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Lesser Sentence For Crack Distribution Upheld

[ 8 ] December 10, 2007 |

I’m guessing Bean will have more to say about this, but the Supreme Court today held in a 7-2 decision that lower court judges are permitted not to apply federal sentencing guidelines (including, in this case, guidelines that mandate much harsher sentences for trafficking crack than powder cocaine) so long as the sentence is reasonable. In this case, Ginsburg wrote that considering the gross disparity of sentences for similar offenses was something judges could take into account. One of the dissents was (predictably) from Alito, the other, somewhat surprisingly given his record on sentencing cases, was from Thomas. If I understand Thomas’s dissent correctly, he objects to the Court’s decision in Booker — a decision that saved the federal sentencing guidelines from Sixth Amendment violations by reading them as advisory — but as long as it’s in force (and he recognizes it as valid under statutory stare decisis) the guidelines should be considered mandatory.

The majority makes the much more convincing case. If the guidelines being advisory means anything, it’s that federal judges should have some measure of discretion in applying them, and in this case there were perfectly rational reasons for a reduced sentence.

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The Steyn Complaint

[ 9 ] December 10, 2007 |

I agree with Jim Henley and Roy Edroso that the complaint filed in federal and provincial human rights commissions against Mark Steyn is a dangerous threat to free speech. Not because, as Maclean’s is saying in defense, Steyn’s writing isn’t “Islamophobic,” but because the suppression of political speech is exceptionally dangerous. Some people may object that the freedom of speech guaranteed by the Charter is, in Section 1, subject to “reasonable limits” that “can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” Well, even when the right to free speech (as in the American Constitution) is stated categorically and without explicit exemptions, free speech rights are never absolute. The direct advocacy of violence against groups and individuals, for example, can be regulated if it’s a serious threat. But limitations to free speech that go so far as to include political writing that some groups or individuals find offensive would swallow the right entirely; I can’t see how such limits can be “demonstrably justified.”

But even if we assume arguendo that the legislation permitting the complaint is legal as a matter of constitutional law, it remains true that the legislation is overbroad and that the filing of complaints against Steyn is a chilling attack on free speech. As Henley points out, “it’s naive to think that the political process, which is all about the deployment of relative power, can sustainably suppress the expression of the strong in favor of the expression of the weak.” As I’ve written before with respect to the Canadian Supreme Court’s well-intentioned but misguided attempt to permit the censorship of pornography on feminist grounds — which predictably led to the harassment of gay and lesbian bookstores — if such censorship is necessary it won’t work and if it can work it’s not necessary. The application of inherently vague standards to censor speech is highly unlikely to work to the benefit of groups with less access to political power in the long run. And a right to free speech that doesn’t include speech that one considers objectionable is not a right to free speech at all.

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Pro-Life? Not So Much.

[ 24 ] December 10, 2007 |

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. The “pro-life” movement could not actually care less about life. The most basic proof of this: the violence that “pro-lifers” exert on abortion providers and other people who ensure that women’s lives and health are protected and free from undue interference. Susan Hill, a North Carolina woman who recently won an award for all of her work opening and running health clinics that provide abortion, knows this first-hand (via):

She has lived through 17 arson attacks and once got 14 bomb threats in a year. One of her doctors in Florida died after being shot three times in the back by a protester, who is now serving a life sentence.

And yet, she has hope — she thinks that if the people who are bombing clinics and shooting doctors knew women’s stories and what drives women to seek abortions, they’d rethink their actions. I doubt that.
Why? Because women have been telling their stories for years and the violence continues. Just last week two people set an Albuquerque, NM, abortion clinic on fire. But the anti-woman movement does not condemn the arson; instead, they note that the doctor whose clinic it was is still performing abortions elsewhere. Read: he has not yet been stopped.

So, I ask (again): isn’t it time we (ALL – including public officials) stopped calling them “pro-life”?

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Query on the Chavez Referendum

[ 0 ] December 10, 2007 |

Jorge Castenada, via Drezner:

[B]y midweek enough information had emerged to conclude that Chávez did, in fact, try to overturn the results. As reported in El Nacional, and confirmed to me by an intelligence source, the Venezuelan military high command virtually threatened him with a coup d’état if he insisted on doing so. Finally, after a late-night phone call from Raúl Isaías Baduel, a budding opposition leader and former Chávez comrade in arms, the president conceded—but with one condition: he demanded his margin of defeat be reduced to a bare minimum in official tallies, so he could save face and appear as a magnanimous democrat in the eyes of the world. So after this purportedly narrow loss Chávez did not even request a recount, and nearly every Latin American colleague of Chávez’s congratulated him for his “democratic” behavior.

