Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Shocked, shocked to find government spending going on here!

A common refrain from opponents of the Affordable Care Act is "we can't afford the Affordable Care Act."

Paul Krugman points us to this handy chart from Menzie Chinn, showing the deficit effects of the two big tax cuts under Bush II, the Iraq War, and the ACA:

The upward bar at far right is the ACA, which pokes above the zero line because, according to the CBO, the bill actually improves the budget deficit.

Chinn helpfully links to a skeptic of the CBO estimate who nonetheless (1) finds no negative budgetary impact and (2) rebuts the "funny math" charge that's been leveled at the CBO:
Does the package generate budget savings only because it’s using ten years of taxes to pay for six years of benefits?

This appears to be a common refrain among opponents of the package. But it doesn’t hold up either. It is true that the new health benefits don’t start in earnest until 2014; that helps keep the ten-year sticker price down. But those six years of costs are offset by a combination of spending cuts and tax increases during those years, even if you strip out the CLASS Act gimmick. And in the second decade, CBO tells us that the bill reduces the deficit significantly more if–and this is a huge if–it executes as written.
Which is all you can judge the bill by - how it's written. If future Congresses and presidents don't have the guts to carry out the law, then that is their fault. More from the same skeptic, Donald Marron, here.

The influence game, Mill/Humboldts/Thoreau edition

John Stuart Mill published On Liberty in 1859, having been working on it for five years; chapter III is his argument for individuality as a good in and of itself, as well as being useful to others: "In proportion to the development of his individuality, each person becomes more valuable to himself, and is therefore capable of being more valuable to others."

Mill's inspiration is proclaimed in his epigraph to the book:
The grand, leading principle, towards which every argument unfolded in these pages directly converges, is the absolute and essential importance of human development in its richest diversity.
That's Wilhelm von Humboldt, in The Sphere and Duties of Government (1852; tr. 1854). I wonder how many of those who today cherish "diversity" realize that the modern use of the term derives from a Prussian minister of education?

Another book published in 1854, though written over the preceding few years, contained a very similar sentiment to Humboldt's (and Mill's):
I would not have any one adopt my mode of living on any account; for, beside that before he has fairly learned it I may have found out another for myself, I desire that there may be as many different persons in the world as possible; but I would have each one be very careful to find out and pursue his own way, and not his father's or his mother's or his neighbor's instead.
Those words of Thoreau's have always been my favorite line from Walden. But is there any connection between Thoreau's idea and Humboldt's work?

I don't know whether Thoreau read Humboldt in the German, but another line of influence -- on both Thoreau and Humboldt -- is the latter's younger brother, the naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, whose botanical studies were a landmark in understanding the diversity of life as affected by its environment, and thus one of the early foundations of ecology. We know that Thoreau was reading Alexander von Humboldt at least by 1850, while writing Walden ....

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The July Days

Emptywheel provides more of her detective work on the genesis of the torture memos -- see her post here and its links to recent work on the July 13, 2002 one-page fax on which CIA apparently relied for its torture of Abu Zubaydah. Who, according to this article linked by EW, was the subject of "the massive intelligence failure that took place in the last months of the Clinton administration and during George W. Bush’s first term," such that we convinced ourselves the guy was the # 3 in al-Qaeda (first of many # 3's, to be sure).

According to EW's timeline, the first draft of the Bybee Memo (# 1?) was circulated on July 12, and then things got weirder:
What seems to have happened is the following. Yoo and Koester were all set for an NSC meeting on July 12, perhaps until they had a July 11 briefing with Chertoff. In any case, something made them reschedule that NSC meeting to arrange an Alberto Gonzales (and presumably, Addington) meeting first. After which they appear to have had an incredibly contentious meeting with Bellinger, Chertoff, Levin and others. Perhaps the fact that John Rizzo presented the latest interrogation plan (which, we suspect, was already in process anyway) made things worse. We do know, for example, that mock burial remained in the plan, even after Soufan had balked when Mitchell tried to use it two months earlier. Whether because of Rizzo’s presentation or Yoo’s draft memo, at the meeting Chertoff definitively refused an advance declination and Levin announced that FBI would have nothing more to do with CIA’s torture program.

