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A Step Ahead of SCOTUS

[ 0 ] September 25, 2007 |

Yesterday, Adam Liptak’s (now free!) column in the NYT addressed the question of photo identification and voting — specifically, whether it’s right (constitutionally, pragmatically, morally) to require voters to show photo ID when they go to their polling places. Law and Economics leader Judge Posner says it’s no big deal to ask people to get photo IDs, and it’s OK to require them (another illustration of how the Law & Economics movement is divorced from the real world). Judge Posner last year upheld an Indiana law necessitating ID’s in a decision that was seen to clear the path for other states to push through these restrictive laws.

So what’s wrong with the laws? Well, first of all, it is much harder than Posner realizes for many people — particularly the poor — to get photo IDs. This is especially true in urban areas where many people do not drive. And these laws then become an ingenious way to stop poor, usually Democrat, voters from being able to exercise their franchise right. The other problem with these laws is that they address a false problem: no one has reported or provided evidence of voter ID fraud (e.g. impersonating a registered voter). As Liptak notes:

The available evidence, thin though it is on both sides, does suggest that “the number of legitimate voters who would fail to bring photo identification to the polls is several times higher than the number of fraudulent voters,” Spencer A. Overton, a law professor at George Washington University, wrote in an article on voter identification published in the Michigan Law Review in February.

Seems the Supreme Court is in agreement that this is an issue of constitutional proportions; after its issue conference yesterday, it granted certiorari and will hear an appeal of Posner’s decision. Given the rightward shift the Court has taken over the last few years (well, over the last few decades too, but especially over the last few years), I’m skeptical that the outcome will be in favor of the protection of the constitutional rights of the poor.

We. Will. Never. Learn. In. Time.

[ 0 ] September 25, 2007 |

Elementary chaos theory predicts that robots will inevitably rise against their masters. So why this?

Here’s the UXV Combatant, a new class of warship being developed by BAE Systems to fight in the drone wars. BAE believes that the future battlefield will be full of intelligent robots fighting against each other, probably until they realize they can join together to eliminate all humans from Earth. The ship looks and specs, expected to enter service past 2020, look terrifying:

The 8,000-tonne carrier is designed “to launch, operate and recover large numbers of small unmanned vehicles for extended periods” that will operate in land, sea and air.

Via Danger Room. More seriously, the use of UAVs in naval (really, all military) aviation is only going to grow. Even in the USN, people are whispering that the days of the large deck supercarrier are numbered.

The Consequences of Forced Pregnancy

[ 0 ] September 25, 2007 |

If anything is clear about the politics of aboriton, it’s that criminalization does relatively little to protect fetal life but a great deal to endanger the health of women. Jill points us (among other examples) to Uganda, where “as many as 1200 Ugandan women die every year as a result of unsafe abortions.” See also Latin America.


[ 0 ] September 25, 2007 |

Beauty pageant — or, as their organizers would prefer to call them. “scholarship pageant” winners — ripped off and denied their scholarship money.

A Crisis of Pants

[ 0 ] September 24, 2007 |

For all of my adult life I have been plagued by the question of pant-size availability. Is it hard to find 38×32 pants because the size is extremely common, or because it’s extremely uncommon?

Yeah, they pretty much said the same thing about the Sand Creek Massacre

[ 0 ] September 24, 2007 |

If he weren’t merely fulfilling one of the emptiest of right-wing obligations for seeking the presidency, I’d have to nominate this as about the most objectively ahistorical thing I’ve heard in a while:

“You know, you look back over our history, and it doesn’t take you long to realize that our people have shed more blood for other people’s liberty than any other combination of nations in the history of the world.”

Now, I take it for granted that Fred Thompson is no more likely to “look back over our history” than he is to carefully essay his own incoherent definition of federalism. Still, if Thompson wants to give it a shot, he can begin with this sort of thing, which of course occurred in mundane abundance as Fred’s “people” shed blood — other folks’ blood, that is — in behalf of their own — and apparently mutually exclusive — notion of “liberty.”

The camp had been fired and the dead bodies of some twenty-two women and children were lying scattered over the ground; those who had been wounded in the first instance, had their brains beaten out with stones. Two of the best-looking of the squaws were lying in such a position, and from the appearance of the genital organs and of their wounds, there can be no doubt that they were first ravished and then shot dead. Nearly all the dead were mutilated. One infant of some ten months was shot twice and one leg nearly hacked off.

