Shared posts

23 Jul 22:02

Best Cover Song Ever?

by Andrew Sullivan
Brian Stouffer

Pointless to have a contest. This is the best cover song ever. Anyone who disagrees is clinically insane.

A reader throws down the gauntlet in our new contest (guidelines here): “For me, Johnny Cash’s version of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” takes the cake.” He has a point:

Songwriter Trent Reznor’s quote is worth reading:

I pop the video in, and wow… Tears welling, silence, goose-bumps… Wow. [I felt like] I just lost my girlfriend, because that song isn’t mine anymore… It really made me think about how powerful music is as a medium and art form. I wrote some words and music in my bedroom as a way of staying sane, about a bleak and desperate place I was in, totally isolated and alone. [Somehow] that winds up reinterpreted by a music legend from a radically different era/genre and still retains sincerity and meaning — different, but every bit as pure

It really builds and builds …

18 Jul 07:36

Death and taxes: morality versus bureaucratic casuistry

by Chris Bertram

Killing people is wrong.

People ought to do their fair share.

Both of these seem like plausible but not exceptionless moral principles. Sometime it is ok to kill people. For example, if you need to kill someone who is attacking you to protect yourself from death or serious injury, then you are permitted to do so. But if you can achieve the goal of protecting yourself without killing your attacker, then you should. The things you do to protect yourself should be necessary and should be proportional to the actual threat. In ordinary life, it is only people like Tony Martin or George Zimmerman (or their apologists) who think that a threat or the mere perception of one gives you licence to simply blow someone away.

Likewise people should do their share to contribute towards the common infrastructure from which we all benefit. Public services, maintaining a legal system, filling in holes in the road, stuff like that. Sometimes there are excuses and justifications for not contributing. Some people have no money, some people are even too young, or old, or sick to do so. But most people should do their bit, though there may be disagreement on exactly what that bit is.

These two things—killing and paying taxes—don’t seem to have much to do with one another. But I think there are some interesting similarities. In both cases there are plausible moral principles but alongside them there are detailed public and legal codes that purport to implement those principles. And in each case there are people or bodies who think (and claim) they have discharged their moral obligations when they have complied with the letter of the codes – that the codes encapsulate all the things that they are morally required to do. What is more, in each case, many of the people who take this attitude to the rules expend a lot of effort trying to affect the content of the rules and attempting to find interpretations of the rules (“loopholes” and similar) that work to their advantage.

Take the case of killing, as covered by “just war theory”. People (and peoples) have the right of self-defence. (At least, I assume here that they do.) But under just war theory the thought you shouldn’t kill an attacker unless you really need to is transmuted into rules about necessity and proportionality that simply provide a weak constraint on states pursuing their advantage. So long as a vaguely plausible interpretation of military necessity can be cooked up and enough uncertainty shed on the general requirement of proportionality, the rest becomes public relations. You can kill, just so long as you can gesture in the vague direction of the rules. And people (lawyers, philosophers) can be employed to write stuff muddying the waters. (Some of them will even do it for free!)

A rather similar thing happens for tax. The tax laws define an expected level of contribution, but wealthy people and corporations lobby government for all kinds of exemptions and changes and then employ lawyers and accountants to minimize their own contribution. And when people object to Apple, Google and Amazon using the roads and infrastructure by domiciling themselves in Luxembourg or Ireland to avoid paying for them, they point to their compliance with the letter of the law.

There’s a further parallel too. In both cases, a fiduciary relationship with someone else is deployed by way for moral justification for the policy. In the tax case, companies have a duty to their shareholders that supposedly means the are under an obligation to minimize their contribution. In the case of war, governments pursue the interests of their citizens (supposedly) subject to the very weak constraints that they themselves have helped weaken. And in each case, the lawyers, accountants, philosophers are on hand to lobby, interpret or write op-ed pieces in the Wall Street Journal.

For both death and taxes, a moral principle that ought to guide a person’s (or a collective’s) actions has been transmuted into a matter of bureaucratic rule compliance and public relations management. Impertinent questions about whether a state is entitled to kill some people or about whether Google is paying its fair share can then be batted away with a gesture towards “the rules”. So it goes.

27 Jun 17:22

Uh-Oh …

by Andrew Sullivan
Brian Stouffer

How about we give him $500 million to NOT do that?

President Obama – in a huge and epic U-turn – wants $500 million to train “moderate” Syrian rebels:

Previously, US aid to the Syrian opposition that is fighting dictator Bashar al-Assad focused on non-lethal provisioning, while the Central Intelligence Agency focused on sending small arms and missiles to what the US calls the “vetted” Syrian moderates. Yet the Gulf Arab states have established an arms pipeline giving a substantive military edge to jihadist groups fighting Assad and one another. … US military training for the Syrians, three-and-a-half years into a conflict that has killed more than 150,000 people and recast the boundaries of the Middle East, is likely to take place in Jordan, where the US military already trains its Iraqi counterparts. It is also in line with Obama’s desired template for counterterrorism, as unveiled at West Point, in which the US trains foreign security forces to assault terrorists themselves.

Lisa Lundquist reviews why this is a terrible idea:

At this point, it is not entirely clear which vetted elements of the Syrian opposition can be relied upon to keep the arms out of the hands of the jihadists groups who dominate the battlefield, including the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS), and al Qaeda’s branch in Syria, the Al Nusrah Front.

As The Long War Journal has documented over the past year at least, in numerous instances previous US efforts to equip ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels have been compromised by the frequent partnering of ‘moderate’ and Islamist forces, as well as by the sheer power of the Islamist forces themselves. [See Threat Matrix report, Arming the 'moderate' rebels in the Syrian south.]

It is difficult to see how throwing another $500 million into the Syrian morass will effect a positive outcome. Jihadist forces currently control virtually all of the border crossings into Syria from Turkey and Jordan (not to mention Iraq) through which Western aid would flow. It is a well-known fact that these jihadists determine the distribution of such supplies once they come into Syria.

Also, the FSA’s leadership was apparently just sacked. Aren’t these the ones we’d theoretically be helping? Or maybe it was a precondition:

Syria’s opposition government sacked the military command of the rebel Free Syrian Army late Thursday over corruption allegations, as the White House asked lawmakers for $500 million for moderate insurgents. A statement by the opposition government said its chief Ahmad Tohme “decided to disband the Supreme Military Council and refer its members to the government’s financial and administration committee for investigation”.

The decision came amid widespread reports of corruption within the ranks of the FSA, which is backed by Western and Arab governments in its battle to overthrow the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. The government in exile said it was also sacking FSA chief of staff Brigadier General Abdelilah al-Bashir.

There’s one silver lining. The initiative, as neocon Gary Schmitt argues, “has all the appearances of being a strategy for appearing to do something without actually doing much of anything”:

Five hundred million is a pittance when it comes to these kinds of operations. Much like the one billion for new defense initiatives in Eastern Europe in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it amounts to a smidgen here, and a smidgen there.

The truth of the matter is that the Obama team has let things get so out of hand in Syria that they have little interest now in actually removing Assad from power. Indeed, with ISIS on the move in Iraq, Assad, along with Iran, has in effect become an ally in that conflict. At best, this new effort is a campaign to keep the killing going so that no one group is finally successful. But of course conflicts are not like backfires, in which a fire is deliberately set in the path of an oncoming fire with a goal of having the oncoming fire burn itself out. These kinds of “fires” will jump that line and typically increase the conflagration—as we have already seen in the case of Syria over the past three years as the conflict has spread to Lebanon, Iraq and perhaps soon, Jordan.

Schmitt sees that as a bad thing, of course. But then he can write phrases like “the Obama team has let things get so out of hand in Syria” as if this entire crisis is simply a function of whatever America decides – or doesn’t decide – to do. Maybe Obama’s initiative is a way to fob off the hyper-ventilating hegemonists and buy some time. I sure hope so. The last thing we should want is for this kind of meddling to be in any way impactful.

26 Jun 22:47

Reverse engineering Ross Douthat

by John Quiggin

Responding to the latest attempt to breathe some life into the zombie of “reform conservatism”, Matt Yglesias noted a revealing silence on climate change. As he observed

The thought process that ended with this approach is easy enough to understand. Whether climate change is a massive conspiracy orchestrated by Al Gore, 99 percent of scientists, and a dazzling array of foreign governments or a genuine problem is hotly debated inside the conservative movement. Whether or not fossil-fuel producers should be hampered in their activities by regulatory concern about pollution, by contrast, is not controversial. For smart, up-and-coming conservatives to mention climate change, they would have to pick a side on the controversial issue. Do they sound like rubes by siding with the conspiracy theorists, or do they alienate the rubes by acknowledging the basic facts and the coming up with some other reason to favor inaction? The optimal choice is not to choose.

I made much the same point a year ago in response to Ramesh Ponnuru’s <a href=”””>plaintive observation that “To be a good reformer [in liberal eyes] a conservative has to agree that the vast bulk of conservatives are insane.”