And so Rizzo, perhaps noting that the head of DOJ’s Criminal Division and the FBI Chief of Staff were reacting rather unfavorably to CIA’s torture plan, asked Yoo for some kind of cover. In response, Yoo wrote a memo raising the bar for prosecution of inflicting severe mental suffering incredibly high.
And at the same time, we get Yoo and Koester revising the memo to include "affirmative defenses" such as the President's alleged power to ignore any statute that, in his exclusive judgment, hinders his commander-in-chief powers. Which of course was tantamount to a confession of utter legal inadequacy in the memo's construction of the Torture Act.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Kierkegaard on blogging

Every time I see a new magazine "for amusement" come out, I think sadly, Good God, another person on the point of jumping into the sea but before doing that preferring to risk all by trying his hand as a journalist in wit and satire.
-- Papers and Journals: A Selection (Hannay ed.), p. 205.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Taser madness

Here is what happened to Malaika Brooks, a pregnant mother, as she was driving her son to school one day: Two, soon three, police officers surrounded her. The officers thought she was speeding in a school zone; she says she was not. Brooks provided her identification when asked, so there was no doubt who she was or where to find her. The officers wrote her a ticket but she refused to sign it. Refusing to sign a speeding ticket was at the time a nonarrestable misdemeanor; now, in Washington, it is not even that. Brooks had no weapons and had not harmed or threatened to harm a soul. Although she had told the officers she was seven months pregnant, they proceeded to use a Taser on her, not once but three times, causing her to scream with pain and leaving burn marks and permanent scars.
Tasering for refusing to sign a traffic ticket. That's one scary thing.

The other is that the above is from a dissent, the majority in Brooks v. City of Seattle (9th Cir. Mar. 26, 2010) having held that the officers enjoyed qualified immunity for their acts.

H/t Bashman.

Mary Katherine Goddard

Visiting Philadelphia on the way back from Vermont, TBA found the little "print shop" at Franklin Court, where you can watch the operation of an 18th-century-style printing press, and purchase facsimile copies of the Declaration of Independence and other documents that were printed thereon (the type having been cast & set to mimic same).

Two versions of the Declaration were for sale, one without signatories, one with. I surmised the former was the earlier version, but was struck by the name of the (original) printer: Mary Katherine Goddard.
Mary Katherine Goddard (June 16, 1738 – August 12, 1816) was an early American publisher and the first American postmistress. She was the first to print the Declaration of Independence with the names of the signatories.

Mary Katherine Goddard was born in Connecticut in 1738. She was the daughter of Dr. Giles Goddard and Sarah Updike Goddard. Her father was the postmaster of New London, which explains why Mary and her brother [William] had long careers and natural interest in the postal system and the printing business.

* * * The Goddards (Mrs. Goddard, William Goddard and Mary Goddard) set up a printing press and published Providence's first newspaper, the Providence Gazette. * * * William also had been the publisher and printer of a revolutionary journal called The Maryland Journal. Mary Goddard took control of the journal in 1774 while her brother was traveling to promote his Constitutional Post; she continued to publish it throughout the American Revolutionary War until 1784. Her brother forced her to give up the newspaper amid an acrimonious quarrel. In 1775, Mary Goddard became Postmaster of the Baltimore post office. She also ran a book store and published an almanac.

When on January 18, 1777, the Continental Congress moved that the Declaration of Independence be widely distributed, Goddard was one of the first to offer the use of her press. This was in spite of the risks of being associated with what was considered a treasonable document by the British. In 1777 Goddard also printed many almanacs. Her copy, the Goddard Broadside, was the second printed, and the first to contain the typeset names of the signatories, including John Hancock. * * *

Goddard was a successful postmaster for 14 years. In 1789, however, she was removed from the position by Postmaster General Samuel Osgood despite general protest from the Baltimore community. Mary Katherine Goddard generally did not take part in public controversies, preferring to maintain editorial objectivity; therefore, few articles contain her personal opinions, and her defense was not mounted publicly. Osgood asserted that the position required "more traveling...than a woman could undertake" and appointed a political ally of his to replace her. On November 12, 1789, over 230 citizens of Baltimore, including more than 200 leading businessmen, presented a petition demanding her reinstatement. It was, however, unsuccessful. Following her dismissal, Goddard sold books, stationery, and dry goods. She died August 12, 1816, still beloved by her community.
Goddard's version is the one I bought, and now have hanging in my office.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

John Derbyshire is nuts

You probably knew that. But Brad DeLong posts proof:
As the fugleman for conservative despair, I am of course neither shaken nor stirred at the passing of the health-care bills. It was to be expected.

