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Opponents Beware

[ 0 ] February 22, 2008 |

Happy birthday to George Washington.

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Better Policies: Sometimes Even Easier To Sell

[ 28 ] February 22, 2008 |

I had it on while doing other work and then watched it at the gym, so I didn’t see at all, but it should be noted that I don’t know whether it’s happy or sad that it was surprising to see a presidential candidate would say this:

And it’s absolutely true that I think our policy has been a failure. I mean, the fact is, is that during my entire lifetime, and Senator Clinton’s entire lifetime, you essentially have seen a Cuba that has been isolated, but has not made progress when it comes to the issues of political rights and personal freedoms that are so important to the people of Cuba.

In a sane world, this would be the starting point of a rational policy as opposed to an unusual claim, but once again thank Article II for giving relatively small constituencies in a few key states wildly disproportionate power.

To give the optimistic take on the debate tonight, in a rare triumph of public reason having the better policy on the merits was a considerable advantage to the debater. Clinton is at a bit of a disadvantage on her best issue, because while mandates are the better policy they can be a tougher sell politically, but she parried Obama bringing up garnishing wages very effectively. On the other hand, on the biggest American issue of the young century, Obama cut right to the heart of the matter:

But it also means using our military wisely. And on what I believe was the single most important foreign policy decision of this generation, whether or not to go to war in Iraq, I believe I showed the judgment of a commander in chief. And I think that Senator Clinton was wrong in her judgments on that.

[...]

And I think that, when we’re having a debate with John McCain, it is going to be much easier for the candidate who was opposed to the concept of invading Iraq in the first place to have a debate about the wisdom of that decision…

(APPLAUSE)

… than having to argue about the tactics subsequent to the decision.

Exactly right, and also proves the political benefits of good policy judgments at a larger level. As Clinton showed tonight, she isn’t a bad candidate, at all; very smart, likable, tough-minded. She continued to waste time with the “plagiarism” idiocy, but her closing (as has been noted elsewhere) was outstanding. Obama has gifts she doesn’t, but she’s a good candidate who would make a good president. But getting the biggest issue of her Senate tenure wrong, which also produces a clear political liability in the 2008 election, creates a prima facie case against her when up against a credible anti-war candidate. Among a majority of Democrats, she hasn’t overcome this (correctly, in my view.) But it’s hard to imagine that had she voted the right way her initial lead wouldn’t have been beyond even the ability of Mark Penn to screw up, especially since Obama may well have sat out this race. I think there’s a lesson there.

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The Clinton Campaign

[ 0 ] February 21, 2008 |

Ezra and The World’s Most Dangerous Professor get in some shots before the plug is officially pulled. And, indeed, the late Penn/Ickes era of strategery is pretty much begging for mockery. What, for example, is this trying to accomplish? It’s 1)silly-to-appalling on the merits (with the particularly high comedy of a campaign dedicated to arguing that states don’t count if they’re too small, use caucuses, have too many black people, if Obama once spent a week there on vacation, etc. arguing that retroactively counting straw polls as elections is central to a “50 state strategy”), 2)not going to work directly because superdelegates aren’t going to reverse a loss in pledged delegates, and 3)unlikely to work politically (“if we go down narrowly we’re taking the Democratic Party with us” is unlikely to persuade many swing voters in Texas and Ohio to help stop the bleeding.) On the other hand, at this point such nonsense is just borne out of desperation; there’s no effective strategic means of getting out of the kind of hole the campaign finds itself in.

In some respects, then, I agree with Matt’s more charitable take although I’d put it a little differently: it was a failure to adapt. Pre-Iowa, the Clinton campaign was a logical frontrunner’s strategy well-executed. I agree with Matt that her communications and speech-writing people are good. What Iowa should have revealed, however, is that Obama was an unusual underdog not only because he has more compelling political gifts but — and this is the key — he had more resources. A frontunning strategy works against Huckabee, although he’s a better politician than his major competitors, because he just didn’t have the resources to compete outside of his base. Because Clinton almost but not quite squandered her big New Hampshire lead, she had a reprieve to react to Obama’s unique advantages, but she failed to do so; rather, her campaign seemed to think that their initial strategy was vindicated. It’s not exactly that the campaign intentionally left states on the table, but that focusing on big states usually allows the frontrunner to take the small states. However, Obama’s fundraising changed the usual calculus, and the Clinton campaign did blunder badly by failing to recognize this in time and not making the modest investment necessary to control Obama’s margins in small states.

In this sense, making fun of Mark Penn’s silly “states we lose don’t count” spin isn’t just a cheap shot, because it seems to reflect genuinely mistaken beliefs about the nature of this particular campaign. Usually, frontrunners can clean up small states off the momentum of big wins, but there’s nothing inevitable about this, and in a PR system failing to understand this is particularly costly. Clinton’s campaign did a lot of things well but could never react properly to the unique challenge posed by Obama.

