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1969 Sino-Soviet War

[ 8 ] May 15, 2010 |

This claim has appeared in a few other places, but apparently without the official sanction:

Liu Chenshan, the author of a series of articles that chronicle the five times China has faced a nuclear threat since 1949, wrote that the most serious threat came in 1969 at the height of a bitter border dispute between Moscow and Beijing that left more than one thousand people dead on both sides.

He said Soviet diplomats warned Washington of Moscow’s plans “to wipe out the Chinese threat and get rid of this modern adventurer,” with a nuclear strike, asking the US to remain neutral.

But, he says, Washington told Moscow the United States would not stand idly by but launch its own nuclear attack against the Soviet Union if it attacked China, loosing nuclear missiles at 130 Soviet cities. The threat worked, he added, and made Moscow think twice, while forcing the two countries to regulate their border dispute at the negotiating table.

Some observations:

  1. Even if the USSR mooted the idea of a nuclear attack on China to the United States, it doesn’t mean that such an attack would actually have been carried out. Soviet conventional capabilities greatly exceeded Chinese, although perhaps not to the degree that the Russians could have ensured the destruction of China’s (fairly primitive) atomic forces without resort to nuclear attack. Suggesting to Washington that an attack was imminent may just have been an attempt to feel out the Nixon administration’s attitude towards China.
  2. Even if the US insisted it would respond to an attack on China by nuking the USSR, it doesn’t mean that such a response would have been undertaken. Nixon would have every incentive to bluff in this situation, and I have serious doubts as to whether he would have been willing to go full Armageddon in defense of the PRC. Obviously, the US had made neither an explicit nor implicit security guarantee to Beijing, minimizing potential reputational effects of a non-response. Of course, the threat of a nuclear response against Moscow would carry its own costs without follow-through.
  3. Launching nukes against China would have been an incomparably bad idea on the part of Moscow. Even assuming that the Russians managed to destroy the Chinese nuclear deterrent, it’s unlikely that the Russians would have been willing to completely destroy China as a political and cultural entity. We now know that the Soviet leadership was a) sensitive to international opinion, and b) at least somewhat nervous about the idea of butchering hundreds of millions of people. A nuclear attack to settle a border dispute would not have sat well with anyone in either the West or the Third World, and probably would have incurred serious resistance from within the CPSU.

The Apocryphal Cocktail Party Gambit

[ 11 ] May 15, 2010 |

This is true:

Thers’ Fifth Iron Law of the Internets: Twice as many people have gone on the Internet to claim they stopped being liberals because of things said at coastal liberal cocktail parties than, statistically speaking, could have ever attended coastal liberal cocktail parties to begin with.

The article that inspired the observation is a real classic of the genre. I especially liked the bit about how Texas isn’t the conservative state everyone else of every political persuasion sees it as being because it “has had 48 governors; six were Republicans.” Coke Stevenson, what a liberal icon! I would suggest that the author skip the next non-existent cocktail party put on by obsessive New Yorker readers and spend some time googling “one-party South” or perhaps even “white primary.”

Caitlin Flanagan

[ 4 ] May 15, 2010 |

Shouldn’t a one-trick pony have a better trick? Although if you’re going to base reactionary generalizations about gender and sexuality on (sometimes apocryphal) anecdotes proving an epidemic of orgies and the death of relationships among young adults, you might as well go all the way and just treat novels as psychological research.

I think we’ve found the subject of her next article.

First As Tragedy, Second As Farce

[ 11 ] May 14, 2010 |

I guess the lesson is that the Bruins should avoid 3-0 leads of all kinds…

God doesn’t save idiots, Eli

[ 3 ] May 14, 2010 |

Via Linkmeister, it appears that the Republican senator from my state is worried that small oil producers who can’t shoulder the risk will be deterred from imperiling offshore marine environment.

Always looking out for the little guy. How thoughtful of her.

Fun With Historical Counterfactuals: Did Brown‘s Unanimity Matter?

[ 29 ] May 14, 2010 |

I’ve been having a conversation with the very sharp Silvana Naguib. Particularly since my general position on this is on the record, and I think the analysis applies to anybody Obama might have appointed, rather than turn this into the umpteenth Kagan post let’s talk about Brown v. Board instead.