I see plainly that Western civilization, over my lifetime, has been a slow-sinking ship. The few who have known what is happening have worked desperately to seal the watertight doors, repair the fissures, pump out the flooded zones. It's been a losing fight, though. The tilt of the decks is harder and harder to ignore. Last night, a major bulkhead gave way. Soon a funnel will topple over with a great crash and a shower of sparks. Yet still the band is playing, the people are dancing, the food coming up from the galley.

Steven Hayward, writing about my latest in the Claremont Review of Books, says it is "surprising that Derbyshire never raises the obvious question: without the conservative movement of the past 50 years, how much worse would things be?" Not much, would be my answer. Certainly those working the pumps have been engaged in a noble endeavor, which I'm proud to have been associated with. They could hear the dance music too, though. It got their feet a-tapping; then an ex-colleague came down from the ballroom to mock and tempt, and soon there was one less pair of hands on the pumps, and one more government program, one more subsidy, one more tax, one more restraint on freedom of speech or association, one more futile war.

It'll be over soon. We'll be down in the cold, lightless depths of imperial despotism — in which, after all, the great majority of human beings, throughout history, have always lived. It's the natural way: liberty is an unstable temporary aberration. I once tried to compute the sheer quantity, in man-years, of lives lived under the despotic order — Egyptians and Assyrians, Persians and Chinese, Romans and post-Alexander Greeks, Incas and Aztecs, Umayyads and Abbasids, Ottomans and Zulus, Tsars and General Secretaries . . . as against humans in liberty, ruled by common consent. It came out at around a hundred to one.
This is Derbyshire's response to a statute expanding healthcare.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Six Ten books that ruined my life

The current meme at the blogs I read is to post the most influential books one's read - influential on oneself, that is, regardless of merit. (See here and here.) It's a worthwhile exercise in self-understanding, so here goes (in chronological order I think):

1. The Nancy Drew series. My big sister had these, so I didn't read Hardy Boys, I read Nancy Drew. Can't remember a single plot, but this is the first example I can recall of doing something that crossed gender lines, and it probably left a feminist mark on me; certainly I was teased for it and kept reading 'em anyway.

2. The Once and Future King. White's treatment of the Arthurian love triangle, and of the souls of those in it, was deeply humane and understanding, and for better or worse helped me be tolerant of love's weaknesses.

3. The Guns of August. Barbara Tuchman's subject was folly long before The March of Folly, and August 1914 impressed me with how much trust Europe reposed in its generals -- and how little that trust was merited. Whenever I hear someone say that, well, the president (etc.) must know what he's doing, I think of The Guns of August.

4. The Closing of the American Mind. No, really. I started undergrad in English, didn't enjoy it, and found myself reading Bloom and falling in love with the story arc of Western philosophy, Straussian-style. Bloom's argument that the problems with modern university education are deep, conceptual ones, was entrancing. Made me switch majors, as well as inspiring me to pick up # 5 on this list, so I can't deny it was influential.

5. Beyond Good and Evil. Still my favorite Nietzsche book, and happily the one I picked up during my history of philosophy sequence, when I was baffled by the b.s. metaphysics that otherwise sensible people argued for. "What morality is this thinker aiming at?" asked Nietzsche, and I was hooked. It took me a good ten years to be able to see any limits to Nietzsche's thought (besides of course his silliness about women, which even he realised was his bete noir).