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Popcorn & Pregnancy (again)

[ 68 ] February 21, 2008 |

Maybe we’re tired of the picking apart of Knocked Up, 4 Months, and Juno, and the search for messages about abortion in the films.

But, just in case, Howard Wasserman at Prawfsblog has an interesting post up about the change in the portrayal of abortion in popular films, and how this change echoes the anti-abortion/forced pregnancy movement’s expanded control over the social conversation about abortion.

To the extent that Wasserman points to the wingnuts’ winning the abortion rhetoric war, he’s right. This is something I have complained about before, and will continue to complain about. For a long time, we on the “pro-choice” side bought into the “pro-life” vs. “pro-choice” rhetoric. It was a mistake (as Lakoff has argued). We’ve started to try to undo that (reproductive justice, anti-choice, etc.). But we still haven’t figured out the appropriate moniker for the hyperventilating hypocrites on the other side, and we still haven’t been able to move any but the most mindful toward this new way of speaking. Juno and Knocked Up are just one symptom of this.

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Arbitrary Executive Power Hack Watch

[ 6 ] February 21, 2008 |

Julian Sanchez is probably right that in order to refute Andy McCarthy’s claim that the Sixth Circuit rejecting the ACLU’s standing to sue over the the Bush administration’s wireless wiretapping (and then the Supreme Court rejecting the appeal) demonstrates that the program is constitutional on the merits one needs merely to restate it. But just in case Tim Lee gives the long version. I’ll add that if anything the fact that the two Republican judges rested on standing if anything suggests that the program isn’t constitutional; if they believed the program to be constitutional they could have granted standing — as the dissenting judge plausibly did — and simply upheld the program on the merits. Although it’s possible in theory that the two conservative judges felt the program was constitutional but decided to rest on an illogical standing argument instead, it seems rather unlikely.

I’d have to say this may be my favorite example of McCarthy’s hackery since he suddenly reversed course and discovered in 2005 with no textual or logical support that filibusters of judicial nominees are unconstitutional. If all goes well, I think we can expect him to revert back to the correct position in roughly January of 2009.

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Blockbuster!

[ 27 ] February 21, 2008 |

From what I can gather, at least from the standpoint of someone who has never thought John McCain had any particularly high level of integrity and could care less even if unsubstantiated implications that he might have had sex with someone not his wife are true, this is about as much a “blockbuster” as The Hottie and the Nottie. I just don’t see anything remotely surprising or, with the exception of the well-known Keating scandal, terribly important (although perhaps this portends something else or its political impact will be greater.) And although one might take solace from the fact that the Times is actually taking on the Straight Talkitude Express, the fact that they let his campaign kill an apparently more substantive version dilutes this.

Publius has more. In a rational world, I would agree that it’s “hard to imagine the NYT (after institutional deliberation) going forward with such an explosive article with such a thin foundation,” but when we’re talking about the former employer of Jeff Gerth and Judy Miller this isn’t necessarily true.

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Why, Toledo? Why?

[ 10 ] February 21, 2008 |

In these days of intra-party rancor, I’m confident that Democrats of all varieties will join me in expressing disappointment that Toledo’s new minor league hockey team will not be named the “Peckerheads.” Instead, a tremendous national marketing opportunity has been sacrificed, and the team will be known instead as the Walleye. The Toledo Blade breaks the news gently:

The other name the Hens pursued trademark rights for – Woodpeckers – will not be attached to the city’s future arena football franchise, officials said.

Joe Napoli, general manager of the Hens and Toledo Arena Sports Inc., a not-for-profit organization created by the Hens to own Toledo’s hockey and arena football organizations, said public outcry over the possibly negative connotations of “Woodpeckers” was too strong to ignore.

In November, The Blade first reported that the Mud Hens sought rights for “Walleye” for hockey and “Woodpeckers” for arena football, but also pursued “Peckers” and “Peckerheads.”

[ . . . ]

“If we could push rewind, we would not have registered ‘Peckers’ and ‘Peckerheads.’ I don’t think ‘Woodpeckers’ would’ve raised an eye brow. Given that we did [register 'Peckers' and 'Peckerheads'], people focused on those two names.”

I completely expect the various presidential candidates to weigh in on this vital issue as they cast their appeals to voters in Ohio. I would remind the candidates, however, that while the humorless citizens of Toledo overwhelmingly opposed the discarded nicknames, utilitarian principles — namely, “the greatest volume of juvenile snickering for the greatest number” — should be considered in this case.

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Today In Media Sexism

[ 7 ] February 21, 2008 |

The bad news is that Neil Cavuto discussed Hillary Clinton’s “kind of bitchy image.” The good news is that it was on Faux Business, so nobody was watching.

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Exclusionary Rule Back On the Chopping Block

[ 12 ] February 20, 2008 |

I cringe whenever I see that the Roberts Court is taking a case like this:

In theory, a criminal-law doctrine known as the exclusionary rule forbids prosecutors from using evidence obtained by the police as the result of an improper search. In practice, the rule has significant exceptions, like for evidence obtained in good faith through reliance on an invalid search warrant or as the result of erroneous information from a court official.