In this NYT piece, Ross Douthat tries to respond to Yglesias. He ends up both confirming the point regarding climate change and illustrating the true nature of reform conservatism.

Since Douthat can’t refute Yglesias’ point about the craziness of the Republican base, he doesn’t try. Rather, he dismisses the point as “silly” and moves straight to his own apologia for lining up with the crazies. This is rather challenging. As Douthat admits, its not long since Republicans like John McCain were on the sane side of this debate. And it’s not as if the recent evidence (that is, the evidence coming from science rather than the rightwing parallel universe) has changed anything.

Still, Douthat tries desperately to claim that, in following his party where it leads, he is merely responding to the changed circumstances of the post-2008 economic slump. Supposedly, a relatively modest slowdown in economic growth means that it is now imperative to do nothing about climate change.

The best way to understand Douthat’s piece is by reverse engineering his argument as a constrained minimization problem The objective is to minimize the craziness he needs to embrace, subject to the constraint that he must end up in line with the denialist conspiracy theorists who dominate the base. The best approach is to combine the most inflated estimates of the cost of mitigation, with the rosiest projections of the implications of doing nothing.

This is “reform conservatism” in a nutshell. The Republican party is a coalition of crazies, racists and plutocrats. But there is a political requirement to talk about policy in a way that is not obviously crazy, racist or pro-rich. The task of conservative1 intellectuals is to square this circle.

  1. Corey Robin would say that this has always been the true function of conservatism. I’m more inclined to believe that a genuinely conservative approach to politics has some potential merit, not realized in actually existing conservatism. 

20 Jun 15:35

Gentrification’s Racial Arbitrage

by Peter Frase
Brian Stouffer

Those last two sentences, man.

When it comes to housing and gentrification, anti-racism is about more than purifying what’s in our hearts or our heads.

Robby Virus / Flickr

Robby Virus / Flickr

This post spins out something that occurred to me in the course of writing about consumerist politics and its limitations. One of the sections concerns gentrification, and the political dead end of blaming it on what Anthony Galuzzo called “the fucking hipster show.”

Artists, students, and others classified as “hipsters” are often blamed for gentrification, rather than being understood as people who are often driven into poorer and browner neighborhoods by large-scale processes rooted in capital accumulation and government policy. This creates a divisive cultural distraction from the need to organize neighborhoods across race and class lines.

I go into that in more detail in the forthcoming essay. But I had an odd thought about the racist dimension of gentrification that didn’t fit in there. Racism is a central, unavoidable component of the whole process of gentrification in places like the United States. Landlords in non-white areas perceive that if they can bring white people into a neighborhood, they will attract more people like them.

At first, the newcomers may be the low-income hipster types, but they are the pioneers who make the area safe for colonization by the rich. The ultimate outcome is that the non-white residents get priced out and displaced, along with the original gentrifiers. It’s a process that’s been repeated so many times in recent decades that that it barely needs explaining anymore.

But what occurred to me is that the first wave of white gentrifiers are engaging in what we might call, by analogy with finance, a kind of racial arbitrage. Arbitrage is the practice of exploiting differences in prices for the same good in different markets. When such discrepancies appear, it can be possible to make risk-free money by buying out of one market and immediately selling into another.

Early gentrifiers aren’t engaging in arbitrage in this strict sense; the gains that go to early home-buyers, for instance, are consequences of the unfolding of the gentrification dynamic itself and not of some market imperfection in static comparison. But in the early stages, racism gives rise to a situation where the perception of certain neighborhoods diverges from their lived reality. A white person who notices this can exploit it to procure housing at a discount.

This is primarily because, all things being equal, white people perceive a neighborhood as having more crime the more black people it has in it. Blacks are, in fact, more likely to live in high crime areas, but white perceptions go beyond this reality (see the linked paper for a detailed study).

A white person who knows this will realize that an apartment in a black neighborhood will be systematically cheaper than the same apartment in a white neighborhood. By renting in the black neighborhood, whitey gets a discount without actually facing any additional danger.

The size of this discount is magnified by a second aspect of white racism about black crime. This one relates not to how much crime there is, but to what drives crime, and in particular violent crime. Many white people believe that rather than having a rational basis, violence in black neighborhoods is driven by some kind of cultural pathology or inherent animalistic nature. We therefore come to believe that mere proximity to black people puts us in danger.

This is illustrated in the recent, excellent debate between Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jonathan Chait. (Excellent on Coates’ side, that is. Chait’s contribution consisted of digging himself into a hole, then calling in a backhoe.)

Chait, like many white liberals, tends to fall back on nebulous ideas of black cultural pathology to explain why black people face higher levels of violence and poverty. The primary difference between people like Chait and his conservative counterparts is Chait’s magnanimous acknowledgment that black pathology stems from the legacy of slavery rather than inherent inferiority.

Coates demolishes this whole patronizing and misbegotten enterprise. Drawing on his own experiences growing up in Baltimore, he shows how violence and machismo can be understandable and even necessary ways of surviving in a tough environment. “If you are a young person living in an environment where violence is frequent and random, the willingness to meet any hint of violence with yet more violence is a shield.”

But white gentrifiers moving into black neighborhoods don’t face anything like this same environment of violence. For one thing, a major source of random violence in black communities is the police, who certainly don’t treat white newcomers the same way. For another, these newcomers are disconnected from the social networks, and the legal and illegal economies, on which many urban residents depend for survival, but which can also be suffused with violence.

Certainly, white gentrifiers may be subject to property crime if they are perceived as rich or as easy marks. But the notion that they face the same murder rate as their black neighbors is simply preposterous.

Nevertheless, when I’ve mentioned the possibility of moving to a high-crime, predominantly black neighborhood, I’ve heard jokes — even from leftist comrades — along the lines of “heh, only if you want to get shot.” These are, presumably, people I won’t have to compete with for an apartment. Hence the racist perceptions of crime’s sources and targets drives down rents further and compounds the racial arbitrage.

Obviously real people don’t make such pure and conscious calculations, and white people find themselves living in mostly non-white places due to a variety of cross-cutting cultural and economic pressures. Nevertheless, it is the lower degree of racism of the early arrivals that helps start the whole process of revaluation and displacement.

There’s an almost absurd quality to it: White supremacy is so pervasive, and its structural mechanisms so powerful, that even identifying and rejecting racist attitudes can implicate white people in the reproduction of white supremacy.

It’s an important lesson that shows why anti-racism isn’t just about purifying what’s in our hearts or our heads. It’s about transforming the economic systems and property relations that continue to reproduce racist practices and ideas.

17 Jun 01:15

The Best Of The Dish Today

by Andrew Sullivan
Brian Stouffer

"[O]ur goal should be to prevent hell, not to create heaven on earth. The former is possible, the latter is not."

The United States Celebrates The World Cup in Brazil

It’s been a sobering day, with one paragraph I read – by Razib Khan – sticking in my mind:

“No matter what establishment voices assert, intervention in foreign lands in a ham-handed fashion to prop up our American values is bound to lead us down a path of tears. As Shadi Hamid states, the future of democracy in the Middle East is going to be illiberal. This may be inevitable. We don’t need to avert our eyes from it, and we need to acknowledge that so we were, so they will be. It took the Thirty Years war to finally purge the enthusiasm of sectarianism from the cultural DNA of Europeans (and even then, religious minorities were second class citizens for centuries). There will be no calm reasoning with Iraqis of any stripe because the march of history continues, and only sadness can convince all parties that moderation is necessary for the existence of modern nation-states. Intervention in some fashion may be inevitable in the world, but our goal should be to prevent hell, not to create heaven on earth. The former is possible, the latter is not.”

“Only sadness can convince.” An awful truth – but a deeply human one.

Today, we tried to cover every aspect of the confusing and dynamic civil war in Iraq. An alliance with Iran? The Battle for Baghdad – and how ISIS could regret it.  The welcome calm at the White House. Iran’s quagmire now? The Sunni quandary. The Kurdish exception. The impact on Syria. And, of course, the shamelessness of Bill Kristol.

Relief? A South Park superfan Book of Mormon supercut. And I answer readers on whether I can endorse (or even vote for this time) Hillary Clinton.

The most popular posts of the day was No Drama Obama On Iraq; followed by Responding To Student Groans, Ctd,

Many of today’s posts were updated with your emails – read them all here.  You can always leave your unfiltered comments at our Facebook page and @sullydish. 14 more readers became subscribers today. You can join them here - and get access to all the readons and Deep Dish – for a little as $1.99 month.

See you in the morning.

(Photo: Soccer fans cheer for team U.S.A. as they face Ghana during the World Cup in Brazil at Jack Demsey’s bar on June 16, 2014 in New York City. By Michael Loccisano/Getty Images.)