6. Against Interpretation. Mainly the essay, not the book, but Sontag made me believe that literary theory was important, and thus I turned back to English -- doing philosophy in the English department, as it were. I desperately wanted a way to think about the "erotics of art" she called for. Didn't find it in grad school, that's for sure, and didn't have the smarts to invent it. But I probably would've ended up teaching philosophy if not for the influence of Sontag.

Those aren't necessarily my favorite books -- such a list would have to include To the Lighthouse, The Red and the Black, Tolkien and Vance -- but those are the books that seem to have pushed my life or personality in a particular direction. Probably there are more children's books that I can't even remember that had equal or greater effect -- I admire Orin Kerr for listing the Frog and Toad books on his own list.

... How quickly we forget. A couple more need to be added:

7 (tie). Montaigne's Essays and the Tao te Ching. Essential to explaining how a Nietzsche-totin' atheist became a Lutheran assistant Sunday-school teacher. Montaigne's skepticism of skepticism itself, his teaching that one should practice the religion one finds oneself born to, appealed to me because skepticism and atheism begin to feel arrogant at some point. As Nietzsche himself says, "Sir, it is improbable that you are not mistaken; but why insist on the truth?" (People miss that Voltairean touch to N.) And the Lao Tzu dovetailed with Montaigne: does knowledge really change anything?

8. The Resistance to Theory. Contains perhaps de Man's most succinct statements of the pitfalls in interpretation (outside the conclusion to "Shelley Disfigured") -- the step whereby Sontag's "erotics of art" became an "erotics of hermeneutics" for me, or less pretentiously, the theoretical buttress for the long-held suspicion that professors, and readers in general, put what they want in a text rather than learning from it. Whether that's inevitable, or merely the overwhelming likelihood, was a question I shelved rather than writing a dissertation.

9. The Creation of the Universe. This one's out of chrono order, and should be at number 2. It's a kids' book on the subject by one David Fisher, which I remember checking out of the Miami-Dade Public Library. Fisher had perfect pitch for his audience: jokey enough to hold attention, but serious enough to explain his subject. This was the book that told me what science was about, and gave me a lifelong amateur interest in it.

I would like to blame law school on some book or other, but that one's all me. Though when you've proved to your own satisfaction that all reading is will to power, legal practice seems the next logical step ....

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Deep thought

Just because one can drive straight from Jackson, MS to Gettysburg, PA, or from Philadelphia, PA to Jackson, MS, does not mean that one should do so.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Blog gone

For a week or so, probably. TBA is off with the family to Vermont, which evidently is worth visiting for reasons which will become more readily apparent after our arrival.

(Of course, those reasons were probably devised by someone who thinks that snow is not merely a slushy pestilence upon the face of the earth.)

Enjoy your spring break, if you've got one!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Oral argument tips from Montaigne

If I were worthy to advise, the slow speaker, methinks, should be more proper for the pulpit, and the other for the bar: and that because the employment of the first does naturally allow him all the leisure he can desire to prepare himself, and besides, his career is performed in an even and unintermitted line, without stop or interruption; whereas the pleader's business and interest compels him to enter the lists upon all occasions, and the unexpected objections and replies of his adverse party jostle him out of his course, and put him, upon the instant, to pump for new and extempore answers and defences. Yet, at the interview betwixt Pope Clement and King Francis at Marseilles, it happened, quite contrary, that Monsieur Poyet, a man bred up all his life at the bar, and in the highest repute for eloquence, having the charge of making the harangue to the Pope committed to him, and having so long meditated on it beforehand, as, so they said, to have brought it ready made along with him from Paris; the very day it was to have been pronounced, the Pope, fearing something might be said that might give offence to the other princes' ambassadors who were there attending on him, sent to acquaint the King with the argument which he conceived most suiting to the time and place, but, by chance, quite another thing to that Monsieur de Poyet had taken so much pains about: so that the fine speech he had prepared was of no use, and he was upon the instant to contrive another; which finding himself unable to do, Cardinal du Bellay was constrained to perform that office. The pleader's part is, doubtless, much harder than that of the preacher; and yet, in my opinion, we see more passable lawyers than preachers, at all events in France. It should seem that the nature of wit is to have its operation prompt and sudden, and that of judgment to have it more deliberate and more slow. * * *

'Tis said of Severus Cassius that he spoke best extempore, that he stood more obliged to fortune than to his own diligence; that it was an advantage to him to be interrupted in speaking, and that his adversaries were afraid to nettle him, lest his anger should redouble his eloquence.
-- Montaigne, "Of Quick or Slow Speech," Essays 1.10 (Cotton tr.).

