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Court Gossip

[ 0 ] September 20, 2007 |

From a (generally unfavorable) David Garrow review of Jeffrey Toobin’s new Brethrenesque book about the Supreme Court:

Toobin devotes two chapters to Bush vs. Gore, the case that decided the 2000 presidential election. He asserts, based on unidentified sources, that Justice Anthony M. Kennedy was overly eager for the court to resolve the dispute even before it came to them. He also stresses that Justice Stephen G. Breyer felt that the Florida Supreme Court’s decision to order a statewide recount “didn’t pass the smell test.” He relies heavily on not-for-attribution comments from law clerks who worked for the court that year, and he states that the clerks “set the tone in the building” each year, not the justices.

Obviously, one has to take off-the-record assertions from clerks with several grains of salt. But this rings true to me, partly because it seems consistent with the resolution of the cases. There are other sources confirming that Kennedy’s vote was never in play, and his claim in his abjectly embarrassing opinion in Bush v. Gore that the Court has exercising its “unsought responsibility” can be most charitably described as black comedy. Meanwhile, if the story about Breyer is true this would help to explain why Breyer didn’t — as I would have — pull his dissent when it became clear that Kennedy was playing him for a sucker. Apparently, he actually thought (unlike the majority) that there was an equal protection problem with the recount and was willing to apply it seriously. But it still makes no sense for Breyer to make this argument after he signed an opinion specifically instructing the Florida courts not to apply a statewide standard; like the majority, the impossibility created by his collective positions is basically inconsistent with the rule of law.

Meanwhile, like Michael O’Donnell, I have to admit that however dubious Toobin’s analysis is I’m happy to have some good clerk gossip, and he passes along more of the book’s dish: for example, “After Rehnquist died, Dick Cheney pressed for hunting buddy Antonin Scalia to be named chief justice.” Apparently, the book also repeats something I’ve discussed before — Ginsburg circulated an appropriately tough dissent in Bush v. Gore but immediately withdrew the passages that offended Scalia after he complained. (Coming from Scalia, these complaints about tough rhetoric exposing the illogic of a majority opinion are especially ridiculous, and I still can’t believe that Ginsburg would give in to the bullying.) He also claims that Souter wept and almost resigned after Bush v. Gore, although as Garrow points out this has been rebutted by Warren Rudman and Souter is known for his relatively leak-free chambers.

Today in Good Lines

[ 0 ] September 20, 2007 |

Garance reminds me of Belle Waring on Fred Thompson: “First of all, are women voters, taken as a whole, really so much like retarded kittens in our motivations? And secondly, doesn’t Fred Thompson pretty much look like a basset hound who’s just taken a really satisfying shit in your hall closet? Finally, even if we restrict our field of play to Republicans who have played prosecutors in the later seasons of Law and Order, I would much, much rather have sex with Angie Harmon, even though I’m not gay.” Indeed.

Of course, his objective attractiveness has nothing to do with why (predominantly heterosexual male) political reporters believe him the height of rugged handsomeness. Rather, it’s because he’s a Republican, and hence therefore represents an ideal type of masculinity to some journalists, just like America’s Mayor and Straight Talkin’ John McCain. (Alas, given his history when Matthews called Thompson an Aqua Velva man I’m pretty sure he meant it as a compliment.)

…I think this from Michelle Cottle’s profile, about conservative activists who seem to think they’re voting for his Law & Order character, is also relevant:

Happily for Thompson, his on-screen record of leadership is more successful–and vastly better known. Indeed, his four-year stint playing District Attorney Arthur Branch on “Law & Order” is arguably his number-one qualification for a presidential run. It’s not merely that Thompson’s character is a commanding yet avuncular figure; it’s that he’s an explicitly and appealingly conservative one, a type you don’t often find on network television. Within the context of the show, Branch is a down-to-earth, common-sense conservative surrounded by twitchy liberal Manhattan types whom he can lecture about their squeamishness on capital punishment and their ludicrously broad interpretations of the Constitution.

Authoritative but not authoritarian, paternal but not tyrannical, strong but not scary, Branch is, in many ways, the portrait of an ideal conservative. And, in the minds of countless Americans–including many inside the Beltway–Fred Thompson is Arthur Branch. As Bob Novak put it in a column a few months ago, “Sophisticated social conservative activists tell me they … are coming to see [Fred] Thompson as the only conservative who can be nominated. Their appreciation of him stems not from his eight years as a U.S. senator from Tennessee but from his role as district attorney of Manhattan on Law & Order.” One shudders to think how the unsophisticated activists decide whom to support.