12 Jun 20:36

No, We Don’t Need To Go Back Into Iraq

by Andrew Sullivan

Dexter Filkins assigns three reasons for the continuing disintegration of a country destroyed by the US invasion and occupation. The first two are the sectarian implosion in Syria and the sectarian authoritarianism of Nouri al-Maliki. But he then blames the Obama administration for not fighting harder to keep a minimal force in Iraq over Maliki’s and the American people’s wishes as the occupation came to a merciful close in 2011. IRAQ-UNRESTSomehow, that residual force would have restrained Maliki in his Shiite excesses, as the US did from 2006 onward, in the middle of a swirling civil war. The old guard in Washington will jump at this conclusion – with the neocon right and neocon left (what else do we call the liberals who never see a conflict in which the US should not be involved for the betterment of humankind?) rallying behind a new interventionism or, worse, a Captain Hindsight desire to pummel Obama again, while offering no real alternative.

It’s always a tempting idea that if we had stayed a little longer, all would have been well. It’s worth recalling the neocon desire to stay in Iraq for decades if necessary, in order to somehow forcibly impose a democratic structure on a sectarian, authoritarian and pathological non-state. But this is based on the fundamental illusion that the surge achieved anything of substance in altering sectarian divisions or Islamist extremism and thereby we ever had a success to sustain. We didn’t. We were able to temporarily pacify – by bribes and military maneuvering – a civil war that had always simmered below the Iraqi surface and had flared brutally even as we had 100,000 troops in the country. The idea that a few hundred could have prevented Iraq’s return to its historic sectarian entropy strikes me as absurd. It is not crazy for a Maliki ally to air this idea to Filkins in order to exonerate Maliki in the ensuing blood bath. What’s crazy is to take it at face value.

Yes, we broke Iraq in 2003. But another eight years of occupation, and billions in expense, fulfilled what obligation we had to the place. Does its disintegration mean more peril for the US?

We cannot know. But right now, it is a classic battleground for the ancient Shia-Sunni religious war still raging in the Middle East – with Iran and Saudi Arabia deep in the conflict. We have and must have no dog in that fight. And if we were to intervene again, we would only increase the likelihood of our being a target for some of the extremists now thriving there – on both sides. Mercifully, they hate each other more than they hate us – unless we give them yet another reason to turn their attention to the West.

The interventionists, remember, wanted us backing the Sunnis in Syria and now want us to back the Shia and Kurds in Iraq to prevent a newly fanatical Sunni insurgency. It makes you dizzy after a while. After a while, we’d just be taking turns backing one side or another, all the while painting a giant target on our own back.  But the hegemonic impulse to take every problem in the world as our own remains strong – especially among elites who love the idea of throwing their weight around in a world they have demonstrated they do not understand and cannot control.

I fear that the sane, smart decision to tell Maliki that we are not coming over the horizon to save him may not hold against the interventionists within the administration or against the Washington elite’s desire to keep running the world as they used to. If Obama succumbs, as he did in the disastrous Libya intervention, then much that he has achieved in de-leveraging the US from its neo-imperial burden would be at risk.

This is their religious war, and not ours. Neither an American soldier nor an American cent should be spent to alter its trajectory.

11 Jun 21:12

Who Is Dave Brat?

by Andrew Sullivan
Brian Stouffer

"As an economist and paid follower of Ayn Rand, he will face the added difficulty of not being a very good economist."

Chuck Todd peppered him with policy questions earlier today:

Betsy Woodruff profiled him back in January:

Brat’s background should make him especially appealing to conservative organizations. He chairs the department of economics and business at Randolph-Macon College and heads its BB&T Moral Foundations of Capitalism program. The funding for the program came from John Allison, the former CEO of BB&T (a financial-services company) who now heads the Cato Institute. The two share an affinity for Ayn Rand: Allison is a major supporter of the Ayn Rand Institute, and Brat co-authored a paper titled “An Analysis of the Moral Foundations in Ayn Rand.” Brat says that while he isn’t a Randian, he has been influenced by Atlas Shrugged and appreciates Rand’s case for human freedom and free markets.

His academic background isn’t all economics, though. Brat got a business degree from Hope College in Holland, Mich., then went to Princeton seminary. Before deciding to focus on economics, he wanted to be a professor of systematic theology and cites John Calvin, Karl Barth, and Reinhold Niebuhr as influences. And he says his religious background informs his views on economics. “I’ve always found it amazing how we have the grand swath of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and we lost moral arguments on the major issue of our day,” he says, referring to fiscal-policy issues.

Beauchamp digs into Brat’s unpublished book on economics:

Brat clearly wants to bring to bear is the role of “values” in economics. Brat seems to believe that most economists are motivated by philosophy rather than science: they’re secretly utilitarians who believe that the goal of public policy is to produce the greatest good for the greatest number. He thinks this leads them to wrongly assert that their preferred policies are “scientifically” the best policies, when in reality they’re just the policies that a utilitarian would say are the best. “Economists from the beginning to the end, have engaged in normative, ethical and moral arguments which diverge greatly from the work of the ‘true’ science which they espouse,” Brat writes.

Timothy B. Lee focuses on Brat’s views of the security state:

In a recent interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch, he argued that “The NSA’s indiscriminate collection of data on all Americans is a disturbing violation of our Fourth Amendment right to privacy.” On his website, Brat says he favors “the end of bulk phone and email data collection by the NSA.” If Brat takes Cantor’s seat, it will shift the Republican Party a bit more toward the Amash position on surveillance issues. That’s significant because Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which the government has cited to justify its phone records program, will come up for renewal next year. With more Republicans like Brat and Amash in Congress, that could be a tough sell.

John Nichols highlights Brat’s populism:

Brat’s anti-corporate rhetoric distinguished him from Cantor, and from most prominent Republicans—whether they identify with the Republican “establishment” or the Tea Party wing of a party that in recent years has been defined by its subservience to corporate interests.

Ana Marie Cox fully expects his star to fade:

Congressional seats are not made of Valyrian steel; they do not remain powerful no matter who holds them. When he leaves the House, Cantor will take much of his influence with him – probably straight to K Street, where he arguably can hold more sway over national policy as a lobbyist than he ever could as a representative from Virginia.

Brat will have to build his political capital from zero: as an economist, he probably has a better understanding than most of us about just how difficult that is. As an economist and paid follower of Ayn Rand, he will face the added difficulty of not being a very good economist.

Noah Millman, on the other hand, gives Brat the benefit of the doubt:

Scott Galupo may be right that Brat is going to be “another useless crank,” but we can always hope that he will be a useful crank, the kind who demands a wildly against-the-consensus look at this or that particular issue, as opposed to someone willing to destroy the institution if he doesn’t get his way. The House of Representatives is pretty big; there’s for those who make the sausage and room for those who want to change the recipe – even radically. We’ve just had enough of folks whose idea of changing the recipe is adding e coli.

If Brat becomes a table-pounder on immigration, or NSA spying, or corporate welfare – he may make a useful contribution to shaping the debate, even if I don’t always agree with the direction. If he refuses to vote for any budget that doesn’t repeal Obamacare – not so much.

11 Jun 16:34

The California Constitution Does Not Enact Ms. Michelle Rhee’s Educational Theories

by Scott Lemieux

My colleague has already explained the most obvious problem with yesterday’s discharge from the California courts, Lochner II: This Time It’s Educational. Whether the policy preferred by Treu is preferable to the status quo is beside the point because it’s not his commission to set the policy.

It’s also worth noting, however, that as the millions of people who unnecessarily lack health insurance are well aware this kind of amateur policy-making by the courts has a strong tendency to be inept. Dana Goldstein, while acknowledging that California’s tenure system is decidedly suboptimal, notes a fatal flaw in Treu’s proposed new legislation:

But here’s where Judge Reulf’s theory is faulty: Getting rid of these bad laws may do little to systemically raise student achievement. For high-poverty schools, hiring is at least as big of a challenge as firing, and the Vergara decision does nothing to make it easier for the most struggling schools to attract or retain the best teacher candidate.

From 2009 to 2011, the federal government offered 1,500 effective teachers in 10 major cities—including Los Angeles—a $20,000 bonus to transfer to an open job at a higher poverty school with lower test scores. In the world of public education, $20,000 is a major financial incentive. All these teachers were already employed by urban districts with diverse student populations; they weren’t scared of working with poor, non-white children. Yet less than a quarter of the eligible teachers chose to apply for the bonuses. Most did not want to teach in the schools that were the most deeply segregated by race and class and faced major pressure to raise test scores.

Principals have known about this problem for ages. In Chicago, economist Brian Jacob found that when the city’s school district made it easier for principals to fire teachers, nearly 40 percent of principals, including many at the worst performing, poorest schools, fired no teachers at all. Why? For one thing, firing a coworker is unpleasant. It takes more than a policy change to overturn the culture of public education, which values collegiality and continuous improvement over swift accountability. That culture is not a wholly bad thing—with so many teachers avoiding the poorest schools, principals have little choice but to work with their existing staffs to help them get better at their jobs.

