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The Paranoid Style, Mainstream GOP Edition

[ 0 ] June 11, 2009 |

It would be irresponsible not to speculate.

Also, Jon Chait on why people Glenn Reynolds need to learn it’s actually possible to be right wing and still hate Jews.


The Fugitive Slave Act, The Freedman’s Bureau, It’s All the Same…

[ 0 ] June 11, 2009 |

Shorter verbatim Jonah Goldberg: “People say, ‘well, why should we be neutral on race when people aren’t neutral about whose family gave more money to a school and all the rest?’ And there’s a longer answer, but a short answer is simply that, you know, we fought a civil war over race. We amended the constitution a couple of times because of race. We had the civil rights act because of race.”

Since you did well in responding to a slightly more concise version of the same silly tautology from John Roberts, over to you, Justice Stevens:

There is a cruel irony in The Chief Justice’s reliance on our decision in Brown v. Board of Education. The first sentence in the concluding paragraph of his opinion states: “Before Brown, schoolchildren were told where they could and could not go to school based on the color of their skin.” This sentence reminds me of Anatole France’s observation: “[T]he majestic equality of the la[w], forbid[s] rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal their bread.”1 The Chief Justice fails to note that it was only black schoolchildren who were so ordered; indeed, the history books do not tell stories of white children struggling to attend black schools. In this and other ways, The Chief Justice rewrites the history of one of this Court’s most important decisions.

I know that this will come as a shock to the nation’s conservatives, but if you’re going to claim that racial classifications intended to promote diversity or account for the effects of past discrimination are the precise equivalent of classifications intended to uphold a violent caste system, you really need to at least make an argument. It’s not self-evident.

And, if we’re going to stop with the mindless formalism, maybe we can start by asking — given this country’s extensive history of public and private apartheid — in what sense legacy admissions can be considered race-neutral.

AMA: Maximizing Profits More Important Than The Health of American Citizens

[ 0 ] June 11, 2009 |

Well, this isn’t surprising. Hopefully, this time parochial interests won’t trump the compelling public interest, although given the extent to which American political institutions favor the former I’m still not inclined to bet on it.

The BH We’ll Never See

[ 0 ] June 11, 2009 |

This is clever.

Worst American Birthdays, vol. 50

[ 0 ] June 11, 2009 |

John Yoo and his uncrushed testicles turned 42 years old today.

Because John Yoo is not, in fact, a conservative at all, he seems unbothered by the fact that his government managed to sustain itself for well over two centuries without relying on the insane legal yodeling for which he’ll forever be remembered. As one of the architects of the previous administration’s “theory of presidential dictatorship”, Yoo developed the uniquely indecent claim that the US Constitution was written with a notion to immunize the executive branch from legislative or judicial constraints during a time of war, the definition and duration of which was limited only by the discretion of the executive branch itself. Believing, furthermore, that international laws governing torture are subordinate to US law (and to the extremely narrow definition of “severe pain” espoused by the OLC), Yoo provided cover to the Bush administration as it turned the US into the world’s most sophisticated torture state. His memos and other public statements have proven at least as disgraceful as the conduct they helped authorize.

While John Yoo’s fantasies of unstrapped executive power are of the sort that inspire nocturnal emissions from the likes of Dick Cheney, they have been properly rejected by nearly everyone else, including the more capable legal minds who succeeded him and his fellow torture apologists after they departed the OLC. In a respectable world, Yoo’s disdain for the rule of law would have brought about genuinely unpleasant consequences for him; we can take some minor comfort, perhaps, in knowing that John Yoo will have to be somewhat careful about where he travels, lest he find himself snared by some of the laws he detests so vigorously.

Deep Thought

[ 0 ] June 10, 2009 |

I wonder which of Ross Douthat and Megan McArdle’s pre-existing policy preferences we’re going to have to institute in order to appease the latest domestic terrorist. Certainly, I don’t think there’s any question that this horrible tragedy could have been averted if only the Supreme Court would overrule Roe v. Wade.