I guess they didn’t learn their lesson with George Allen

McCarthy on Film

[ 0 ] September 20, 2007 |

Erik points out that John Hillcoat of The Proposition is set to direct Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, with Viggo Mortensen starring as the father character. Like Erik, I have mixed feelings. I didn’t really care for The Proposition, so I can’t say that Hillcoat’s participation has me enthused. On the other hand, I think Mortensen is an inspired choice (based largely on his outstanding work in History of Violence), and I don’t think that The Road is unfilmable in the same way that I think Blood Meridian is unfilmable. Speaking of the latter, I’m extremely skeptical of this Ridley Scott project.

I’m psyched, however, about No Country for Old Men. It’s a weak novel, but weak novels can make fantastic movies, and there’s something weirdly appropriate to my mind about the mating of McCarthy with the Coen brothers. McCarthy’s Anton Chigurh was just strange and not terribly appropriate, but the Coens’ films often drop a strangely violent and alien character into the middle of an otherwise conventional narrative. I’m very optimistic.

The Pretentious, Highly Unreliable Music Criticism Gap

[ 0 ] September 20, 2007 |

Apparently Pitchfork is an almost entirely all-male preserve — indeed, there are more reviews by guys named “Mark” than by women. [Via Ann and Amanda , the latter of whom explains why women leave the otherwise promising field of Insufferable Music snobbery.]

Beef…it’s what’s for dinner

[ 0 ] September 19, 2007 |

If you think eating meat is presumptively bad, skip this post.

Yum. Beef. It’s what’s for dinner — for tonight at least. For me, and for Frank Bruni too.

Last month, Scott (yes, Lemieux) and I went to Peter Luger’s. We had a great meal. Super service, the best steak I have had in a long while (if not ever) — perfectly charred . Sure, the wine list was lacking. But it was a superior meal.

So I was a bit disappointed — though not surprised — to see Frank Bruni (for whom I have previously expressed my contempt) downgrade Luger’s today to two stars (from its Ruth Reichl anointed three). For Bruni – who knows less about food than he does about pretty much anything else – it was a serviceable review. He’s right about that wine list, but wrong, I think, about the service and the location (gasp! Brooklyn!).

Anyway, all of this talk of Luger’s got me thinking about burgers, perhaps my all-time favorite comfort food. After a crummy day today (don’t ask), a burger was just what I needed, so I headed to the Corner Bistro, home to my all-time favorite burger (with the possible exception of Louis’ Lunch). Best meal in town. Plus you get a burger, beer, and fries for just about ten bucks. By New York standards, that’s unheard of.

All of which is to say this: I hear you, non-meat-eaters and ethical food proponents. But as long as Corner Bistro and Luger’s are around, I’ll have to make exceptions.

Is Clinton Evitable?

[ 0 ] September 19, 2007 |

Matt said recently that he “feels like Clinton is drawing close to checkmating her opponents.” Dana reminds us that it’s still early; Ezra avers that “it’s hard to make up 20 points when you won’t take chances.”

Understanding that a lot can happen, etc., and without quite being ready enough to say “lock,” I think that it’s pretty much over. What allowed Kerry to come out of nowhere was concerns about Dean compounded by the inept, undisciplined endgame to his Iowa campaign. Clinton, whatever else one can say about her, is a very disciplined campaigner; she’ll be very, very difficult to haul down from behind. I’m also inclined to think, given her strong basic political abilities and her lead, that the fact that she was two viable opponents probably helps her more than anything; both Obama and Edwards will stay in long enough to prevent a single anti-Clinton candidate from emerging until it’s too late. This is unfortunate, given that I think she’s both the least progressive and the weakest presidential candidate of the three, but I would be extremely surprised if she wasn’t the nominee.


[ 0 ] September 19, 2007 |

Fascinating; I find out that David Brin has a Daily Kos diary and a blog on the same day that I teach David Brin’s Thor Meets Captain America in National Security Policy.