The can opener that education “reformers” always assume is that there’s a large supply of outstanding teachers just waiting there to take the most demanding challenges as soon as a school’s weakest teachers are forced out. Why we should assume this pool of brilliant teachers just waiting to take the worst jobs is…far from clear. The idea that making these jobs much more insecure will increase the willingness of these imaginary teachers to take these jobs is bizarre — but without this assumption Treu’s argument collapses. Treu is essentially asking schools who most need to attract good teachers to try to recruit them by offering them less, in the name of educational equality.  Can’t see any flaws in that plan!

And, yes, Arne Duncan’s endorsement of this decision is a disgrace on multiple levels.

10 Jun 18:19

Hillary, The Neo-Neocon?

by Andrew Sullivan
Brian Stouffer

"I really don’t like that hawk-dove paradigm. The real paradigm should be between those who have fully absorbed the terrible lessons of the first decade of the 21st century and those who see it as a mere, unfortunate blip in the maintenance of American global hegemony."

Hillary Clinton Awarded The 2013 Lantos Human Rights Prize

Kim Ghattas paints Hillary Clinton as a secretary of state much more concerned than her boss with upholding American power and prestige around the world, and as her new book would have it, more realistic about the need to deal firmly with international threats:

Clinton was loyal and discreet, but within the confines of that loyalty, she sometimes chafed at Obama’s policy, perhaps never more so than over Syria. In Rabat in February 2012, we chatted after an interview that had focused on Syria’s revolution and Washington’s hands-off approach. She shook her head as she told me that Russia, Hezbollah, and Iran were all in, supporting Assad.

Her implicit question was: Where is the United States? We know now she was advocating internally for more robust support for the rebels, because she understood that America was leaving too much empty space for spoilers like Hezbollah to fill (there’s a separate debate to be had about whether it would have been the right policy). And with regard to dealing with Russia more directly, Clinton emphasizes in Hard Choices that she was more clear-eyed about Vladimir Putin than Obama, advising the president to turn down a summit with the Russian leader months before Obama ended up doing just that.

For me, it’s one fundamental worry about her: an instinct to meddle, and a barely reconstructed mindset about interventionism straight from the hubristic 1990s. Then there’s the question of Israel/Palestine and the settlements that continue apace. Aaron Blake pulls from the book one key foreign policy issue on which Clinton and Obama disagreed:

Clinton says that she differed with Obama on his push for a 2009 freeze on the construction of new Israeli settlements in disputed regions. Clinton suggests she wouldn’t have adopted such a hard-line stance and says that it increased tensions between the two sides. “I was worried that we would be locking ourselves into a confrontation we didn’t need,” she writes. Still, she says she toed the line as a loyal Cabinet secretary. “So that spring I delivered the President’s message as forcefully as I could, then tried to contain the consequences when both sides reacted badly,” Clinton writes.

The upshot: Obama’s occasionally rocky relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is no secret. This sounds like Clinton saying she’s a little less likely to rock the boat with the United States’ top ally in the region.

My fear is that this is tantamount to surrender to the Greater Israel lobby and to the entire project of Greater Israel. Thomas Wright praises Clinton for using her term at State to “shape the international order.” But Chotiner shrugs at her record:

It’s true that she put an admirable focus on women’s rights, and played a role in isolating Iran. But the Afghanistan surge didn’t seem to have a huge effect; Syria policy has been a failure, even if the alternatives were all bleak; Iraq has collapsed since our departure (again, good alternatives did not clearly present themselves); she was probably too cautious about the Egyptian people’s overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, although that didn’t keep him in power; she backed the Libyan campaign, which currently must count as a mixed bag …

Still, even if you want to argue that Clinton had no huge successes, her tenure had no gigantic managerial failures either. Her competence has rarely been called into question by anyone except those on the extreme right still frothing at the mouth over Benghazi. (She could have handled the fallout more adeptly, it is true.) If it seems odd that her most high-profile job tells us so little about what sort of president she would be, remember that Obama’s Senate career told us very little about his presidency.

Here’s the record: support for the disastrous intervention in Libya and for getting involved in one side in the Syrian civil war. Christian Caryl notes that Burma isn’t the success story Hillary is trying to sell it as:

After the initial euphoria of Thein Sein’s early moves toward change, Myanmar has stagnated. Aung San Suu Kyi and her small group of pro-democracy colleagues sit in parliament, but they have little real power. Aung San Suu Kyi has launched a campaign to amend the current constitution, which was designed by the military to allow for a liberalization of national political life that would nonetheless leave it firmly in charge of the parliament and all the other national institutions that count. But so far the generals show no inclination to budge — leaving the pro-democratic forces little chance of fielding a viable candidate in next year’s presidential election. In a word: The military remains firmly in control. Democracy remains a theory.

Noah Millman hopes for a dovish opponent to challenge Hillary in the primaries:

Hillary Clinton is going to run as an extremely hawkish Democrat, because that’s who she actually is. This is not what the country needs, and probably not what the country wants, but it may well be what the country is going to get. If Clinton runs essentially unopposed in the Democratic primary, and faces a mainstream Republican in the fall, voters will likely have a choice between two hawks. …

There’s good reason, therefore, for voters who favor a more restrained foreign policy to hope that Clinton faces at least token opposition in the primaries focused primarily on that issue. Then there would at least be one forum where the topic would be raised, and raised seriously, for Clinton to address. In the best-case scenario, such opposition would get more press attention than it deserved, which would force Clinton to make some kind of gesture to placate the doves in her coalition.

I really don’t like that hawk-dove paradigm. The real paradigm should be between those who have fully absorbed the terrible lessons of the first decade of the 21st century and those who see it as a mere, unfortunate blip in the maintenance of American global hegemony. And it looks distressingly likely we have have a choice between two candidates who intend to return to the meddling, expensive and counter-productive past.

(Photo: Win McNamee/Getty)

03 Jun 16:31

An Official LGM Hero

by Erik Loomis

LGM has some principles shared across writers. For one, we like booze. For two, although I guess this is not fully confirmed among everyone, most of us at least think Cubs fans are subhuman. No offense to any Cubs fans who are readers, but really, you might want to reexamine your life. Still, sometimes the first point outweighs the second. Especially when the Cubs are not yet involved. Mr. Harry Caray, ladies and gentlemen, who decided to keep a diary of his alcohol purchases in 1972 so he could expense them:

Saturday, Jan. 1, lists four bars: the Back Room, still on Rush Street, plus three long-ago joints: 20 E. Delaware, Sully’s and Peppy’s, with expenses for each $10.30, $9.97, $10, and $8.95. This in a year when a six-pack of Old Style set you back $1.29.

You needed to cite who you entertained to get the write-off, so on New Year’s Day he lists Dave Condon, the Tribune sports columnist; Billy Sullivan, who owned Sully’s; and Joe Pepitone, the former Yankees first baseman who had been traded to the Cubs.

And so it begins. A chain of old-time Chicago bars — Riccardo’s, Boul Mich, Mr. Kelly’s. A posse of early 1970s sports figures — Wilt Chamberlain, Don Drysdale, Gale Sayers. Plus a few unexpected blasts from the past: boxer Jack Dempsey, comedian Jack Benny.

“These guys did nothing but go out and have a few cocktails,” said Jimmy Rittenberg, who owned Faces, which Caray visited 14 times in 1972. “I don’t know how they did it. They were 20, 30 years older than me and I couldn’t keep up with them.”

Jan. 16 something unusual happens. Caray is in Miami, yet there are no expenses, just one enigmatic word, “Super.”

After that break, if indeed it was, comes 288 consecutive days in bars, not only in Chicago, but New York City, and of course on the road with the Sox, beginning with spring training in Sarasota.

288 days in a row. 288. This is great too,

Toward the end of the diary, on Dec. 24, comes the kicker. After spending at least 354 of the previous 357 days in bars (DePorter counted 61 different tap houses) Caray writes, in a bold hand, “Vacation in Acapulco. Then “Vacation” every day until the year runs out.

Which makes me wonder how he knew he was on vacation. I guess if nobody was playing baseball in front of him and when he looked over the rim of his drink he saw Mexico, then he knew he was on vacation.

But give Caray credit. As old-fashioned, and perhaps even pathological, as the bar-crawling seems today, there is another truth worth mentioning: Harry Caray could have taken his drinks at home. He went out because it was his job.

This is when work meant something in this nation.

I mean, really, when you put George Jones to shame, you have reached impressive heights. Harry has no concern about aging 20 years in 5. He destroyed his body as a young man and just never stopped.

Despite working for the Cubs, I think Harry Caray deserves a place in the LGM Hall of Fame.

30 May 16:18

Thoughts On Kagan

by Andrew Sullivan
Brian Stouffer

"The uniqueness of the totalitarian threat was once a pillar of neoconservative ideology. Now that it might counsel a policy of prudent retrenchment, it’s suddenly absent from their rhetorical arsenal."