I’m sure this will sound a little overwrought, but it’s still a point I think worth making: As much as anyone else, nations that originate from European settler societies should probably not be in the business of encouraging unreflective conversations about “other people’s liberty.”

He Just Sounds Tired…

[ 0 ] September 24, 2007 |

The “Fighting Words” description doesn’t seem to fit Hitch’s column today; he seems like nothing so much as a tired, beaten man, vainly grasping for relevance as he pushes out a few more paragraphs. I suppose he gets some mild credit for being the last man on earth capable of writing the following without irony:

George Bush at his worst is preferable to Gerhard Schröder or Jacques Chirac—politicians who put their own countries in pawn to Putin and the Chinese and the Saudis.

Right; because this administration is notable primarily for standing up to the Saudis and Chinese on…. well, I’m not sure, but maybe it makes sense in Hitch’s world. On the 2008 election:

Sen. Obama cannot possibly believe, and doesn’t even act as if he believes, that he can be elected president of the United States next year.

It’s as if he’s having a conversation with himself without realizing he’s by himself; he nods along to what he fancies are clever observations, reinforcing in his own mind the idea that he has something useful to contribute. In the end (and this is really the worst thing that can happen to a self-described contrarian) he’s not so much wrong as just not making any sense. There’s not enough substance to generate disagreement; all he produces is the kind of mild fascination/pity we reserve for the guy muttering to himself at the bar.

I remind you that Gore was once a stern advocate of the removal of Saddam Hussein, and that in office he might well not be the coward or apologist that the crowd is still hoping to nominate.

Right…. The idea that Al Gore would have invaded Iraq (despite Gore’s early and often opposition to the war) requires extraordinary intellectual contortions, but remains beloved of both raving liberal hawks and raving Naderites. Since Hitch is, in some sense, a member of both groups, it’s not surprising that he holds to it. Even here, though, it doesn’t really seem like he believes it. He kind of hopes that Gore might have invaded Iraq, but he can’t summon the enthusiasm to animate that idea with any rhetorical force.

Really, there’s nothing more sad than a contrarian who evokes more pathos than anger.

The Hidden Rightward Shift

[ 0 ] September 24, 2007 |

Jeff Rosen has a very good piece on John Paul Stevens in the Times Magazine. The central point is that Stevens isn’t so much a liberal as someone who plays one on the Rehnquist and Burger Courts:

Stevens, however, is an improbable liberal icon. “I don’t think of myself as a liberal at all,” he told me during a recent interview in his chambers, laughing and shaking his head. “I think as part of my general politics, I’m pretty darn conservative.” Stevens said that his views haven’t changed since 1975, when as a moderate Republican he was appointed by President Gerald Ford to the Supreme Court. Stevens’s judicial hero is Potter Stewart, the Republican centrist, whom Stevens has said he admires more than all of the other justices with whom he has served. He considers himself a “judicial conservative,” he said, and only appears liberal today because he has been surrounded by increasingly conservative colleagues. “Including myself,” he said, “every judge who’s been appointed to the court since Lewis Powell” — nominated by Richard Nixon in 1971 — “has been more conservative than his or her predecessor. Except maybe Justice Ginsburg. That’s bound to have an effect on the court.”

It is a measure of how not only how much the Court has changed but how much the Republican Party has changed that Rockefeller Republicans now seem like liberals on the Supreme Court. There’s no Brennan, Marshall or Douglas on the modern Court. There have been some liberal advances, but that have been mostly modest expansions of existing doctrines agreeable to moderate northern Republicans: overturning a widely derided 5-4 decision that the swing vote repudiated almost immediately to strike down laws that were sporadically and arbitrarily enforced, and striking down a couple unusual applications of the death penalty that represent a small fraction of the total number of cases. And as Souter demonstrated, a Harlan-like incrementalist is obviously going to look more liberal after the Warren Court than when on the Warren Court.

The other thing to mention here is that the Burger and (especially) Rehnquist Court shifted doctrine to the right in subtle ways that makes it seem as if it changed less than it did. It’s true that the Court has generally avoided overturning major Warren Court landmarks — but it has often substantially alerted their content. The Court, of course, has never considered overturning Brown, but it has defined it to require only formalistic non-segregation as opposed to actual substantive desegregation (and has also made it very difficult for school districts to voluntarily desegregate.) Miranda has never been overturned, but any number of exceptions to it have been carved out. Casey is remembered primarily for re-affirming Roe, but also allowed the states (and the federal government) substantially more leeway to regulate abortion. And so on. Especially when dealing with the Roberts Court, it’s important to look at the substantive outcomes of the cases, not at how they characterize the precedents.