It’s interesting, because I’ve been assigning that story for years, but I’d never had any idea about Brin’s politics until now. However, it probably shouldn’t be all that surprising, given that the reason I use the story is to demonstrate that there really are some things that we won’t do in the service of national security. I think that this notion is really the heart of a progressive vision of foreign policy and national security; the idea that we have or ought to have certain values as Americans, and that abandoning these values in the pursuit of additional security is really to abandon the idea of America, and consequently the point of fighting in the first place. This is another way of saying that all national security decisions involve value trade offs, and that understanding these trade offs is a critical element of the national conversation. To borrow from an earlier post, standing against this is a vision of American national security that doesn’t involve value trade offs:

J. Edgar Hoover justified his actions in terms of a defense of “America,” but it remains unclear precisely what that meant to him. Defending “America” doesn’t really mean anything; America is, after all, simply a collection of people, territory, and values. We can agree that some of these things are worth protecting, and others not, and these choices inform how we make value trade-offs; civil liberties in exchange for security from terrorists, for example. For Hoover, liberal Jewish “Harvard” lawyers like Felix Frankfurter represented a threat to “America” that required FBI surveillance, while the Ku Klux Klan and associated Southern lynch mobs were merely a local problem. Failing to specify what it is about America that you propose to protect can be strategic, as it allows you to do pretty much anything you like, but I’m nevertheless interested in how Hoover himself defined the America that he was so eager to protect. He obviously didn’t have much of an interest in civil liberties, or in the value of dissent, or freedom from state surveillance. Indeed, it’s hard to determine what exactly he did believe in. Ackerman is of the view that Hoover simply wasn’t philosophical enough to think in terms of protecting particular values at the expense of others. He undoubtedly thought about the rhetorical uses of protecting “America,” but it’s unlikely that he delved into a lengthy consideration of what that meant. Accordingly, for Hoover there were no trade-offs.

Of course, this is something we return to again and again in the context of George W. Bush’s foreign policy, a series of glittering generalities about freedom, democracy, and American glory without any complex vision of what such things mean, or how these things might be compromised by a fully militarized understanding of American national security. We are offered no contradictions and told there are no value trade-offs; we can have a long war without either taxes or a draft, and we can promote democracy while crushing our enemies (indeed, the more we kill, the more democratic they’ll become).

There’s a reason Loki doesn’t give up his secrets until the very end of Brin’s story; he knows that there are those who will use them, and he understands that this would make everyone worse off.

GOP: Magna Carta Placed Too Many Restrictions on Executive Power

[ 0 ] September 19, 2007 |

The Habeas Restoration bill failed 56-43; Christy has the tally. Unless I missed one, no Democrat voted “naye,” including Nelson, Landrieu, and Conrad. The ever-more-disgraceful Joe Lieberman, of course, did. My question: where exactly is the ongoing “Rebellion or Invasion“? Hopefully the Supreme Court will correct Congress’s straightforward illegality, but it’s the sign of debased politics that they have to.

The Barbour of Jackson

[ 0 ] September 19, 2007 |

Brad Plumer and Noam Scheiber have a good article about the loathsome GOP corporate lackey Haley Barbour, the kind of “small government” Republican who ensures that any budget deal contains plenty of tobacco subsidies. And the kind of “anti-tax” Republican who, given an ultra-regressive 7% grocery tax in the second-poorest state in the country, well:

If the tobacco companies were hoping all this would pay dividends for them in Mississippi, they cannot be disappointed. In 2006, the state legislature passed a so-called “tax swap” bill. Supported by Amy Tuck, the lieutenant governor and, until then, a faithful Barbour ally, the measure would have raised the state’s tobacco tax, one of the country’s lowest, and lowered its ultra-regressive grocery tax. Barbour twice vetoed the plan and twisted enough Republican arms to sustain it–despite the fact that some 70 percent of Mississippians supported the legislation. “The tobacco companies, we barely even saw them,” says Steve Holland, chairman of the House public health committee. “They didn’t have to show up because they had the big boy fighting for them.” To this day, few in the GOP have dared cross Barbour on the matter. Recently, lobbyists from the Mississippi Health Advocacy Program asked several Republicans to pledge to raise the tobacco tax. They encountered near-universal resistance. “A lot of Republicans are saying, Do you know what you’re doing? If I sign this thing, then Haley will come and dump more money into my opponent’s campaign,’” says Roy Mitchell, the program’s director.

This year, legislators tried again, introducing two more bills that would have halved the state’s grocery tax and raised the cigarette tax by $1. Barbour didn’t even lift his veto pen this time around–the bills died at the hands of Senate finance committee chairman Tommy Robertson. Oddly, Robertson had been a vocal advocate of previous tax-swap bills. Earlier this year, however, he and two other Republican legislators–who, in their day jobs, are lawyers–had received a $1.2 million contract from the Mississippi Development Authority, which is overseen by the governor, to help homeowners finalize their Katrina grants. The contract raised more than a few eyebrows. (In an interview, Robertson said the contract–which was cleared by the state ethics commission on a party-line vote–had “absolutely nothing” to do with his stance on the tax swap.)