Just imagine

[ 0 ] June 10, 2009 |

If radical Muslims had carried out terrorist attacks in Kansas and Washington DC over the past five days, we might be trying to pass legislation giving the president the legal authority to place people in preventive detention, and Daniel Pipes would be implying that we need to round up Arab-Americans (correction: Muslims) and put them in relocation camps.

But it was only a couple of old white guys, so our civil liberties remain unthreatened.

Update: From the Holocaust Museum shooter’s website:

“In 1981 Von Brunn attempted to place the treasonous Federal Reserve Board of Governors under legal, non-violent, citizens arrest. He was tried in a Washington, D.C. Superior Court; convicted by a Negro jury, Jew/Negro attorneys, and sentenced to prison for eleven years by a Jew judge. A Jew/Negro/White Court of Appeals denied his appeal.”

Nice Reproductive Freedom You’ve Got There, Shame If Something Would Happen To It

[ 1 ] June 10, 2009 |

Given that many people have already critiqued the latest Douthat nonsense on abortion (see also here), for some variety I thought I’d address similar arguments made recently by Megan McArdle. From her response to Hilzoy:

My argument is that abortion, like slavery, is becoming in this country an issue upon which people have no reasonable political recourse. I’ll go further, and say that the process by which 7 judges enforced their consciences on the American public was itself borderline illegitimate; it was first, not in their proper job description, and second, a bad way to run a government.


Questions of fundamental human rights that have been closed off from the normal political process are very likely to produce violence. I can simultaneously, as I do, want Tiller’s murderer given a long jail substance, and worry that we’ve left his fellow lone gunmen no other outlets for their legitimate moral beliefs.

Is it naive to think that the political process would tame this rage? I don’t think so. The political process would always offer some always offer some marginal victory worth fighting for, whereas now, any marginal victory is more likely than not to be struck down by a court.

So much illogic here:

  • The most obvious problems are the ones that afflict all arguments about countermobilization against the Courts: the utter lack of evidence that people respond to judicial policymaking differently than policymaking by other institutions. For example, if judicial intervention into the abortion issue greatly increased political violence, the effect should travel — but it doesn’t. Judicial intervention in Canada hasn’t produced the level of terrorism that we’ve seen in the United States, and indeed hasn’t even produced a major political party that wants to recrciminalize abortion.
  • Even more bizarre is her analogy to slavery. Let’s leave aside the normative offensiveness of the comparison and just discuss how McArdle couldn’t be more wrong about its implications. The issue of slavery, of course, was essentially left to ordinary political processes, with not only the court but the text of the Constitution itself being silent on most of the most important issues. Is she repeating the canard that Dred Scott led to the Civil War? If so, the obvious problem with the argument is that it’s completely false (certainly, Buchanan’s bungling over Lecompton was much more important.) Indeed, the Supreme Court’s decision, while grossly immoral, had pretty much zero policy impact. There was no chance that further restrictions on slavery in the territories would have passed before 1861 (Congressional elites for the mst part strongly supported Dred Scott), Lincoln just ignored it, and then it was overturned by constitutional amendment within a decade. Even more puzzling, Dred Scott created exactly the same kind of arrangement that McArdle claims will stop political violence — leaving fundamental human rights issues “to the states.” State legislatures remained perfectly free to abolish slavery, but somehow this didn’t stop John Brown. Roger Taney was wrong to think that leaving things to the states would decrase political conflict about slavery, and McArdle is wrong to think that allowing some states to force women to carry pregnancy to term would decrease political conflict about abortion.
  • The slavery analogy is also useful in demonstrating that in addition to having no empirical support McArdle’s assumptions make no sense even in theory. Just as abolitionists didn’t think that being established by normal political processes (at least by 19th century standards) made human bondage more acceptable, it seems vanishingly unlikely that terrorists who think that abortion is murder will be content with abortion being legal because of legislative decisions. I don’t know about you, but I would not find the legalization of murder any more acceptable if it was the result of a legislative decision.
  • In addition, I note again the trademark Douthatian claim that there is no possibility of “marginal victories ” for forced pregnancy advocates, when of course for nearly two decades the Supreme Court has made clear that all marginal restrictions on abortion, pre- or post- viability, would be upheld (with the exception of the extremely rare ones that might equally affect women similarly situated to Sandra Day O’Connor.) Most abortion policy, in other words, is left to ordinary political processes. The one major exception — bans on pre-viability abortion — would not be politically viable in many states and almost certainly would allow for a substantial gray market even in states where bans were viable.
  • Finally, McArdle rests on traditional but erroneous assumptions about the independence and “countermajoritarian” nature of the judiciary. In fact, Roe has stood up for as long as it has because it has very substantial political support. It is not correct, for example, to say that the only political option for anti-choicers to oppose Roe is a constitutional amendment; in fact, what they need is five votes on the Court. Abortion remains legal in the United States not because courts were omnipotent but because Robert Bork was defeated by a bipartisan majority in the Senate. Proponents of a virtually unlimited state power to criminalize abortion had access to the political process. They lost.

