Kevin Drum - May 2009

Souter's Legacy

| Fri May. 1, 2009 10:54 AM PDT

So who will Obama nominate to replace David Souter?  Ideologically, probably someone who's not all that different.  But it's worth remembering that Souter's real legacy is that he's the one who made Supreme Court appointments the artery-hardened slugfests they are today.  It's not his fault or anything, but he was supposed to be a conservative strict constructionist when George H.W. Bush appointed him, and then, over time, turned out not to be.  In 1992 he voted with the pro-choice contingent in Planned Parenthood v. Casey and after that became a steadily more liberal influence on the court.  The conservative rallying cry following this slow-motion defection became "No more Souters!" and liberals learned the Souter lesson too.  The result: nobody gets nominated anymore unless their judicial temperament is fully and unequivocally cast in stone.  The market for moderates and interesting thinkers is pretty much gone.

And all because of mild mannered David Souter.  Who would have guessed?

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Fun with Photoshop

| Fri May. 1, 2009 10:05 AM PDT

James Fallows looks at the tableau of Obama muckymucks at yesterday's announcement that Chrysler would be allowed to file bankruptcy and is impressed with the "human dramas suggested by these faces."  It is, he says, "an impromptu work of art."

Today he's taking nominations for which Old Master it reminds him of.  My contribution is below: a crude Photoshop that makes the scene into an Old Master.  Enjoy!

New Frontiers in Product Branding

| Fri May. 1, 2009 9:38 AM PDT

Via Tyler Cowen, an idea from Geoffrey Miller about product branding that's "intriguing but absurd":

For example, companies could sell certain products only to consumers who have a certain minimum or maximum score on one or more of the certain Central Six [personality] traits....Lexus could sell the "Mensa Quartz Medallic" color of the LS 460 only to customers whose validated intelligence scores are high enough for them to join Mensa International (IQ 130+ or the top one in fifty).  The more exclusive "Prometheus Glacier Pearl" color could indicate an IQ above 160 (the top one in thirty thousand) — the qualification for joining the Prometheus Society.

Too late!  This idea is clearly stolen from J.T. M'Intosh's World Out of Mind, putatively a novel about an alien invasion of Earth, but in reality just a vehicle that allows him to lovingly describe a future in which everyone takes a cognitive test in early adulthood and is assigned a color forevermore.  There are the dull witted Browns, the worker bee Purples, the middling bright Reds, all the way through the Oranges, Yellows, and supergenius Whites.  And in case that's not enough for you, each color is further divided into its Circles at the bottom, followed by its Triangles and then its Stars.  The White Stars, needless to say, run the world.  And in M'Intosh's world, you wear your badge at all times or else.

(Yes, those are really the colors he used.  Race theorists should feel free to have a field day, especially since Miller's proposed colors are remarkably similar to M'Intosh's.)

50s science fiction.  You can't beat it.  We will now return to our normal political kvetching.

Naming Names

| Fri May. 1, 2009 9:01 AM PDT

Ezra Klein says Obama called the bluff of the holdouts who forced Chrysler into Chapter 11: "Not only did the administration let Chrysler fall to the bankruptcy courts, but Obama called the investors out by name."

Really?  That's great news.  I want names!  Sadly, it turns out Obama didn't call out anyone by name at all, saying only that "a group of investment firms and hedge funds decided to hold out for the prospect of an unjustified taxpayer-funded bailout."

Boo.  Hiss.  I want names.  It's pitchfork time.

Krauthammer on Torture

| Fri May. 1, 2009 8:24 AM PDT

Charles Krauthammer writes today that there are only two circumstances that justify torture.  The first is the ticking time bomb.  Of course.  But I'll let that one slide for now.  Here's the other one:

The second exception to the no-torture rule is the extraction of information from a high-value enemy in possession of high-value information likely to save lives. This case lacks the black-and-white clarity of the ticking time bomb scenario. We know less about the length of the fuse or the nature of the next attack. But we do know the danger is great. (One of the "torture memos" noted that the CIA had warned that terrorist "chatter" had reached pre-9/11 levels.) We know we must act but have no idea where or how — and we can't know that until we have information. Catch-22.

What an astonishing coincidence!  That's exactly the situation the Bush administration says it was in.  If it weren't for his legendary dedication to intellectual integrity, you'd almost think Krauthammer had simply taken a post hoc look at what his own team did and had then made up a justification to fit.  But he wouldn't do that, would he?

Of course, any rule worth the paper it's written on has to apply to more than just our side, so presumably this means Krauthammer thinks it's generically acceptable to torture anyone of sufficient rank and value.  If the Germans had captured a colonel with probable knowledge of Patton's battle plan, torture would have been OK.  If the Taliban caught a deputy consul who knew when the next attack on Kandahar was scheduled, torture would be OK.  If al-Qaeda catches a Air Force pilot who might tell them the secret of detecting and shooting down drones, torture will be OK.

Krauthammer's exception isn't an exception.  It can justify practically anything, either from us or from anyone else.  It's essentially the end of the civilized consensus against torture.  Unfortunately, I imagine that's the point.