain, but lawyers at C.I.A. headquarters were in constant touch with interrogators, as well as with Mr. Bybee’s subordinate in the Office of Legal Counsel, John C. Yoo, who was drafting memos on the legal limits of interrogation.

So the Bush administration almost certainly knew about and approved of the useless illegal torture. Moreover, it should be noted that none of the elements of the bullshit “ticking bomb” scenario used to hypothetically defend illegal torture are in place here: there’s no direct knowledge of an imminent attack, no serious evidence that the tortured individual knew anything about an imminent attack, and no reason to believe that legal interrogation methods wouldn’t work if the suspect did know anything about an imminent attack.

Arrest Yoo. Do it now. Arrest and impeach Bybee. Do it now.