Matthew 24:24

"For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very electorate."

-- Oops, sorry, that's "elect."

(H/t Dvorak via Sully.)

Henry Paulson as Captain Renault

He was shocked -- shocked! Except he saw it all coming. Except no one could.

Simon Johnson is exactly who you'd want to review Paulson's book ("memoir" implies a function opposite to Paulson's intent), and he does so.
The prose is flat, the chronology well known—almost cliché by now--but weirdly enough all this is fascinating and somewhat disturbing reading, because you know where it ends. The shakedown, when it comes, is so beautiful that it takes your breath away--rather like watching Nueve Reinas (Nine Queens), the brilliant Argentine financial scam movie.

Here's the set up. The core of the world's financial system teeters. Paulson doesn't want to do another bailout, he thinks. The politics stink, the economics are appalling, and Dick Fuld (the CEO of Lehman) is a difficult fellow. So Paulson lets Lehman fail. But it turns out that the bankruptcy of a major financial firm is an unspeakably messy affair. Paulson had been warned about this, including by the International Monetary Fund (not an ordinary event)--but he was oblivious. We can handle it ourselves, thank you, was Treasury’s attitude.

But they couldn’t. They were absolutely and completely unprepared. This was not a team that was expecting the unexpected; they were asleep at the wheel. Paulson thinks he hired the best people--mostly from Goldman, naturally--and honed them into a sharp-edged tool. The alternative view is that he and his people were incompetent bumblers who had no idea what they were doing or how dangerous modern financial markets have become. So here are the possible interpretations: either the former head of Goldman Sachs saw it all coming and prepared assiduously, or an old-fashioned deals guy--most definitely not a trader--was hopelessly out of his depth and floundered his way to the greatest financial crisis since 1929.
But Paulson does have something to be proud of:
So leading financial institutions were saved, which is not by itself an unusual event in some countries. It happens with some regularity in places with serious governance issues and endemic corruption. But even in troubled middle-income countries, such as South Korea, Turkey, Argentina, or even Russia, it is extraordinary to keep management in place when providing such support. Perhaps a few financial executives might be deemed beyond reproach and unfortunate victims of a system-wide panic. But to keep them all, with their base pay and their bonuses and their pensions? That is essentially unheard of. Perhaps there is a poor and benighted country somewhere that saved its massively incompetent financial firms in this manner, but you can search the historical records long and hard for a parallel to what Paulson pulled off.
When Paulson says he saved Wall Street, he's not kidding. Unfortunately, that's all he saved.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

For reasons of psychological resignation, the subject may simply give up

Considering how many times one sees it argued that waterboarding isn't torture because no water actually enters the throat, etc., this news is actually going to be "news" to some people:
Interrogators pumped detainees full of so much water that the CIA turned to a special saline solution to minimize the risk of death, the documents show. The agency used a gurney "specially designed" to tilt backwards at a perfect angle to maximize the water entering the prisoner's nose and mouth, intensifying the sense of choking – and to be lifted upright quickly in the event that a prisoner stopped breathing.

The documents also lay out, in chilling detail, exactly what should occur in each two-hour waterboarding "session." Interrogators were instructed to start pouring water right after a detainee exhaled, to ensure he inhaled water, not air, in his next breath. They could use their hands to "dam the runoff" and prevent water from spilling out of a detainee's mouth. They were allowed six separate 40-second "applications" of liquid in each two-hour session – and could dump water over a detainee's nose and mouth for a total of 12 minutes a day. Finally, to keep detainees alive even if they inhaled their own vomit during a session – a not-uncommon side effect of waterboarding – the prisoners were kept on a liquid diet. The agency recommended Ensure Plus.