As I mentioned in the post below, I think that Mark Tushnet makes an excellent case in his underrated biography of Thurgood Marshall that had the Vinson Court issued an opinion rather than holding the case over for re-hearing it would have ruled school segregation unconstitutional. But of course the influence of Warren is presumed not just to be in Brown’s holding but in the fact that he was able to generate a unanimous opinion despite the initial skepticism of several of his brethren. The ability of Warren to get Jackson to keep his threatened concurrence to himself, strong-arm Stanley Reed into joining the majority, etc. is the kind of statesmanship and ability to persuade that it’s the hot thing to look for in a Supreme Court justice. But the key question is whether any of this maneuvering mattered? My answer: Brown being a unanimous opinion probably had no impact on its short or long term acceptance, and the general tradition of requiring unanimity of in desegregation cases if anything had a net negative impact on desegregation Southern schools.

With respect to the short-term reaction to Brown, the evidence is about as clear as a counterfactual can be. It’s hard to imagine how an 8-1 or 7-2 opinion could have generated any more resistance. There was basically no school integration in the Deep South before the Civil Rights Act. Most Southern members of Congress signed a manifesto declaring the opinion lawless. Southern politics became so radicalized that it became almost impossible to be too racist when you were running office. I don’t really see how a dissent could have made things worse. And long-term, Brown was always going to be accepted because the Court got itself on the right side of history. The only plausible impact of a dissent by Reed would have been a permanent stain on Reed’s reputation. I don’t see how Brown‘s unanimity mattered.

Moreover, as Michael Klarman (who I think is much more sympathetic to this general line of reasoning) has pointed out, the “all deliberate speed” formulation that was cooked up to keep everyone on board in Brown II probably had a small net negative impact on integration in the South. As Black and Douglas always understood, there was never going to be more than token integration in the near term. But the some of the federal judges in the South who might have felt to compelled to obey a clear directive had no reason to issue strong pro-desegregation rulings when the Supreme Court’s controlling opinion didn’t actually require them to do anything. A Court that was less concerned about a futile attempt to persuade Southern moderates and that had just issued a short follow-up ruling saying that school segregation was unconstitutional now might have had some slight positive impact on integrating Southern schools, although any opinion it issued would have been widely resisted.

A final argument in favor of the impact of Warren’s persuasive abilities might be that the tradition of unanimity in desegregation opinions increased support for vigilance on the part of the federal courts. But it’s hard to see how this is true. The the case where the tradition of unanimity was abandoned involved a holding that a segregated and unequal public school system was constitutional. And of course Parents Involved has starkly indicated the extent to which Brown has come to stand for a nearly meaningless formalism that now actually prevents some school districts from trying to integrate their schools. Again, it’s hard to see how the unanimity of Brown mattered here.

In essence, Supreme Court decisions are ultimately judged by results: not by the reasoning, and not by the vote lineups. If persuasive ability matters, it’s only to the extent that it can affect swing votes (and even then cases where this is possible are likely to be very rare.)

Breaking!!!!! We Have Evidence That Erick Erickson Isn’t Very Bright!!!!!

[ 16 ] May 14, 2010 |

Shorter Erick Erickson: If, like me, you’re not sufficiently literate to distinguish between normative and empirical arguments, than Elena Kagan is a total socialist!!!!!!! Because everybody pretty much believes everything they believed is an undergraduate!!!!!!!!

I’m not even sure what the point is — I mean, please, torpedo her nomination! — but attempts to prove that Kagan is a radical leftist are going to be especially feeble. Or, in other words, made for Erick Erickson.

[Image credit.]

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“Countering” Terror By Eroding Justice

[ 23 ] May 14, 2010 |

Everyone needs to read Glenn Greenwald’s analysis of the shift from denying basic human rights to non-US terror suspects under Bush/Cheney, to denying such rights to American citizens under Obama/Biden.

A bipartisan group from Congress sponsors legislation to strip Americans of their citizenship based on Terrorism accusations. Barack Obama claims the right to assassinate Americans far from any battlefield and with no due process of any kind. The Obama administration begins covertly abandoning long-standing Miranda protections for American suspects by vastly expanding what had long been a very narrow “public safety” exception, and now Eric Holder explicitly advocates legislation to codify that erosion. John McCain and Joe Lieberman introduce legislation to bar all Terrorism suspects, including Americans arrested on U.S. soil, from being tried in civilian courts, and former Bush officials Bill Burck and Dana Perino — while noting (correctly) that Holder’s Miranda proposal constitutes a concession to the right-wing claim that Miranda is too restrictive — today demand that U.S. citizens accused of Terrorism and arrested on U.S. soil be treated as enemy combatants and thus denied even the most basic legal protections (including the right to be charged and have access to a lawyer).