Ray of Light

[ 0 ] September 24, 2007 |

Those of us discouraged by Clinton’s imminent victories in the Democratic primary got some great news: George Bush has predicted that 1)Clinton will win the nomination, and 2)the GOP will win the election. Given his track record, I’d buy up Obama presidential contracts in the election markets right now!

Missouri Double Header

[ 0 ] September 24, 2007 |

A double dose of Missouri news today.

First the good: The state’s intermediate court has held that the state’s fetal homicide law, which allows criminal charges against third parties who harm a pregnant woman and her fetus, cannot be applied to the pregnant woman herself. Janet Wade tested positive for marijuana and methamphetamine while she was pregnant. She was charged with felony child endangerment in the first degree. The trial court threw out the case, and the appeals court has now done the same, holding that the state’s law, which explicitly exempts women from prosecution based on harm (or the fear of harm) to their fetuses, cannot be applied to women like Ms. Wade. The state will not appeal to the MO supreme court, though the legislature could amend the law to remove that exception (as other states have done).

And now the maybe good, maybe bad: The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals will this week consider whether a state prison violates an incarcerated woman’s constitutional rights by denying her transportation and leave to obtain an abortion. The state’s decision not to transport women was held unconstitutional in the district court. About seven percent of incarcerated women are pregnant at the time they are sentenced.

Guess we’ll have to wait and see (probably a long time given how long the appellate courts take to hand down decisions) whether Missouri will be two-for-two.

If Only I Knew Then What I Know Now

[ 0 ] September 24, 2007 |

Well, this is a bummer.

Worst American Birthdays, vol. 25

[ 0 ] September 24, 2007 |

I consider, therefore, the prime mission of the ideal American commonwealth to be the perfection of the Aryan genius for political civilization, upon the basis of a predominantly Teutonic nationality[.] If such, in truth, be the transcendent mission of the American commonwealth, . . . what folly, on the part of the ignorant, what wickedness, on the part of the intelligent, are involved in the attempts, on the one side to sectionalize the nation, or on the other, to pollute it with non-Aryan elements. Both have tried, and both, thanks to an all-wise Providence, have failed; for both were sins against American civilization, and both were sins of the highest order.

— John Burgess, “The Ideal of the American Commonwealth”
Political Science Quarterly (1895)

Lou Dobbs turns 62 today.

The life of Lou Dobbs is a familiar rags-to-shithead fable. After growing up in small towns in Texas and Idaho, Dobbs managed to earn admission and a full scholarship to Harvard. During his sophomore year, he found himself “mesmerized” during a debate between Paul Samuelson and Milton Friedman at MIT, and — inspired by the evangelical, free-market warbles of the latter — he soon chose a major in economics. By the mid-1970s, a series of meanders led Dobbs to journalism, and he eventually found himself with a job at CNN. Having toiled away the next two decades as a sycophantic financial correspondent, Dobbs — like all fake populists — eventually found glory by persuading himself that the republic faced coequal perils. In an era of Bush capitalism, Dobbs saw the nation’s vitality sapped by venal, corporate aristocrats and their government abettors; at the same time, his viscera trembled as he watched a subproletarian army of gardeners, dishwashers and day laborers spill forth from Mexico and all points south.

These days, the ample jowls of Lou Dobbs can be seen every night of the week, undulating like two sacks of warm, curdled cheese as he charts the alien menace infiltrating our southern border. Dobbs, who once described the Minutemen as a “terrific group of concerned, caring Americans,” decided over two years ago to turn his show into a karaoke machine for nativist misinformation and vigilantism; since then, he has addressed the subject of immigration with an angry, masturbatory zeal, warning his viewers of the economic rot, cultural disarray and biological pestilence that will presumably result from the endless, unthwarted flow of “illegals” to the United States. To lend “perspective” on these issues, Dobbs routinely offers air time to race-baiting trogs like Glenn Spencer of the American Patrol, Chris Simcox of the Minutemen, and Barbara Coe of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform. In one of Dobbs’ finer moments of racist demagoguery, he actually ran a map sourced to the Council of Conservative Citizens, a group that promotes the baseless rumor that Chicanos wish to recapture “Aztlan,” the Mexican territory lost to the US in 1848. To be sure, adherents to such beliefs are not difficult to find — and even less so now that Fightin’ Lou has offered their ressentiment a higher amplitude and an undeserved aura of legitimacy.

Nice work, Lou.

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