One of Dan’s commenters suggests that Castenada is not a source who can be trusted on such things. I don’t know enough to say one way or the other; anyone have more insight into this question? Randy? Mr. Trend? MSS?

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How to Write an Editorial about Higher Education

[ 45 ] December 10, 2007 |

This op-ed in today’s Washington Post recycles all the unpersuasive anecdotal and statistical complaints usually raised by conservatives when moaning about the liberal bias in higher education. The piece is miserably composed, but it’s bound to assume its rightful place in the anthology of right-wing arguments on the subject of “intellectual diversity” in the nation’s universities.

After dispensing with the obligatory mention of Lawrence Summers — who is, objectively speaking, the greatest intellectual martyr since Socrates — Robert Maranto applies the usual paint-by-numbers methodology that characterizes this particular genre of lament:

Step 1. Describe the heart-rending case of an anonymous, conservative friend who — unable to withstand the daily teasing and groin-punching from his liberal fascist colleagues — finally decided to take his ball and go home:

A sociologist I know recalls that his decision to become a registered Republican caused “a sensation” at his university. “It was as if I had become a child molester,” he said. He eventually quit academia to join a think tank because “you don’t want to be in a department where everyone hates your guts.”

This is almost too silly for comment. Every university department on the planet includes someone whom the rest of the group loathes; in nearly every instance, this is because the people in question are insufferable monsters who badger their colleagues, drive students from the program, refuse to pull their service weight, and extend already pointless meetings with pedantic detours about things of interest only to them. Not to put too fine a point to it, but Maranto’s friend was probably that guy.

Step 2. Bitch about that department that refused to hire you at some point in your career, and insinuate a political motive to explain the unthinkable slight.:

Everything seemed to be going well until I mentioned, in a casual conversation with department members over dinner, that I planned to vote Republican in the upcoming presidential election. Conversation came to a halt, and someone quickly changed the subject. The next day, I thought my final interview went fairly well. But the department ended up hiring someone who had published far less, but apparently “fit” better than I did. At least that’s what I was told when I called a month later to learn the outcome of the job search, having never received any further communication from the school.

I, too, am stunned that nearly every school with whom I’ve ever interviewed refused to hire me. Indeed, many of them even chose to hire candidates who’d published and taught less than I had at the time. When I figure out the reason for this, you will surely read about it in the Washington Post or FrontPage Magazine.

Step 3. Invoke seemingly non-partisan data to buttress your anecdotes; downplay the fact that that the data have not come from peer-reviewed sources but instead from “scholarship” funded and/or published by the American Enterprise Institute, the Hudson Institute, and A-List wingnut foundations.

[A]cademic job markets seem to discriminate against socially conservative PhDs. Stanley Rothman of Smith College and S. Robert Lichter of George Mason University find strong statistical evidence that these academics must publish more books and articles to get the same jobs as their liberal peers. Among professors who have published a book, 73 percent of Democrats are in high-prestige colleges and universities, compared with only 56 percent of Republicans.

A few observations on the source here. For starters, Maranto chooses to identify Lichter and Rothman by their university affiliations rather than by the right-wing research group — the Center for Media and Public Affairs — which they founded in the 1980s and through which their “scholarship” is usually channeled. Lichter and Rothman are probably best known for their laughably skewed studies of “media bias” in (to cite one example) which they completely disregarded over 98 percent of the sample data to reach a prearranged conclusion about the liberal slant at PBS. I haven’t read the study to which Maranto refers, but if the similarly-themed past work of Lichter and Rothman is any guide, it will likely please their financial patrons at the Scaife, Coors and Smith Richardson Foundations, which have offered them hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years. Maranto’s other sources of data are all connected to one another through the American Enterprise Institute, which recently hosted them at a conference and is, moreover, publishing their work as a collection of essays next year.

Step 4. Conclude with some bland observation about “intellectual diversity” while claiming to have no interest in ideological quotas; publish your work with an institution that exists for no other reason than to shape public policy along conservative lines.

Ultimately, universities will have to clean their own houses. Professors need to re-embrace a culture of reasoned inquiry and debate. And since debate requires disagreement, higher education needs to encourage intellectual diversity in its hiring and promotion decisions with something like the fervor it shows for ethnic and racial diversity. It’s the only way universities will earn back society’s respect and reclaim their role at the center of public life.