The Atlantic and The New Republic have both been on a roll lately, proving that long-form writing remains a vital part of our now-digital conversation. But I have to say I was underwhelmed by Bob Kagan’s endless piece, “Super-Powers Don’t Get To Retire.” The very title is simply wrong. Super-powers have retired again and again in world history – and it’s usually compulsory retirement. The retirement of both the British super-power in the twentieth and the previous Spanish super-power in the seventeenth came about because of imperial over-reach, in which the fiscal and economic costs of empire bankrupted the imperial motherland. And one of the striking lacunae in Kagan’s worldview is any sense that the US has limits, any awareness of the massive debt under which this country still labors, preventing all sorts of vital investments in education, infrastructure, and the like. The perpetual pattern of super-powers finding themselves hollowed out domestically, while for ever moving forward abroad, is one you would think Kagan would at least nod to. But like the neocons in the Bush administration for whom “deficits didn’t matter,” Kagan simply waves away the crippling cost of maintaining a military power greater than the ten next countries.

You can see this in the gob-smacking way in which some Beltway warriors casually want to the US to stay longer in Afghanistan, already the longest war in the history of the United States, costing the US, by some estimates, $10 million an hour. An argument for the eternal maintenance of American global hegemony that has no real accounting for that cost – in an age when most Americans are themselves struggling to retain their standard of living – is the definition of unserious.

Then, in Kagan’s view, there is the notion that there really isn’t much difference in the US confronting globally expansionist totalitarian empires and dealing with the usual tin-pot autocrats who have littered history for ever. The distinction between authoritarianism and totalitarianism – once made famous by Jeane Kirkpatrick – doesn’t seem to feature in Kagan’s worldview. But the only reason why the United States, after centuries as a Western hemisphere regional power, became the world’s policeman was totalitarianism – of the Nazi and then the Communist variety. Both the Axis powers and the Soviets harbored a universalizing ideology that demanded conquest, mass murder, and a huge modern military machine that reached Hawaii, all of which necessitated an American response. It is simply ludicrous to put Putin’s weak strutting around in his near-abroad in the same category of threat as the decades-long conquest of all of Eastern Europe by a totalitarian state. The uniqueness of the totalitarian threat was once a pillar of neoconservative ideology. Now that it might counsel a policy of prudent retrenchment, it’s suddenly absent from their rhetorical arsenal.

Then there is Kagan’s simply shameful refusal to note the catastrophes of over-reach that we just experienced in the Bush-Cheney era. You can read the essay and find not a scintilla of reckoning with that nightmare that Kagan himself did so much to promote. So we get an essay that deliberately and disingenuously says far more about America in the twentieth century than about America in the 21st. This after close to a hundred thousand dead in a broken, failed state called Iraq, thousands of fatalities of young Americans, and staggering costs. There is also no understanding at all that the United States can no longer argue that it may be a pain in the neck at times – but at least it’s better than the Soviets/Nazis. Growing up in another country, I can assure you this was a rampart of the case Americanophiles (including me) made in Europe for the US alliance for years. It was our logical ace. But that “lesser of two evils” defense of global hegemony has now disappeared, torturebehrouzmehriafpgetty.jpgrendering US hegemony far less legitimate than it only recently was.

Kagan also refuses to acknowledge another key aspect of the Bush administration legacy – and his own. The United States no longer has a leg to stand on when it comes to basic, universal moral norms that undergirded the entire internationalist system the US set up. The US is the only democratic power, apart from Israel, to violate the Geneva Conventions at will. This country perpetuated a regime of brutal torture and has never reckoned with it. This country still detains innocent prisoners of war indefinitely without trial and still subjects them to the torture of foul force-feeding. This country seized and brutally tortured one of its own citizens, without any trial, and with no due process, in the case of Jose Padilla. Its former vice-president and a large chunk of a major party aggressively want to bring back torture as a formal instrument of American democracy. If you think the world sees America as it once did – either as the lesser of two evils or as a paragon of democratic norms – you are deluding yourselves. Kagan did his part in helping destroy that core legitimization of global hegemony. He cannot now pretend it hasn’t happened, even as TNR has shamefully ducked the question of torture for the past decade.

Then there is the simple conservative wisdom that meddling in countries you do not understand is usually a recipe for disaster. Take the one intervention many liberal internationalists liked and argued for – Libya. The solipsistic idea that all that was at stake was preventing a possible massacre in one city has led to a failed state where Islamist terror is now widespread. Today David Brooks waxes lyrical about Kagan, just as he might have before the Iraq War – while completely ignoring the core conservative insight that these foreign and alien cultures and societies are simply beyond our ability to control or direct with any real practical wisdom. No admirer of Oakeshott can possibly believe that the US’ attempt to coax and mold other countries into our political model would lead to anything but tears. What staggers me is that, after Iraq, this point still hasn’t been absorbed by the neocons. There has been no chastening. There is no humility. And there is precious little conservatism.

David also used a really revealing phrase.

He writes of American foreign policy in the 20th Century that “presidents assertively tended the international garden so that small problems didn’t turn into big ones, even when core national interests were not at stake.” America tends the international garden. The world is ours to trim and tweak, plant and grow, mow and cut. The idea that we are actually tending other people’s gardens does not seem to occur to Brooks. The imperial over-hang is that great.

Mercifully, the American people disagree quite strongly and have so far acted as a restraint on the Beltway’s desire for more war, more meddling, and more intervention. Mercifully too, we have had a prudent, conservative president whose vision is both far more in tune with the realities of this interdependent world – far more advanced, wealthy and self-confident than the destroyed vistas of 1945 – and with the American people, whose rock-solid support is still essential for any intervention in the world to have the slightest chance of success. But these are weak constraints against the forces in Washington that still hanker for the hegemon’s swagger. I fear that the wisdom of Obama may not prevail in a future Clinton White House; and I fear that non-interventionists in the GOP will be neutered by the military-industrial complex and the Cheneyites who still drink the Kool-Aid of post-Cold War hubris.

You want American power to regain legitimacy? A prudent retrenchment would help. You want America to retain the option of global military power? Put the US on a path to fiscal balance and economic growth again. You are afraid of autocrats? Why? They will be with us always and they almost always fail. What succeeds is the democratic economic model – which is much more imperiled today by the centrifugal forces of technology and inequality than in a century. What we need to do now is focus on restoring the core economic and democratic health at home before clinging to a role whose legitimacy is in tatters. Restoring our luster as a global model would do far more to encourage democracy around the world than top-down meddling in other people’s business. That is what Obama has done or tried to do. And if you want a sustainable form of prudent, US intervention in global conflicts, it should be your top priority.

(Photos: President Obama at West Point; Seen through splintered bullet-proof glass, US soldiers from 2-12 Infantry Battalion examine their damaged Humvee after an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) detonated on the vehicle, following a patrol in the predominantly Sunni al-Dora neighborhood of southern Baghdad 19 March 2007; posters on the streets of Iran, after the Abu Ghraib revelations. All by Getty Images.)

02 Jun 15:15

The Vacant Soul Of John McCain

by By Charles P. Pierce

I firmly believe that, in some very prominent place in his mind, John McCain is in the second year of his second term as president of the United States. He certainly is president of John McCain. I don't know the source of this delusion; in no way, is the guy a leader, either of his party or his nation. His only obvious followers are Senators Huckleberry Butchmeup from South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte, the Richelieu Of Rye. I suspect it has its origins in his unsuccessful 2000 campaign against George W. Bush. No politician in my memory got better press than McCain did from the national media in those days, including some from, well, me. McCain had so much sunshine blown up his ass that his colon must have looked like Cabo San Lucas. This would have been enough to turn the head of anyone who wasn't essentially a rank opportunist, something that no fair person ever could say about John McCain.

Having already draped himself in a toga, McCain's response to the Obama administration has been both petulant and imperious, a small boy commanding an army of butterflies. This is most recently illustrated in his response to the deal cut by the administration to arrange the release of Bowe Bergdahl from captivity. The conservative chorus of opposition to the deal is a lovely harmonic convergence of complete hypocrisy and profound historical amnesia on the always delightful topic of "negotiating with terrorists." There's nothing we can do about the former; without complete hypocrisy, the entire conservative project would blow away into a pile on Frank Luntz's lawn. It would be like asking swine not to wallow. But there certainly is something we can do about the latter...

By Charles P. Pierce

I firmly believe that, in some very prominent place in his mind, John McCain is in the second year of his second term as president of the United States. He certainly is president of John McCain. I don't know the source of this delusion; in no way, is the guy a leader, either of his party or his nation. His only obvious followers are Senators Huckleberry Butchmeup from South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte, the Richelieu Of Rye. I suspect it has its origins in his unsuccessful 2000 campaign against George W. Bush. No politician in my memory got better press than McCain did from the national media in those days, including some from, well, me. McCain had so much sunshine blown up his ass that his colon must have looked like Cabo San Lucas. This would have been enough to turn the head of anyone who wasn't essentially a rank opportunist, something that no fair person ever could say about John McCain.