* * *

While Bush-Cheney officials defended the legality and safety of waterboarding by noting the practice has been used to train U.S. service members to resist torture, the documents show that the agency's methods went far beyond anything ever done to a soldier during training. U.S. soldiers, for example, were generally waterboarded with a cloth over their face one time, never more than twice, for about 20 seconds, the CIA admits in its own documents.

These memos show the CIA went much further than that with terror suspects, using huge and dangerous quantities of liquid over long periods of time. The CIA's waterboarding was "different" from training for elite soldiers, according to the Justice Department document released last month. "The difference was in the manner in which the detainee's breathing was obstructed," the document notes. In soldier training, "The interrogator applies a small amount of water to the cloth (on a soldier's face) in a controlled manner," DOJ wrote. "By contrast, the agency interrogator ... continuously applied large volumes of water to a cloth that covered the detainee's mouth and nose."

One of the more interesting revelations in the documents is the use of a saline solution in waterboarding. Why? Because the CIA forced such massive quantities of water into the mouths and noses of detainees, prisoners inevitably swallowed huge amounts of liquid – enough to conceivably kill them from hyponatremia, a rare but deadly condition in which ingesting enormous quantities of water results in a dangerously low concentration of sodium in the blood. Generally a concern only for marathon runners , who on extremely rare occasions drink that much water, hyponatremia could set in during a prolonged waterboarding session. A waterlogged, sodium-deprived prisoner might become confused and lethargic, slip into convulsions, enter a coma and die.

Therefore, "based on advice of medical personnel," Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Steven Bradbury wrote in a May 10, 2005, memo authorizing continued use of waterboarding, "the CIA requires that saline solution be used instead of plain water to reduce the possibility of hyponatremia." * * *

The CIA's waterboarding regimen was so excruciating, the memos show, that agency officials found themselves grappling with an unexpected development: detainees simply gave up and tried to let themselves drown. "In our limited experience, extensive sustained use of the waterboard can introduce new risks," the CIA's Office of Medical Services wrote in its 2003 memo. "Most seriously, for reasons of physical fatigue or psychological resignation, the subject may simply give up, allowing excessive filling of the airways and loss of consciousness."
Add to our list of evil people the "Office of Medical Services." I guess the word "Office" may not be a lie.

Read the whole thing -- an essential reference. (H/t Sully via Massie.)

... Emptywheel rather pointedly notes that this is not news, and that she'd been writing about this 11 months ago; so I will just say, "news to me." I did recall her exposition of the Bradbury memo, but not all of Benjamin's details.

Previously unsuspected colonial atrocities

In the spring of 1899, a thin, bespectacled French army colonel named Arsene Klobb began making his way eastward from a colonial outpost in Mali. He was in pursuit of a much larger expeditionary force that, according to news accounts in Paris, had subsumed much of the region in a series of unprovoked slaughters. In one small town, the Voulet-Chanoine expedition, named for the two French officers who led it, had left behind a thousand corpses, among them the bodies of little girls strung from tree branches. In another, Voulet's and Chanoine's men had beheaded one hundred villagers and dragged the bodies to a shallow grave, leaving the ground streaked with blood. Well water, as Klobb’s deputy would record, had been poisoned by the corpses; peering down, he saw “vague forms, tangled over each other.”

Even to their contemporaries, Voulet’s and Chanoine’s actions seemed unspeakably heinous, evidence of a certain colonial madness. When Klobb, having documented the atrocities, caught up with Voulet and Chanoine, the two young captains ambushed their superior and killed him. Voulet declared himself to be an African emperor, in revolt against France, and Chanoine joined him. Days later, the pair was killed when their own native troops mutinied. Voulet, charismatic and volatile, was gunned down in his tent; Chanoine, a grim aristocrat, had turned his horse and charged the mutineers, crying out, “France! France!”
More here.