I tend to think we should care just as much about our government’s treatment of non-citizens as we do of citizens, but Greenwald argues that this new trend is particularly disturbing in political terms:

There is, of course, no moral difference between subjecting citizens and non-citizens to abusive or tyrannical treatment. But as a practical matter, the dangers intensify when the denial of rights is aimed at a government’s own population. The ultimate check on any government is its own citizenry; vesting political leaders with oppressive domestic authority uniquely empowers them to avoid accountability and deter dissent.

He declines however to suggest what ought to be done to change this trend – in other words, is it too late for dissent to make a difference? I welcome readers’ ideas. I think many voters thought they’d already taken the appropriate step by electing a progressive, pro-civil liberties leader. With the writing on the wall, what now?

Reader Feedback: Sherman Minton And, Yes, Sam Alito Is Very Conservative Edition

[ 21 ] May 14, 2010 |

A couple questions/retorts to the post below are worthy of response. First, from Erik:

What I find really interesting about this data is that every one of Truman’s selections to the court turned out pretty conservative. What was Truman thinking in making his selections?

To oversimplify only very slightly, Truman’s primary concern in his appointments was rewarding his cronies and poker buddies. The results of this basically anticipated Byron White — Cold War liberals at the dawn and entrenchment of McCarthyism, Truman’s appointees had hideously awful records on civil liberties. It must be said, though, that since Cold War imperatives compelled at least some measure of opposition to Southern apartheid, Truman’s appointees actually had a good record on civil rights, going along with a series of pathbreaking anti-segregation decisions. Indeed, to preview an issue I’m going to get to in a couple posts tomorrow, I’m persuaded by Mark Tushnet’s contrarian case that even had the much-maligned Fred Vinson not suddenly passed away, the Court (with Vinson in the majority) would have ruled school segregation unconstitutional.

David Nieporent, meanwhile, objects to my TAPPED post:

I do like your TAPPED post, where you argue that if we throw out most of the data that contradicts your beliefs, then your beliefs are strongly confirmed by the remaining data.

If you’ll click through, you’ll note first of all that this is flatly erroneous. The Althouse/Taylor position is that liberals were crazy to oppose Alito because he was much more moderate than Scalia. Even at face value, the data shows that Alito (and Roberts) are just as conservative as Scalia and only marginally less conservative than Thomas. So, in short, I was right and they were wrong, which isn’t very surprising given that their position never had any supporting evidence.

But as to my additional point — that if you look at meaningful votes Alito and Roberts would look much more conservative than Scalia — I certainly stand behind it. I’ve listed some examples in comments, but let me turn things over to Robert Gordon:

While Alito goes to conservative places Scalia won’t, the more telling point is that Scalia goes to liberal places Alito won’t. Scalia has a libertarian streak that can yield surprising results. In a 5-4 decision, Scalia found that the government could not, without a warrant, use a sophisticated thermal imaging device to figure out what you are doing in your home—whether growing marijuana or making whoopee. And Scalia dissented from a decision upholding mandatory drug testing for Customs employees, charging that it is a “kind of immolation of privacy and human dignity in symbolic opposition to drug use.” When his libertarianism combines with his (sometime) commitment to “original intent,” Scalia offers other surprises: Last year he wrote an eloquent opinion concluding that the president lacked power to detain enemy combatants. Only the court’s most liberal member, John Paul Stevens, joined that position; Stephen Breyer, another liberal, provided the key vote for a controlling view friendlier to the president. And unlike other conservative colleagues, Scalia has endorsed sharp limits on the power of judges to lengthen sentences for defendants, the power of prosecutors to use hearsay evidence, and the power of police officers to detain defendants before arraignment.