So I’m afraid I’m not going to sign on to the idea that women’s reproductive rights should be sacrificed for alleged speculative benefits that have pretty much no empirical or theoretical basis. It makes rather more sense to combat terrorism with state power.

NORK Artillery and South Korea

[ 0 ] June 10, 2009 |

Via Mizokami, this website makes some interesting claims about North Korean capability to hit Seoul with artillery in the first hours of a renewed conflict on the Korean Peninsula. The typical argument regarding North Korean capability is that the Norks could wreak severe havoc on Seoul’s civilian population through conventional artillery bombardment from just across the DMZ. This leads to the conclusion that North Korea has a pseudo-nuclear deterrent in the absence of actual weaponized nuclear devices; North Korea can threaten to rain enough destruction down on South Korea that the US and Japan and South Korea could never consider acting aggressively towards the North. The author of the website challenges this argument, suggesting that the North Koreans lack enough long range (50km or greater) artillery to do really serious damage to Seoul, and furthermore that the limited number means that the guns that can hit Seoul would be destroyed by airstrikes at the beginning of any war. Moreover, limitations on tempo, equipment degradation, and morale would severely restrict the ability of North Korea to lay down an extended barrage.

I tend to think that active military belligerance towards North Korea (as opposed to assertive diplomatic and economic action) is a bad idea in any case, but the author isn’t really arguing that the US should invade, just that the consensus on North Korean capability is wrong. I don’t know quite what to make of the argument. Eyeballing the situation on Google Earth, it seems to me that Seoul’s northern suburbs are a lot closer to the DMZ than 50km, which would mean that the extent of North Korean destruction could be much greater. But I haven’t been there, and don’t really know how densely populated these areas are (not to mention other populated areas near the DMZ). Anyone have a better sense of how many people live in close proximity, or a sense of how to evaluate the argument otherwise? If Nork artillery doesn’t pose much of a threat, I’d prefer not to repeat the claim in class…

Brown Lives to Lose Another Election

[ 0 ] June 10, 2009 |

I meant to write about this yesterday, but professional responsibilities interfered: I believe I am setting records for tardiness in submitting my grades for the year. Since I’m the equivalent of department chair, I’m not about to have a meeting with myself over the issue. However, since I also appear to be the proud owner of a 39% overspend in my part time teaching budget, somebody somewhere here will want to meet with me soon enough.