Having already draped himself in a toga, McCain's response to the Obama administration has been both petulant and imperious, a small boy commanding an army of butterflies. This is most recently illustrated in his response to the deal cut by the administration to arrange the release of Bowe Bergdahl from captivity. The conservative chorus of opposition to the deal is a lovely harmonic convergence of complete hypocrisy and profound historical amnesia on the always delightful topic of "negotiating with terrorists." There's nothing we can do about the former; without complete hypocrisy, the entire conservative project would blow away into a pile on Frank Luntz's lawn. It would be like asking swine not to wallow. But there certainly is something we can do about the latter.

Anyway, McCain went on Face The Nation to furrow his brow and express his deep concern.

I think there are legitimate questions about these individuals who have been released. And the conditions understand which they will be released. These are the hardest of the hard core. These are the highest high-risk people. And others that we have released have gone back into the fight. That's been documented. And it's disturbing to me that the Taliban are the ones that named the people to be released. So all I can say is that we need to more information about the conditions of where they're going to be and how. But it is disturbing that these individuals would have the ability to reenter the fight. And they are big, high-level people, possibly responsible for the deaths of thousands.

Speaking of high-level people who definitely were "responsible for the deaths of thousands," let's fire up the old Wayback Machine and journey back to the early 1980's, when John McCain was an ambitious young congresscritter seeking to beef up his neoconservative foreign policy cred. In the attempt, McCain got involved with something called the U.S. Council On World Freedom, which was run by retired General John Singlaub, and even among the skeevy operators drifting around the Washington foreign-policy elite in those days, Singlaub was notably rancid, playing footsie with ancient Nazi collaborators and the most vicious of death-squad commanders all over the world. By the middle of the decade, just as Ronald Reagan was kicking off his second term, Singlaub took on another project. His organization became one of the cover operations for gthe illegal activities central to what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal. According to Theodore Draper's essential study of that era, A Very Thin Line, by 1984, Singlaub was central to Oliver North's scheme to evade U.S. law and arrange third-party funding for the Contras in Nicaragua. He worked with the governments of Taiwan and South Korea. Through his shadowy network of arms dealers, Singlaub arranged for Soviet arms to be shipped into Honduras, thanks to the effort of a Honduran customs official paid to look the other way. "Singlaub," writes Draper, "became a one-man collection agency." Eventually, Singlaub became too much of a wild-card even for Ollie North -- at one point, according to Jane Mayer and Doyle McManus in their book, Landslide, Singlaub, acting on his own, actually underbid Richard Secord, who was the CIA's official arms conduit to the Contras, on a shipment of weapons -- and the scandal moved off in other directions, including selling missiles to Iran for the purposes of raising money for the Contras.

(But North wasn't free from Singlaub. According to Firewall, the memoir by Lawrence Walsh about his days as the Iran-Contra special prosecutor, at the trial of North's old boss, John Poindexter, North testified that he previously had lied to Congress about meeting with Singlaub.)

This was the guy with whom the young, ambitious John McCain allied himself when he first got to Washington. This was the world of spooks and crooks to which he was more than willing to hand the foreign policy of the United States. As with so many things, the unfinished business of the Iran-Contra scandal, and the yet-unplumbed depths of the foreign-policy crimes of the Reagan Administration, are the Rosetta Stone to understanding so much about what has gone wrong with America's relationship with the world over the past 30 years. It remains a monument to the addiction on the part of the country's political elites to secret deals and the dark magic of intelligence work. It remains a monument to a fundamental contempt for democratic institutions, and for the rule of law, and for the clear constitutional mandates through which Congress must have a role in our dealings beyond our borders; as unwilling as modern Congresses have been in exercising these mandates, it acted back in the 1980's. It forbade aid and assistance to the Contras. The Reagan Administration, and the people instructing John McCain on foreign policy, simply ignored the law. It was all about selling missiles to mullahs in order to obtain the release of American hostages in the Middle East and then using the profits to finance a war that Congress already had determined was illegal. The Iran-Contra scandal remains a monument to ends justifying means. If you want to understand the essential emptiness of the Republican opposition to what happened with Bowe Bergdahl, Iran-Contra is the ur-text. John McCain knows all of this. He was there.

And now comes John McCain, and so many people like him, furrowing their brows again and expressing "concerns" over a negotiation in which no money changed hands and no weapons changed hands. And then, I suspect, he goes out onto the sidewalk in front of the CBS studios in Washington, and stands there, puzzled as to why there is no limo waiting to take him back to the White House until some kind soul calls him a cab.

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02 Jun 14:19

Race to the Bottom, Small Scale

by Erik Loomis

I talked a bit about the emissions problems at the Sriracha factory last fall. In short, residents living near a chile sauce factory that is indifferent to emissions violations do not have a good life. The conflict has come to a conclusion and how that went down says so much about the problems with the economy and, really, a lot of modern American life.

As a condition of Irwindale dismissing the suit, Huy Fong Foods has promised to make improvements to its factory’s rooftop ventilation system—but, as Mark Berman points out in the Washington Post, there won’t be any way to tell whether the improvements make a difference until August, when the plant begins production again. The likelier cause of the dropped suit is the public flirtation between Huy Fong Foods and officials from other cities that would be happy to subject their citizens to acrid capsaicin-smog in exchange for sweet moolah—but, whatever!

Perfect. You have a voluntary system of corporate reform with no enforcement, which Irwindale agreed to because Sriracha was looking to move the factory to a city even more desperate for jobs. The scourge of capital mobility in a nutshell. Company after company, move after move, citizen concession after citizen concession, this aggregates into the destruction of the entire set of economic, social, and environmental victories American citizens enacted to tame corporate pathology in the 20th century. This is how the New Gilded Age is created.

29 May 04:00

May 29, 2014

GEEKS! You can get both of my Trial of the Clone gamebooks for cheap, along with a bundle of other awesome stuff, for a limited time at Storybundle.
27 May 23:07

Mike Kinsley’s Unforgivable Prose!

by Andrew Sullivan

I was hoping to duck the latest Kinsley-Greenwald skirmish because I like both of them personally and admire both professionally. But Margaret Sullivan has forced the issue. The NYT public editor actually writes that Kinsley’s tone was unworthy of the “high standards” of the NYTBR. More tedious thumbsuckery please! And really, was her sense of humor surgically removed at some point? If you can read the first few paragraphs of that review and not have something of a smile flicker around your chops, you have. As for the notion of sneering – it can’t be for this, can it:

Maybe he’s charming and generous in real life. But in “No Place to Hide,” Greenwald seems like a self-righteous sourpuss, convinced that every issue is “straightforward,” and if you don’t agree with him, you’re part of something he calls “the authorities,” who control everything for their own nefarious but never explained purposes.

This is about how Greenwald comes across in the book under review. It is qualified by Mike’s acknowledgment that he has never met Glenn in real life. I really don’t see how that’s some kind of offense, worthy of the school monitor’s attention. It’s part of a litany of dissident characters Kinsley beautifully and hilariously evoked.

Then there is Sullivan’s contention that the review somehow argues that the press has no role in uncovering state secrets – which is why she actually thinks the review should have been spiked. And yet here’s Kinsley’s second fricking paragraph:

There are laws against government eavesdropping on American citizens, and there are laws against leaking official government documents. You can’t just choose the laws you like and ignore the ones you don’t like. Or perhaps you can, but you can’t then claim that it’s all very straightforward.

What Kinsley is criticizing, if I’m reading him right, is the simplistic idea that no conflicts are involved here. It is not axiomatic that all government secrets must be exposed without legal consequences, Kinsley argues, unless we suspend the rule of law entirely or obey it when we like it and not when we don’t. That’s a rather limited point. It assumes merely that there may be a genuine government interest in keeping some things secret, as well as a genuine public interest to know what’s being done in our name. And that these are necessarily sometimes in conflict. But Kinsley is also pretty emphatic about what the press should do: “the process of decision-making — whatever it turns out to be — should openly tilt in favor of publication with minimal delay.” How can anyone read that review and conclude as Sullivan does that

Mr. Kinsley’s central argument ignores important tenets of American governance. There clearly is a special role for the press in America’s democracy; the Founders explicitly intended the press to be a crucial check on the power of the federal government, and the United States courts have consistently backed up that role. It’s wrong to deny that role, and editors should not have allowed such a denial to stand.

Seriously: can she read? Yes, Mike has a low view of journalism. But so low it’s unprintable? So low that the editors should have refused to allow him to express his opinion? Pious piffle.

On the deeper subject at hand, I should add that I am closer to Glenn’s position than Mike’s, but certainly see it as a tough call and a difficult dilemma. The way the US government has acted – especially since 9/11 – has pushed me into the dissident camp. That Obama presided over a vast apparatus of domestic spying – after being elected to roll back parts of the war on terror – is proof positive to me of the need for Glenn’s work. But that’s a contingent judgment about a particular period of time. It’s not an eternal truth. And government is not an eternal evil. And journalists, while having a special and vital role in a democracy, are also not above the law.