And since Alito joined the court we’ve seen further cases in which Scalia has cast a decisive vote for a liberal position (over Alito’s dissent, joined by Roberts) and in which Scalia and Thomas have cast liberal votes against conservative majority opinions joined by Alito and Roberts. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe there’s no example in a major case of Alito or Roberts either casting a decisive vote for a liberal opinion or dissenting from the left. So, in other words, the data actually understate the relative conservatism of Alito and Roberts. If you’re bringing a civil liberties lawsuit or trying to get a punitive damages judgment upheld, you might have a chance with Scalia or even Thomas — but the votes of Alito and Roberts will only be in play if you’ve already won. So, functionally, Roberts and Alito are the two most reactionary justices since James McReynolds.

Unilateral Disarmament

[ 28 ] May 13, 2010 |

I think this data, which I discuss here, needs to be much more widely circulated:

And I think this data — because it can’t fully account for shifts in the center of gravity in the Court — actually understates the asymmetry between the current “conservative” and “Rockefeller Republican liberal” wings. Very few legal scholars, I think, would see Burger (74) as comparably conservative to Scalia (76) — but of course there’s a difference between being “conservative” compared with majority opinions being frequently written by Powell and Stewart and Brennan, as opposed to being “conservative” compared with majority opinions frequently being written by O’Connor and Kennedy and Rehnquist.


[ 10 ] May 13, 2010 |

I think Matt has exactly the right reaction to this Douthat op-ed : what Douthat prevents as a “tradeoff” is just a strong case that providing women access to abortion increases both individual freedom and family stability. Call me crazy, but reducing unwanted births for teenage mothers is…a good thing!

I should also note that the data cited by Douthat also make a complete hash of his frequent assertions that the United States has an “absolutist” pro-choice legal regime. Rather, state governments are allowed to regulate abortion in a lot of ways, and while these regulations don’t have huge effects on overall abortion rates they do make it much harder for women from whom the consequences of being forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term are most dire to obtain abortions. I think this explains why Douthat needs to be dishonest about what Casey actually holds; he’s certainly not going to opposed these kinds of regulations, but the desirability of “the status quo with more teenage mothers and desperately poor mothers” outcome Douthat is implicitly supporting is…far from self-evident.

A Brief Essay On How Political Power Functions In The United States (With Bonus Campaign Updates!)

[ 24 ] May 12, 2010 |

When I started blogging about the nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, I expected the effect to be what most of you did: that Obama would withdraw the nomination, announce that it had been a belated April Fool’s Day joke, and immediately announce the nomination of Zombie Thurgood Marshall as Associate Justice. Strangely, this has not occurred. Some calls to my many well-placed sources within the administration have confirmed the most logical explanation for why Kagan remains the nominee. Obama, Senator Leahy, and their top advisers read and carefully considered my blog posts, agreed that I was correct, and began to prepare the appropriate press release. Unfortunately, the re-animation of former Justice Marshall had not been fully completed — Glenn Reynolds decided to join up with Jeff Sessions’ Restore James McReynolds project instead. It being too late in the day to begin the thawing of Jim Nabors William O. Douglas, the administration reluctantly concluded that Kagan’s nomination had to go forward.

This will all be obvious to most of LGM’s politically sophisticated readership. Some commenters, however, have advanced the radical thesis that my blog posts have not had a direct effect on the nomination and confirmation process. Now, it’s one thing if people get the bizarre idea that nobody in America’s political and economic elite knows who I am or cares what I think about anything. I can take the slings and arrows! But what if some gullible readers — despite all of the authoritative pronouncements of Roger L. Simon and Jeff Jarvis — get the idea that C-list political blogs are not at the apex of political power in the United States? I find it highly distressing that anyone could deny this obvious truth.

However! Lest you get the idea that I’m not a hugely influential muckety-muck, I have been made part of the highly exclusive mass campaign email list of Mickey Kaus, who at least in some formal sense is a candidate for the Democratic nomination for Senator. Why, that position entails almost as much power as writing blog posts! So allow me to share the latest campaign news:

He has appeared on a radio call in-show neither you nor I have ever heard of, but that probably has an influence among Democratic primary voters almost equal to that of Smooth Billy Bennett!

An op-ed about the influence of unions “will be unveiled somewhere soon.”  About time — I’m sick of Kaus’s position on this issue remaining a secret!

The LA Times will be remaining neutral!

A lot of other unspecified things will be happening soon!

Hey, when he’s the nominee, don’t forget who made it happen…

[Picture stolen from FMK.]