There’s also some good stuff about Barbour’s contributions to the national GOP’s efforts to bring the Mississippi fiscal and cultural system to the rest of the country. Depressing.

A Brief Visual Survey of Great Disasters (With Apologies to the 1964 Phillies, 1969 Cubs and 1987 Blue Jays)

[ 0 ] September 18, 2007 |

Pompeii, 79 CE.

The Great Fire of London, 1666

Irish Famine, 1840s

Tangshan Earthquake, 1976

Boston Red Sox, 2007?

Seriously, I don’t think I can watch this shit any longer. If someone could please get in touch with me after the season is over and gently fill me in on what happened after September 18, I’d be most appreciative.

UPDATE [By SL]: The thing is, though, that the Red Sox are engaged in a rather genteel form of choking, cushioned by the wild card; while it would be nice to stop the Yankees divisional streak and deprive them of home field in the playoffs, the Red Sox are in no danger of actual elimination. The Mets, on the other hand, seem to be pulling off the full Mauch — not only have they blown two substantial leads to a bad offensive team with nothing to play for in a pitcher’s park, the Phillies seemed close to the kind of heartbreaking losses only the Phillies can pull off and stepped back from the brink. This is very, very ugly.

A related question. What’s the worse move: the Red Sox trading for Gagne, or the Mets trading Brian Bannister for a 5% off Blimpie’s coupon? Maybe it’s me, but I’d have to say I’d rather have Bannister starting crucial games than Brian “Merry Christmas, Mr.” Lawrence…

UPDATE (by d): Scott is absolutely correct, of course. All hyperbole aside, the wild card makes it impossible for a team to duplicate the classic chokes of yore; this is why I wouldn’t put the Angles 1995 debacle — however spectacular — in the same category as, say, the 1964 Phils. If you’ve got the fifth best record in the AL and you miss the playoffs by a single Mark Langston start, there’s not much to lament. And if the Sox wind up with the wild card, their late season flame-out will only barely equal the destruction of Pompeii.

Also, I think Scott should cease his needless devaluations of the Blimpie corporation.

No Surprise Here: Bill Maher is a Misogynist

[ 1 ] September 18, 2007 |

So Bill Maher is funny sometimes. But for the love of whatever, he has got to stop talking about women. At all. Because he can’t do it without demonstrating how much he hates us.

Exhibit A:

Turns out, breastfeeding women “go Janet Jackson” on everyone whenever they breast feed, and shouldn’t get any “special privileges” because all a woman did was make a baby, “which even a dog can do.” Also, breastfeeding is an “intimate act” akin to masturbation. Not to mention that seeing a breast as a non-sexual object makes Maher feel nauseated. The cherry that tops this sundae? When Maher ties breastfeeding to the war in Iraq. I shit you not.

Maher says that the lactivists’ fight for the ability to breastfeed in public (so that pregnancy and child rearing does not impede their ability to continue with their lives) demonstrates that activism has become narcissism (apparently the new term for identity politics). And the narcissistic activism is why the war in Iraq has continued and why it won’t end without a draft. huh?

To Bill Maher, apparently, breasts are the source of the world’s problems (not just his own). Now I’m the one who feels sick.

Legislative Protection For Abortion Access

[ 0 ] September 18, 2007 |

A good article here about the conflict surrounding a new Planned Parenthood clinic in Aurora, IL. The clinic has been delayed by zoning issues with the local government, which is also threatening to pass an inevitably useless parental involvement regulation. The tactic of arbitrarily using zoning or other regulations as a pretext to shut down clinics — see also Missouri, Mississippi, and Ohio — is particularly important, with the potential to place far more severe burdens on abortion access than any of the regulations explicitly upheld in Casey. Such actions also attract much less attention than trying to ban abortion outright.

Obviously, using litigation is one important element of a strategy to counter these methods. However, local abortion regulations like parental notification have already been held to be constitutional, and given the current composition of the federal courts one can’t be optimistic of an “undue burden” standard being applied with much teeth when it comes to states using regulations to shut down safe abortion clinics. In conservative states, this is a serious problem for the time being. But in pro-choice states, supporters of reproductive freedom should push for uniform access laws that prevent localities from obstructing poor women’s abortion access and also prevent zoning laws from treating abortion clinics differently than other non-residential entities. Thinking about ways to legislatively protect abortion rights — as Elliot Spitzer has done in New York — should be an important part of the pro-choice arsenal.

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