Justices on the current Supreme Court have made no secret of their desire to carve more exceptions out of the nearly 100-year-old exclusionary rule. On Tuesday, the court accepted a new case that could provide a route toward that goal.

The question in the case is whether the list of exceptions should be expanded to include evidence obtained from a search undertaken by officers relying on a careless record-keeping error by the police.

As Greenhouse points out, the disdain expressed for the exclusionary rule in the Hudson decision last year, which in yet another manifestation of the War On (Some Classes of People Who Use Some) Drugs being where civil liberties go to die refused to apply the exclusionary rule to illegal “no-knock” searches, makes clear that this decision is unlikely to be favorable to the protection of civil liberties. The Rehnquist Court has already held that — for no remotely convincing reason — the exclusionary rule shouldn’t be applied when the illegality was the result of a bad warrant rather than directly illegal police behavior. It seems pretty obvious that an even more reactionary court that illegal behavior by one branch of the police won’t require evidence obtained by other police officers as the result of the illegality to be suppressed. The fake-minimalist Roberts Court won’t overturn the exclusionary rule, just continue to gut it.

I explained last year why I think reducing the exclusionary rule to an empty shell is a bad thing. To repeat, “[w]hen Congress passes the “Ice Cream Castles In The Air. And A Pony!” act creating an effective, viable civil remedy for this particular violation of the 4th Amendment I might happily join” opponents of the exclusionary rule, but until then it’s the best remedy available. And it’s misleading to claim that the rule can’t benefit innocent victims; this is true in individual cases, but the larger effect of the exclusionary rule is to encourage professionalism and legality by the state by removing incentives to violate rights. The trend of the Rehnquist and Roberts Courts making it clear that the police can usually find a way to get illegally obtained evidence admitted creates the opposite incentives.

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NYC Subway Searches – As Racist as You Thought.

[ 13 ] February 20, 2008 |


As someone who rides the NYC Subway daily, I’m happy for the system to be as safe as possible. But I’ve been ambivalent about the subway bag searches from the beginning. And my skepticism was only heightened (deepened?) today with the publication of a study about the subway searches showing that 88% of the people stopped are Black or Latino, even though less than half of subway riders are Black or Latino.

Nice to know the “random” searches are working so…randomly.

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Blooks?

[ 7 ] February 20, 2008 |

From Sewell Chan at City Room, we learn that Random House has published Ultimate Blogs, a collection of online work which “aspires to be a sort of Norton Anthology of Blogging, with excerpts from 27 blogs, 9 of them by people living in New York City.” I don’t know if I should feel like an under-informed loser or an over-informed loser, but I’m familiar with eight of the blogs on the list.

  • Cosmic Variance, a blog by Sean Carroll, a theoretical physicist at Caltech.
  • Diary of Samuel Pepys, a blog that is run by the Web designer Phil Gyford and consists solely of entries from the renowned diaries of the 17th-century Londoner Samuel Pepys.
  • Get Your War On, a popular animated series about the war on terrorism by David Rees, which is published online and in Rolling Stone magazine.
  • A celebrity fashion blog by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan. (The name of the blog is just this side of unprintable, at least for The New York Times.)
  • I Blame the Patriarchy, a blog by Jill Posey-Smith, who “describes herself as a queer pro-choice atheist and aesthete” in Texas, according to the book.
  • Language Log, a group blog founded by two linguists, Mark Liberman of the University of Pennsylvania and Geoffrey Pullum of the University of California at Santa Cruz, where Benjamin Zimmer, a linguistic anthropologist, is a regular contributor.
  • Matthew Yglesias, an associate editor of The Atlantic.
  • The Smoking Gun, a renowned Web site, founded in 1997, which published documents obtained through Freedom of Information laws.

Great stuff there, but I can’t imagine why The Smoking Gun would have been included in this collection, unless the editor decided to reprint The Falafel Papers. And while the Pepys diary is a fascinating read, at the end of the day it’s often just another blog about beating your child and trying to lay the maid.

All that aside, I can’t believe Sewell Chan witheld props from Ben Domenech, who pioneered the blog-to-book format nearly two years ago with his “literary journal” The Critical (a venture which is, I am sad to report, officially toe-up.) True, The Critical was cobbled together from P.J. O’Rourke jokes and inspirational monologues from Red Dawn, but its advisory editors included Hugh Hewitt and Adam Bellow, so you know it had to be good.

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Dear Sweet God, This is My Life

[ 23 ] February 20, 2008 |

I never, ever, ever again want to get locked in nine hour comment thread battle over the Florida and Michigan delegates; it is bad for my soul, leads to acne, prevents me from getting tenure, etc. I guess that I want Obama to win Texas and Ohio on the merits, but I also really, really want him to win so that this will be over; not for unity, not for the sake of the party, but simply because I want my afternoons and evenings and late nights back.

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