I won’t even bother with Maranto’s implication that “ethnic and racial diversity” has nothing to do with “intellectual diversity.” But if anyone believes this op-ed — and the “research” it touts — won’t prove useful to the Academic Bill of Rights community, they’re simply too credulous for this world.

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Sunday Deposed Monarch Blogging: Al-Qasimi Dynasty

[ 2 ] December 10, 2007 |

The Al-Qasimi family rose to prominence as religious and temporal leaders in the 16th century in what is now northern Yemen. Of the Shi’ite faith, the Al-Qasimi led resistance to the Ottoman Empire and to tribes from the area of modern Saudi Arabia, winning independence in the 17th century, but losing it in the 19th. As Ottoman power receded in the early 20th century, Yemen reasserted itself politically under Imam Abdullah, winning autonomy in 1913 and independence in 1918. In 1926 Imam Abdullah declared the Kingdom of Yemen, and himself King Yahya Muhammad Hamid ed-Din. The Kingdom of Yemen occupied the territory later known as North Yemen.

The first years of the Kingdom were consumed with conflict against both the House of Saud and the British Empire. Yemen and Saudi Arabia competed for territory on the peninsula, and Yemen refused to recognize its southern boundary with the British Aden Protectorate, cobbled together from Ottoman holdings at the end of World War I. The conflict was eventually settled in 1934. King Yahya Muhammad died in a coup in 1948, and was succeeded by his 57 year old son, Ahmad bin Yahya. Under the rule of Ahmad bin Yahya Yemen would briefly become part of the United Arab States (with Egypt and Syria), and continued its efforts to bring about the end of the British protectorate over Aden.

Ahmad bin Yahya died peacefully in 1962. His son, King Muhammad Al-Badr, ruled for only eight days before being deposed in a coup. Muhammad Al-Badr survived the coup and fled into the wilderness, where he helped lead resistance to military rule. This resistance eventually developed into a proxy war between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, with the Egyptians supporting the government and the Saudis supporting the King. Inevitably the conflict took on a larger significance, with the Egyptians receiving Soviet support and the Royalists receiving assistance from Iran and the United Kingdom. Although initially optimistic about the prospects for victory, the Egyptians quickly became bogged down in Yemen, letting their military posture against Israel suffer and contributing to their defeat in 1967. After the Six Day War the Egyptians began a draw down and disengagement from Yemen, finally leaving in 1971. The Royalists weren’t able to capitalize completely, and Saudi Arabia withdrew its support in 1970. A compromise peace was eventually agreed to, and the King left for exile in the United Kingdom.

King Muhammad Al-Badr died in 1996, and was succeeded as claimant by his son, Ageel bin Muhammad Al-Badr. Discontent continues in Yemen, both in the north and between the north and what briefly became South Yemen following the British evacuation east of Suez. Prospects for a return to the throne are uncertain, but probably not high.

No trivia; Deposed Monarch Blogging will return on January 6, 2008.

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Cooperstown Union-Busting

[ 0 ] December 9, 2007 |

Fay Vincent has more. I didn’t know this, but apparently the new inductee brought the same level of competence and integrity to his post-baseball career:

When Kuhn was pushed out of baseball — as I was years later — he went back to his law firm. In 1988, he and another lawyer started a new firm that was expected to be a grandly successful practice. At the end of 1989, Myerson & Kuhn filed for bankruptcy. At this point, Kuhn moved to Florida — a move that his creditors’ lawyers said was made to claim the protection of that state’s homestead exemption.

Under that law, the home of a debtor may not be used to satisfy debts, and so Kuhn, with a large, valuable and recently purchased Florida residence, was literally home free. In effect, he thumbed his nose at the banks and court in New York, and he left his partners, some of whom he had vigorously recruited, holding a huge empty bag. One such former partner, a tax expert, complained bitterly to me when I was in baseball. He has since died but I wonder how he would have felt about this latest honor by an institution that claims to value character when it considers candidates.

The members of the committee that elected Bowie Kuhn and passed on Marvin Miller should feel ashamed. But they do not. They almost surely believe that Miller and the union won the war, but they refuse him the honor of his victory. This is a set of actions by little men making small-minded decisions.

As King Kaufman points out, even leaving aside the unconscionable exclusion of Miller the election of Kuhn itself is ridiculous. He wasn’t even a competent union-buster; it would be like putting Bill Frist into the Political Hall of Fame.