Gordon Brown somehow managed to survive Monday night’s meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party. I’m not surprised. The rebels are disorganized, lacking in coherent strategy or a consensus alternative. When Alan Johnson, the most likely replacement for Brown, was moved into the Home Office the other day, it was fairly clear that dumping Brown was delayed, at best. This was a shrewd tactical move on Brown’s part as the Home Office is an ambition graveyard. But when Michael Portillo comes out in favor of Johnson as Labour’s only hope on May 31, and the Independent reports on a poll that shows a Johnson-led Labour Party would prevent the Tories from attaining an outright Parliamentary majority in an election, Brown had to do something. I’m still mulling over Johnson’s tactical reasons for accepting the post.

Brown, still Prime Minister, is attempting to regain the initiative by flirting with electoral reform, which I will write about soon. Procedurally, he is about a year too late to ward off a probable Tory victory in the next election, of course.

Tail Vigorously Attempts to Wag Dog

[ 0 ] June 10, 2009 |

Now this is fascinating:

In a sign of growing concern in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government over US President Barack Obama’s Middle East policies, Minister-without-Portfolio Yossi Peled proposed Israeli sanctions on the US in a letter to cabinet ministers on Sunday…

In the interim, the minister suggests reconsidering military and civilian purchases from the US, selling sensitive equipment that the Washington opposes distributing internationally, and allowing other countries that compete with the US to get involved with the peace process and be given a foothold for their military forces and intelligence agencies. Peled said that shifting military acquisition to America’s competition would make Israel less dependent on the US. For instance, he suggested buying planes from the France-based Airbus firm instead of the American Boeing.

This puts to test the notion that Israel is a major strategic asset for the United States, rather than a strategic liability. I have never been particularly convinced by the “Israel as asset” notion; it seems to me that underwriting the Israeli economy and Israeli military capability has had… limited strategic payoff for the United States. An irritated Israel could genuinely threaten the United States in the short term by selling advanced military equipment to China or Russia, or by sharing the fruits of US-Israeli intelligence cooperation with either. Both, of course, have already happened; the United States had to apply severe pressure to Israel to halt sales of military equipment to China, and Israeli intelligence cooperation with the Soviets in the 1980s resulted in the severe degradation of US capabilities in the USSR. The key thing to remember, however, is that Israel only has such leverage over the United States because of extraordinary US military and intelligence generosity; if the US were to cut the cord, Israel would have virtually nothing to offer the Russians or the Chinese. In terms of regional military capability, the United States obviously did not need Israeli assistance to undertake the simultaeneous conquest and extended occupation of two Middle Eastern countries. Israeli intelligence on the capability of Soviet weapon systems following the 1967 and 1973 wars did prove useful to the United States, but the technical characteristics of Syrian tanks and surface-to-air missiles are no longer overriding US security concerns. The Syrian and Iranian nuclear programs are a bit more of an issue for the United States, and Israeli intel has done good work especially with the former; given that the Russians and the Chinese don’t particularly care about the issue, however, I’m not convinced that it grants the Israelis much leverage. Israeli intelligence is focused primarily on states and organizations that threaten Israel, not on those that threaten the United States.

This is a short way of saying that Israel needs the United States MUCH more than the United States needs Israel. The Israelis can buy equipment from France and China and Russia and whoever else, but they are extremely unlikely to find a patron willing to undertake the degree of generosity that the United States has exhibited. There are good reasons for this generosity; the United States shares important ideological commitments with Israel, and there are longstanding ties between the Israeli and the American people. The key, however, is that American generosity is justified largely on the basis of these ideological and cultural ties, rather than on the somewhat nebulous notion that Israeli intelligence and military capability are really important to the security of the United States. China, Russia, or France might be happy to explore the limited fruits of tight cooperation with Israel, but none share the ideological and cultural connections that Israel has with the US. As such, the notion that Israel can actively threaten to hurt the United States is a bit silly; I sincerely hope that the Israeli strategic class isn’t taking the idea particularly seriously.

Giant Chinese Submarine Space Carriers Threaten American Way of Life

[ 0 ] June 10, 2009 |

It helps if you read these two posts with the soundtrack from “You Only Live Twice” playing in the background. Via Axe.