Kagan gets it right

So, you’ve heard my complain before about Chief Justice John Robert’s highly misleading reference to a SC Justice as an umpire simply calling balls and strikes that largely won over a woefully naive press corps.  How nice, then, to see Elena Kagan take this on during her own testimony, as detailed in EJ Dionne’s fine column on the matter:

On the matter of judges as umpires, Kagan could have ducked and let the pitch sail past her. She didn’t. The umpire metaphor, she said, has “its limits” because it wrongly suggests that judging “is a kind of robotic enterprise” and that “everything is clear-cut.” Sounding rather like retired justice David Souter in his recent Harvard commencement address, Kagan said, correctly, that in the hard cases “there are frequently clashes of constitutional values.” That’s why “not every case is decided 9-0.”

Indeed, the umpire metaphor is dangerously and maybe even intentionally misleading. It implies that the answer a particular Supreme Court majority comes up with is the one and only possible answer to a difficult question. If this were true, we would not be having the very political struggle over the court that was so evident during these hearings.

Also, a nice little bit on the absurd conservative complaints of judicial activism (as you probably know, it is the conservatives who are so happy to overturn laws they don’t like):

Thus did Sen. Tom Coburn ask her whether she would rule against a law requiring Americans to eat a certain number of fruits and vegetables.

“Sounds like a dumb law,” Kagan replied, and then she spoke admiringly of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes who “hated a lot of the legislation that was being enacted” in the early years of the 20th century “but insisted that if the people wanted it, it was their right to go hang themselves.”

“Judges,” Kagan declared, “should realize that they’re not the most important people in our democratic system of government.” It’s a line that might usefully be engraved on a wall of the Supreme Court building.

Yes, Republicans seemed to be admitting implicitly, it is conservatives who are now the judicial activists. That’s why they moved on during last week’s hearings to a new attack line against liberal jurists as being “results-oriented.”

I did not really follow the hearings all that closely, but I’m certainly impressed by these bits from Kagan.

BP gets it wrong

It is beyond appalling what BP has gotten away with in completely pretending that they could actually handle a spill before this happened.  It is appalling that they would clearly lie so brazenly to make sure they got permission to seek their additional billions in profits and it is also appalling that the government would clearly have taken such limited, if any, steps to see if BP’s clean-up plan bore any relation to reality.  It’s really just disgusting.  I so wish some people would be spending time in jail for the devastation to nature and people they have created.  Why so annoyed today?  This:

In the 77 days since oil from the ruptured Deepwater Horizon began to gush into the Gulf of Mexico, BP has skimmed or burned about 60 percent of the amount it promised regulators it could remove in a single day.

Read that again.  Less in 77 days than they said they could clean up in a single day.  Bastards.  More depressing figures:

In a March report that was not questioned by federal officials, BP said it had the capacity to skim and remove 491,721 barrels of oil each day in the event of a major spill.

As of Monday, with about 2 million barrels released into the gulf, the skimming operations that were touted as key to preventing environmental disaster have averaged less than 900 barrels a day.

Skimming has captured only 67,143 barrels, and BP has relied on burning to remove 238,095 barrels. Most of the oil recovered — about 632,410 barrels — was captured directly at the site of the leaking well.

You will be shocked, shocked to learn that BP is not interested in commenting upon this. Now, if you really want to add to being shocked and depressed by the whole thing, check out this thoroughly engaging and depressing Post photo gallery of wildlife rescue and cleanup.

Medical errors and Space shuttle crashes

Absolutely fascinating interview with former astronaut and current Veteran’s Administration safety expert, James Bagian. He nicely summarizes a lot of what I have read elsewhere on medical errors and malpractice claims.  Short version– it’s the systems in place that matter, not the individuals making mistakes; when you mess up, say you’re sorry.   He also discusses the space shuttle disasters.  I never knew that the expected fail rate at the time of the Challenger crash was 4%.  Wow.  And, I think I was vaguely aware that there was basically a cover-up of what happened to the actual astronauts, but Bagian puts it in stark and disturbing terms:

You were part of the team that investigated the Challenger accident. Were you satisfied with how that investigation was handled?

Overall I didn’t have big problems with it. But one thing that was deliberately buried was what happened to the crew. I did that part of the investigation, and there was tremendous political pressure not to tell anyone what happened—not even the other people in the crew office. They didn’t learn for months, which was totally inappropriate. They wouldn’t even let us put in checklists about what to do in the case of a breakup similar to Challenger. There’s ways you could probably survive it, but politically we weren’t allowed to discuss that for years, which to me is total hogwash. There are still many people that don’t understand that the crew of the Challenger didn’t die until they hit the water. They were all strapped into their seats in a basically intact crew module; their hearts were still beating when they hit the water. People think they were blown to smithereens, but that’s not what happened. And the problem with that is the same one we were talking about with regard to medicine: if you don’t learn what you can from a tragedy, you can’t mitigate that risk in the future.

My blog stats tell me, that much to my dismay, you, yes you reading this right now, almost never click through to the source material I recommend, but think about proving me wrong on this one.

It’s the Unemployment, Stupid

And, by “stupid” I mean the Republicans in Congress who are perfectly willing to trash the economy for short-term political gain; the Republicans in Congress who are so clueless that they don’t get it when it comes to unemployment; the Democratic poser deficit-hawks who are just preening morons; and anybody else more concerned with short-term political concern about the deficit over the longer term health of the economy and the millions of suffering Americans.

Slate’s Daniel Gross has a nice column explaining just how short-sighted it is to focus on the deficit instead of relieving unemployment:

My suspicion is that too many people in Washington think it’s smart short-term politics not to demand urgent action on unemployment…

But they’re also wrong. Forget about the damage to the economy at large, or to those people who aren’t working. For both parties, whether you’re a deficit hawk, a tax-cutting obsessive, or an incumbent bent on re-election in 2010 or 2012—persistent high unemployment is poison. Payroll and income taxes—in other words, taxes paid by people with jobs—provide the lion’s share of federal tax revenues. For Democrats, there’s no way to cut the deficit or find revenue for new initiatives unless they grow. Should Republicans retake control of the House and Senate next year, their first order of business would be to preserve the Bush tax cuts that are set to expire—a move that would make already large deficits even larger and thus render significant tax-reduction impossible.

Matt Yglesias summarizes the dissension among Obama’s political (wrong) vs. economic (right) advisers, and concludes thusly:

The President should almost never side with his political team in a dispute of this nature. The reason is that the single most important factor determining a president’s political fortunes is the fate of the economy. Tradeoffs can exist in the form of things that are short-term economic pain for long-term economic pain. But there’s no real tradeoff between “unpopular but growth-boosting measures that ultimately make you more popular” and “popular but growth-strangling measures that ultimately make you less popular.” When it comes to macroeconomic management, it’s results that matter most.

I really find the whole situation quite depressing.  I’m super-lucky– I have a job that’s not going anywhere.  But because I actually care about people other than myself, I sure as hell wish our dysfunctional government could actually do more about the problem.

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