28 May 08:44

Calvin and Hobbes for May 28, 2014

27 May 17:20

What The Hell Just Happened In Europe? II

by Andrew Sullivan

You can makes plenty of arguments that the results in the European elections for the populist right and left are not that big a deal. For that perspective see here. I’m not sure I share the complacency and for a simple reason. Of the many aspects of Europe’s sudden lurch toward populism, one looms large to me: the same core cultural divide we have seen polarize and gridlock America, a blue-red culture war over modernity. Blue Europe is internationalist, globalized, metrosexual, secular, modern, multicultural. Red Europe is non-interventionist, patriotic, more traditional, more sympathetic to faith, more comfortable in a homogeneous society. The essential deal between these two complex coalitions was always a simple one: the Blues got to engineer their European dream, as long as it gave the Reds prosperity. Money would take the multicultural blues away. And for so long, it sure did.

But when the money ran out, and the recession hit, and the EU only bailed out members on the basis of brutal austerity … the deal began to fray. Now that growth is returning, if only anemically, it appears, moreover, to be benefiting Blue Europe – the elites, the property-owners, the transnationals – while leaving ordinary, working- and middle-class Europeans in the dust. That fuels another layer of mistrust and despair. Then a reform like marriage equality is imposed from above (unlike the US), despite ferocious opposition from the social right in France and back-bench Tory queasiness in French Far-right Front National (FN) Party President Marine Le Pen Gives A Press Conference The European ElectionsBritain, leading to more discomfort. Mass immigration or migration across Europe – a wonderful idea in theory – only made things worse, leading to resentment and racism when it has occurred in already-beleaguered working class Europe. The emergence of an unassimilated Muslim population didn’t help things either. And, more to the point, Europeans increasingly feel they are not given a choice in any of this. So they vented. And America’s culture war finally put down roots in Europe.

I see both red and blue sides to this. I grew up in a prosperous part of Europe, Southeast England, but in a nonetheless recognizably English small town. I maybe ate at a restaurant a handful of times before I went to college. My high school class was 100 percent white. I was brought up in a church-going household with not much extra money around. And we were Tories of a patriotic hard-working type. These days, I’m an inhabitant of a very blue and different world. Catapulted from my home town and life by a magnet school, and then an Oxford scholarship, I now live on the East Coast of the US, married to a man, earning money off the Internet, and stay in hotels when I visit London.

And here’s the thing about the last ten years or so. When I go to London now, it feels very much like home – i.e. a US blue state, multicultural, cosmopolitan, and slightly more international than even New York. It’s jammed full of Starbucks and Uber and hot spots. Only an hour south of there, you’re in a somewhat different world, changed but still culturally recognizable as the place I grew up in. Yes, there are pizza chains in the High Street, and a smattering of dudes on gay hook-up apps, and a Muslim cab driver, but there is also the cumulative weight of centuries of Englishness, an Island identity, a storied past. In the fields around where I grew up, you might still stumble across an Prime Minister David Cameron Visits A Construction Siteold concrete tank-barricade, designed to prevent a Nazi invasion. In the High Street, there’s a World War I memorial, and one to commemorate the Protestant martyrs burned at the stake under Queen Mary. Every part of this history tells the tale of an island nation, with a distinctive culture and amazing story. You don’t feel the weight of this history as powerfully in the roiling post-everything multicultural melee that is modern London. And you don’t internalize it quite as much.

What globalization is doing to us is scrambling these identities – creating one class doing relatively well with globalization and one that absolutely isn’t. The first is likely to be more tolerant, progressive, modern, risk-taking. The second is likely to be more traditional, conservative, cautious, security-seeking. This doesn’t completely square with left and right. In Europe, the right fostered the economic liberalization that undermined its traditional middle-class base. The populist left remains deeply suspicious of economic liberalism, but became a beneficiary of its cultural consequences. And in these circumstances, of course immigration would come to be an issue, as it has in the US. When you’re out of work in a part of the country left behind by the 21st Century, and suddenly have to compete for what jobs there are with thousands of new immigrants from Poland or Romania, you’re going to get mad. And the EU itself – especially among its elites – seems a spectacular symbol of this cultural and economic disconnect, a perfect target for the new populism.

That’s why I don’t believe the latest upset in the European elections is a fluke. I think it’s the new reality.

My sense from Britain, the country I know best, is that a hefty chunk of the population feels no connection to either major British party or to either party leader. David Cameron and Ed Miliband are products of Blue Britain. Nigel Farage is recognizably not. One recent moment of truth was the debate that Farage had with Nick Clegg, the Liberal-Democratic leader, over membership in the EU. Farage won it hands down against Clegg, a multilingual European elitist if ever there was one. And it was a victory of style as well as substance.

The task of a conservative in this moment, it seems to me, is not to resolve this struggle for either side – an impossibility anyway. It is to attempt to keep these two tendencies from going to war with each other in politics and culture. It is to retain a sense of national coherence and continuity in the midst of large-scale social change. That may prove impossible, but it can be done (look at the London Olympics opening and closing ceremonies). And it’s what David Cameron is now apparently trying to do. And about time. Over the next few years, Cameron and his successor will be confronting not only the possibility of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU but also the possibility of an end to the United Kingdom, if Scotland votes for independence. Both moves, it seems to me, are signs of an attempt by the English and Scottish to reassert control of their own destinies and to preserve their own cultural identities – which is why it would be foolish not to take both possibilities seriously. They remind me at least of a vital truth: that national identity remains the most potent and democratic form of political association. Screw with that, and you’ll merely have nationalism come back at you, with nostrils flaring. Europe’s elites have indeed screwed with that over the last decade or so. We have to hope the backlash does not destroy more than it builds.

(Photos: British Prime Minister David Cameron visits a construction site on May 27, 2014 in London, England. By Andrew Winning – WPA Pool/Getty Images. French far-right party National Front (FN) president Marine Le Pen delivers a speech during a press conference at the party’s headquarters on May 27, 2014 in Nanterre, France. By Chesnot/Getty Images.)

22 May 20:13

What does a “culture of free speech” look like?

by djw

(Was working on a longer post, but Scott’s post below covers most of it, so I’ll keep this short)

What the Rutgers situation represents is this: The leaders of a large, internally complex institution, who are unaccountable in any formal way to the vast majority of the members of that institution, make a decision on their behalf to bestow a high honor (and a sum of money most students from that institution would be lucky to earn in a year) upon one of the primary architects of the greatest political failure of the last generation; one that was immorally pursued and incompetently prosecuted and one that will adversely shape the futures of these people in whose name she is being honored. Her fellow elites have not only failed to sanction her egregious failure in any way, they’ve used the considerable tools at their disposal to shower her with honors and sizable checks.

In the first scenario, some of the largely powerless people near the bottom of this institution’s hierarchy use what little power they do have–the informal power of voice to criticize this gross error in judgment. They are unafraid to publicly disagree with the institutions’ elites, and not cowed into silence out fear of creating discomfort or “controversy.”

In the second scenario, these largely powerless people virtually all self-censor and remain silent about this error in judgment out of fear that the powers that be might find their vocal dissent in some way embarrassing or uncomfortable.

There seem to be a good number of people who think the second scenario is a better indication of a healthy “free speech culture” than the first one. That seems so obviously and completely wrong I can hardly figure out how to rebut it.

20 May 20:20

Mental Health Break

by Chris Bodenner
Brian Stouffer

Mark it as 0! This isn't 'Nam, there are rules!

by Chris Bodenner

Like a moth to a flame:

21 May 05:00

Wussy and Adorno

by Erik Loomis

Scott and I have been pushing the new Wussy album hard. And really, you haven’t purchased it yet? How about solving that problem now.

If you don’t take our word for it, check out this very long Charles Taylor discussion of the band in the new LA Review of Books. Evidently and deservedly, Wussy is becoming the cause celebre of cultural critics in 2014. An excerpt about what the band represents to Taylor:

The gulf I’m taking about is the alienation felt by those of us who watch our contemporaries give themselves over to conformity and deadness in their political and cultural responses. It’s seeing friends with whom you once enjoyed sharing movies or books or music become parents and abdicate any emotional or aesthetic response beyond assuming the role of cultural watchdog. It’s listening to Lolita praised as a useful book because it reminds us to be on the lookout for pedophiles, who seldom look like monsters. It’s spending evenings in which entire conversations are given to home repair or property values. It’s the underlying edge of condescension used to address anyone who hasn’t bought a house or had kids, as if we couldn’t possibly know what being an adult really meant.

Life past 50, maybe past 40, sometimes feels like a continual affirmation of Adorno’s claim that, in the modern age, the subjective and the objective have switched places. Received wisdom passes itself off as an unflinching acceptance of the way things are, while questioning the precepts of work, sex, marriage, art, and politics is dismissed as an expression of adolescent discontent. For me, nothing embodies that dead, unquestioning response as much as NPR, the great progressive soporific, its reporting and commentary all delivered in the calm, Xanax tones that reassure us no problem is too big that it can’t be grasped, and likely solved, simply by assuming the proper civilized and reasoned attitude.