Monday, March 08, 2010

School for scandal

Still perusing the OPR report, Emptywheel notes a point in common on the torture lawyers' resumes:
John Yoo. Clerk, Clarence Thomas,1994 to 1995

Patrick Philbin, Clerk, Clarence Thomas, 1993 to 1994

Jennifer Koester, Clerk, Clarence Thomas, 2004 to 2005

Steven Bradbury, Clerk, Clarence Thomas, 1992 to 1993
You didn't have to be a Thomas clerk to feed the Constitution into a wood-chipper, but it helped.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Exhuming the corpse to burn it

That's what the Council of Constance did with John Wycliffe, and that's what the Mississippi Supreme Court has done with Bobby DeLaughter, judicially speaking.

TBA is not sure that the court's authority was any less theological (as opposed to legal) than the council's, but I have said whatever I have to say over at NMC's place.

Dep't of It Takes One to Hate One

TBA always gets a kick out of these:
California Sen. Roy Ashburn (R), "who has racked up a consistently anti-gay voting record over the years" was spotted by the openly-gay mayor of West Sacramento at gay clubs a number of times over the years, TPM reports.

Ashburn is the California lawmaker caught drunk driving earlier this week after reportedly leaving a gay night club.

Interestingly, the Bakersfield Californian asked Ashburn about rumors that he was gay last summer. His response: "Why would that be anyone's business? I think there are certain subjects that are simply not relevant and this is one of them. It has no bearing on the job I do."
Well, when your job involves voting to curtain your fellow gays' rights, on the apparent ground that gay = bad, then maybe you've made it relevant? Just a thought there, Roy.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Bumper sticker of the month

... Sounds like a reasonable request.

BREAKING! Tabloid has no clue! MUST CREDIT TBA!

Via Orin Kerr, this shocking news:
John Roberts, Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, is seriously considering stepping down from the nation’s highest court for personal reasons, has learned exclusively.
So exclusive was this news that it apparently was not known to, um, John Roberts:
Update: has obtained new information that Justice Roberts will NOT resign. The justice will be staying on the bench.
That's "Chief Justice Roberts, Plaintiff" to you, Radar. Well, just kidding about the "plaintiff" part -- I have no exclusive news there.

Even given that Roberts does have some history of seizures, as ATL notes (h/t Adler), it's not known as yet exactly HOW RadarOnline was led to such a wild notion. "Someone deliberately fucking with them" is the obvious, if incomplete, answer. All I can say is, wasn't me.

... Ah, Adler had the wrong ATL link. It looks like ATL's server is about to go boom -- I can't get to the story -- but Gawker has the goods:
Two separate first-year Georgetown Law students told Above the Law that Professor Peter Tague opened class today with the "news" that John Roberts would be stepping down.

Our criminal justice professor started our 9am lecture with the news that roberts will be resigning tomorow for health reasons- that he could not handle the administrative burdens of the job. He would not say how he knows- but halfway through our lecture on the credibility and reliability of informants he revealed that the Roberts rumor was made up to show how someone you ordinarily think is credible and reliable (ie a law professor) can disseminate inaccurate information.

So, according to this version of events, some law student/AMI "source" texted the breaking news to someone at as soon as they heard it, and they just ran with it. Professor Tague has taught us all an important lesson, today.
Dunno about the rest of Roberts's defamation suit, but I think he's got a good shot at proving actual malice.

A previously unsuspected Austen fan

It is a matter of great satisfaction to me to find another Judge, who, though not as old as myself, thinks justly of the fair sex, and commits his sentiments to print. I was a little mortified, however, to find that you had not admitted the name of Miss Austen into your list of favorites. I had just finished reading her novels when I received your discourse, and was so much pleased with them that I looked in it for her name, and was rather disappointed at not finding it. ... I count on your making some apology for this omission.
--Chief Justice John Marshall to Justice Joseph Story, in a letter (Nov. 26, 1826), quoted in Jean Edward Smith, John Marshall: Definer of a Nation at 497.