This silliness also reflects the recurrent pattern James identified in The Politics of Glory. The Hall of Fame creates rules that make it virtually impossible to elect anybody; this won’t hold, because the Hall need new members; and then the rules are changed in a way that makes the arbitrary selection of transparently unqualified members (in many cases cronies of the selection committee) inevitable. Stacking the selection committee primarily to exclude one obviously overqualified individual seems to be a new twist, though.

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The Children Of Ezra

[ 3 ] December 9, 2007 |

With Ezra Klein moving to the American Prospect, his weekend crew — featuring many excellent bloggers and friends of LGM — have started a blog of their own. Very much worth checking out/bookmarking.

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The "Liberal" Republican Candidate!

[ 5 ] December 8, 2007 |

Mike Huckabee favored quarantining people with AIDS…in 1992. But he doesn’t favor tax cuts even if they would involve ignoring court orders, so clearly he’s some sort of free-thinking anarchist!

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Time Horizons

[ 0 ] December 8, 2007 |

Sully makes a good point:

Notice also that this isn’t the ticking time bomb case that Charles [Krauthammer] has previously invoked to defend torture. There was no imminent threat to hundreds of thousands of people; we had no way of knowing for sure that Zubaydah had any knowledge of such a devastating threat; and we have no independent way of knowing whether the information he allegedly gave up under torture was factually accurate. And so in the initial cases of torture under this administration, we discover it was used simply because we had no good intelligence of future threats; and we decided to use torture for a fishing expedition. So much for the rare exception to the rule.

Right; this was pretty damned far from the justificatory apparatus that conservatives have invoked in defense of various forms of torture. Then again, it’s rather in the same vein as hawkish claims about “pre-emptive war”. If this administration understands pre-emption as the justification for the invasion of any country that might develop the capability to launch an attack at some point in the next two decades, then it’s hardly a leap to imagine that they consider the “ticking time bomb” scenario as justification for the torture of anyone who might threaten the US in the near or distant future.

And while I’m generally skeptical of “slippery slope” arguments (it seems to me political life is about drawing lines, then arguing about which way they should move), it’s hard to disagree with the following:

The defenders of torture are always saying that it can be used “judiciously” and in extremely limited circumstances, that it can be controlled within the executive branch; that it need not metastasize into a Agstress broader policy, and need not trickle down to others. But from all the facts we now know, this executive decision to rescind the Geneva Conventions began with cases that were already beneath the “ticking time bomb” scenario, and within months spread like wildfire across every theater of combat, including every major branch of the armed services, leading to scores of deaths in interrogation, almost casual if brutal torture of (often innocent) suspects in Afghanistan and Iraq, secret torture sites in Eastern Europe, God knows what in outsourced torture in the grim redoubts of Uzbek, Syrian, Jordanian and Egyptian police states, and, of course, the excrescence of Abu Ghraib, which Bush had the gall to say he had nothing to do with.

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Hard to Believe, but We’re Doing Pretty Well

[ 11 ] December 8, 2007 |


There’s a lot of sturm und drang about the state of abortion laws in this country — and rightly so. Several states are trying an end run around Roe by constitutionally enshrining fetal life from the moment of conception; the Supreme Court doesn’t think women are full citizens and issues decisions that sound more like 1947 than 2007; and in 87% of American counties, there is no abortion provider.

But still. Looking at the map that Good Magazine has put together (via Jezebel) of the world’s abortion laws, we’re in comparatively good shape. Most equitorial and sub-equitorial women, it seems, are screwed. One nit to pick, though: Good’s map puts the US in a category of countries (58 of them) in which abortion is permitted with no restrictions. That’s not actually true of abortion in the U.S.; it wasn’t true under the Roe framework and it’s sure as hell not true under the Casey framework that Gonzales v. Carhart virtually gutted. In the U.S., there are countless restrictions on access to abortion: waiting periods, notification laws, a federal ban on one type of abortion procedure, “informed” consent laws. The list goes on. So as much as I’m thankful for the U.S.’s relative liberalism with regard to abortion, I also think it does us no good to paint a picture far rosier than the one we deal with here on the ground.

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I Guess They Were Right….

[ 12 ] December 8, 2007 |

So Alfonso Cuaron’s Great Expectations was on HBO not long ago, and since I’d never seen it I decided I’d give it a try. It looked terrible and got awful reviews, but all of Cuaron’s other films are great, causing me to wonder whether it was misunderstood.

It, uh… wasn’t misunderstood. God, that was a terrible movie. I mean damn, it just wasn’t any good. I have to wonder whether Cuaron was actually on some kind of bender during the making of the film, necessitating the handing over of directorial duties to Ethan Hawke. Bleh. Ick.

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