... Story had given a Phi Beta Kappa speech on the "Literary Condition of the Age," and his friend Marshall was chaffing him. Marshall's parents educated sons and daughters alike (not common in pre-Revolutionary Virginia), and Marshall seems to've been something of a Federalist feminist, for his time. Harriet Martineau was impressed by his views, and he gave her a letter of introduction to use during her American tour.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Liberals are morons

Not what you expected at TBA? Well, facts are facts. Kevin Drum notes Yet Another Rahm Profile, but find this nugget: Emanuel figured healthcare would pass either quickly or not at all, and tried to rush things, but ...
Then, in July, the White House faced a key decision. Max Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, probably the most important of the five committees considering health care, had spent months negotiating with his Republican counterpart, Chuck Grassley, with little to show for it. Emanuel was getting antsy. He gathered his top aides and pressed for a way to hurry the process along. The Senate labor committee had produced its own health care bill. Perhaps, Emanuel wondered, Majority Leader Harry Reid could bypass Baucus and bring it to the floor. Or maybe Baucus could just stop bargaining with Grassley and let Reid move a more partisan version of his bill.

But, in the end, Obama himself favored letting Baucus negotiate until September....In fairness, even internal skeptics believed a bipartisan package might be attainable. The problem was that, overlaid on a strategy based on speed and momentum, the extra two months exacted a major cost.
As Drum observes, we wonder sometimes whether Obama believes the "bipartisan" thing, and it appears the answer is "yes."

Which means, Obama is a moron. And so are the "internal skeptics." The Republicans Do. Not. Care. About. America. They care about destroying Obama and regaining control of the government (in that order). This has been evident since the Clinton administration, and having a black guy in the White House has not exactly worked to reverse the trend. Obama's "healthcare reform" could've been limited to setting a $50 cap on med-mal awards, and the GOP still would've opposed it. (See another Drum catch: small GOP donors are motivated by fear, reactionary views, and loathing for Obama ... says the GOP!)

The House passed healthcare. The Senate passed a largely compatible version. It should've been signed in January. But no. Because liberals are morons. It beats being redneck totalitarians, but really, that's rather faint praise.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

New deaths

Barry Hannah has died, a sad loss to Oxford and to belles lettres. You can read his AP obit at the NYT obit page (the AP appears not to know just where Hannah was born), but I would also recommend pulling back to see some of the other new deaths:

- Arthur Hayes Jr., head of the FDA during the Tylenol killings;

- Robert J. Myers, the 20th century's most influential actuary, who set Social Security's 65-years-old qualification for benefits;

- W.E. Gordon, the man who "conceived, designed, built, and operated" the Arecibo radio telescope, maybe the most important astronomical tool ever.

... And in the fine print at the bottom I see I missed that bastard Haig dying. Less cheerfully, the last Canadian veteran of the Great War.

Cool word of the day

"Lucubrations" means, literally, thoughts or writings generated in artificial light, and now carries the implication of something a bit preciously expressed or reasoned, such that you had to stay up late to come up with it.

A holdover from the day when it was considered a bit much to actually use a lamp and stay up writing after dark.

(Courtesy of the OED in the Fifth Circuit's library.)

Monday, March 01, 2010

Maybe they all drive Hummers?

It's not surprising that the Comer v. Murphy Oil case in the 5th Circuit, in which the plaintiffs persuaded a panel not to dismiss their complaint alleging the petroleum industry helped cause Hurricane Katrina, is going up for rehearing en banc.

It's a *little* surprising that damn near half the court has to recuse: 9 judges hearing the case en banc, 7 recused:
Chief Judge Jones, and Judges King, Wiener, Garza, Benavides,
Southwick and Haynes are recused and did not participate.
We are thus denied something sardonic from Southwick.

The three stages of oral argument preparation

1. What is my case about?

2. What will the court think my case is about?

3. What color tie shall I wear?

... I'm down to no. 3 now. Scalia & Garner say "dark red or blue." I think that's a bit restrictive, particularly since "dark red" is difficult to find in a form easily distinguished from "maroon," and I don't want to look like I'm dressed for court as a Mississippi State fan.

I have a new red tie I'd like to wear (we're premising this on a navy-blue suit & white shirt), and have managed to make myself worry it's *too* red. And doesn't Jason Compson find a red tie incredible? But then, isn't he a complete monster? And why am I looking for fashion tips in a 1929 Faulkner novel?

My favorite tie is navy and light green, but I am assured it's not a "power" tie. I'm not sure what powers my tie is supposed to give me -- hypnosis would be nice.