To be fair, no argument for cultural engagement can fail to take into account an economic reality so predatory that most people often have only enough energy to get through their day. You can’t blame folks who are knocking themselves out just to pay the rent for not having time to explore new things. And if the glut that the digital age has fostered — in everything from the availability of political opinion and news sources to the ease of accessing music, books, movies — doesn’t make people abandon all hope of staying up to date, it too often turns keeping up into a sucker’s game of hopping from thing to thing without absorbing anything, or even finding something worth paying attention to. Even without that glut, it’s inevitable that as we get older, whether we’re living mainstream lives or not, we may feel out of tune with the culture, may choose to delve more deeply into what’s given us pleasure in the past, to decide what it is that sustains us. It might be Raymond Chandler or Norman Mailer or Marianne Moore over David Foster Wallace; Howard Hawks or Godard over Wes Anderson; the Beatles or the Velvet Underground or Big Star or Glenn Gould over Arcade Fire or Drake. The trouble comes when people reject the culture without doing the work of engaging with it. Most often, that happens with music.

Music continues to be the prime cultural vehicle each generation uses to identify itself. It’s also the means each generation uses, no matter how hypocritically, to proclaim its superiority over succeeding generations. Nothing has ever summed up that attitude like the installment of Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury that ran in Sunday papers on August 26, 1979, in which Mark, the radical DJ, is ordered by his station manager to play more disco. “Let’s start out with the Village People’s ‘YMCA’ and Donna Summer’s ‘Bad Girls,’” he says, “two exciting testaments to the social sensibilities of disco. One of them is about meeting adolescent homosexuals in a public gymnasium, and the other is a celebration of prostitution.” A strip to make William Bennett or Donald Wildmon smile. Trudeau is telling us that the drugs and sex he and his contemporaries engaged in was about changing the world. This new stuff? It’s just hookers and queers cruising the showers.

What does Taylor suggest to overcome this gulf, this rejection of modern sounds to the cheap lazy nostalgia of our 20s? This:

20 May 13:19

The Lack of Skilled Blue-Collar Labor

by Erik Loomis

Those who follow labor frequently hear companies complaining about the lack of blue-collar skilled labor. Why, Chevron needs all of these workers and they can’t get them! says the standard narrative. Why? Well, the answer of course is Chevron.

The two missing links are the role of the construction owner, like Chevron, in crushing the unions that provide skilled journeymen in the construction trades, and a clear discussion of the wage levels needed to attract skilled workers from parts of the country the recovery hasn’t reached. The story says wages are rising in Texas, but from what to what? Are wage levels high enough to persuade a journeyman electrician from Michigan or Los Angeles to relocate to Houston? Or are they unreasonably low, given the scarcity of skilled workers and the years of training required to produce a journeyman? How do union wages compare with non-union wages? The story never says.

Oil giants like Chevron can afford to have their construction contractors pay well for skilled work, but they resist. Organizations they fund, such as the Business Roundtable, have led a decades-long campaign to weaken or destroy the building trades unions that actually train the greatest number of skilled tradesmen. Chevron, Koch Industries, ExxonMobil and many other energy industry corporations fund the American Legislative Exchange Council and its legislative efforts to kill unions and eliminate labor standards. It’s hard to hear Chevron complain about a labor shortage when Chevron and other Fortune 500 companies themselves are a major cause. They don’t merely fight unionization, they also oppose the state and federal prevailing wage laws that protect construction wages from being driven lower and allow union apprenticeship programs to continue providing the best-trained workers.

I know for instance that the United Brotherhood of Carpenters has a huge training center in Las Vegas where they make sure that the next generation of UBC members have the needed skills for the modern workforce. But without the building trades training their own members, who is going to do that? The companies? Please. No one. If you want a trained, high-quality blue-collar workforce, you need unions. But ideology trumps economic rationality for corporations.

18 May 23:17

All Money to the Top

by Erik Loomis

Who could have guessed:

At the 25 public universities with the highest-paid presidents, both student debt and the use of part-time adjunct faculty grew far faster than at the average state university from 2005 to 2012, according to a new study by the Institute for Policy Studies, a left-leaning Washington research group.

The study, “The One Percent at State U: How University Presidents Profit from Rising Student Debt and Low-Wage Faculty Labor,” examined the relationship between executive pay, student debt and low-wage faculty labor at the 25 top-paying public universities.

The co-authors, Andrew Erwin and Marjorie Wood, found that administrative expenditures at the highest-paying universities outpaced spending on scholarships by more than 2 to 1. And while adjunct faculty members became more numerous at the 25 universities, the share of permanent faculty declined drastically.

“The high executive pay obviously isn’t the direct cause of higher student debt, or cuts in labor spending,” Ms. Wood said. “But if you think about it in terms of the allocation of resources, it does seem to be the tip of a very large iceberg, with universities that have top-heavy executive spending also having more adjuncts, more tuition increases and more administrative spending.”

Why, it’s almost like university administrators advance their careers on undermining tenure-track faculty, expanding administrative spending, and forcing their students into debt while acquiring outsized salaries for themselves! In other words, for everyone who says we need to run higher education like a corporation, that’s exactly what’s happening.

16 May 19:46

The gluten-free diet has shat its pants

by davenoon

The latest and among the more annoying nutritionist fads–the gluten-free diet–is taking a bit of a hit this week, as folks are beginning to look at a study published last August in Gastroenterology demonstrating that eliminating gluten produced no demonstrable effects in a test subjects who rotated between several highly-structured diets over the course of 7-8 weeks.

37 subjects took part, all with self-reported gluten sensitivity who were confirmed to not have celiac’s disease. They were first fed a diet low in FODMAPs for two weeks, then were given one of three diets for a week with either 16 grams per day of added gluten (high-gluten), 2 grams of gluten and 14 grams of whey protein isolate (low-gluten), or 16 grams of whey protein isolate (placebo). Each subject shuffled through every single diet so that they could serve as their own controls, and none ever knew what specific diet he or she was eating. After the main experiment, a second was conducted to ensure that the whey protein placebo was suitable. In this one, 22 of the original subjects shuffled through three different diets — 16 grams of added gluten, 16 grams of added whey protein isolate, or the baseline diet — for three days each.

The authors found that everyone reported improved gastrointestinal symptoms during the two-week low-gluten diet–a baseline diet they seem to have been aware of (at least as I read the abstract)–but then experienced worsening symptoms to identical degrees when they switched to the three rotating diets, one of which was the same as the baseline.

This study–a follow-up to a 2011 paper by the same authors that suggested that “gluten sensitivity” might possibly be a thing–provides the best available evidence that in all likelihood, absent a diagnosis of CD, your gluten-eschewing friends and family may be exhibiting nothing more than nocebo effects, voluntarily eating shitty food in the name of warding off the flatulence, lethargy, and ennui that are, alas, merely the individualized symptoms of a civilization teetering on the brink of an unfathomably nightmarish death.

Obviously, there is a small portion of the population–about one percent–for whom gluten consumption is indeed dangerous. Celiac disease is horrific but symptomatically protean, so it can be easily confused with other medical problems; though it’s relatively easy to diagnose with a blood test, biopsy, and change in diet, individuals with CD endure an average of 11 years between initial symptoms and diagnosis. Those folks should stay the fuck away from gluten, and people exhibiting symptoms of CD ought to see a fucking doctor before adopting trendy and possibly unnecessary dietary restrictions. Everyone else should just shut up and eat your fucking pasta already, or there will be no goddamn dessert for you.

What’s funny about all this, I suppose, is that the gluten-free craze–while luring millions of suckers into a diet of crumbly food–has in the very least made food options more tolerable for the one percent of folks who actually need to avoid gluten. So there’s that, at least.

13 May 19:18

Quote For The Day IV

by Andrew Sullivan

“‘Branding’ as a general term for the way you present yourself to the world has become a popular usage. It implies that, if people see you for what you really are, that’s a failure on your part,” – Mike Kinsley.

13 May 15:37

Today In the Noble Ideals of Amateurism

by Scott Lemieux

The NCAA, so concerned about its “student athletes” that they can be prevented form transferring to the school of their choice for no reason whatsoever:

Leticia Romero came to Kansas State University from the Canary Islands to play basketball. After Romero’s freshman season—a successful one on the court, in which she averaged more than 14 points per game—the coach that recruited her was fired, and several assistant coaches chose to leave as well. As a consequence, Romero decided she wanted to transfer. The Kansas State athletic department had other ideas.

Mechelle Voepel of has the full story, and it’s yet another infuriating example of how college sports administrators control unpaid NCAA athletes. Kansas State has thus far refused to release Romero from her scholarship, which means she can’t receive financial aid from any other Division I institution for at least a year. The Kansas State athletic department has mostly refused to explain itself, on account of “student-privacy concerns.” That excuse would make more sense if someone had told Romero why the university is blocking her release. The player says she hasn’t gotten any explanation at all.

But giving students rights might mean that some would be corrupted by the evils of money, a phenomenon unknown within the amateurist hobbyism of the NCAA:

This is the skewed moral universe that the NCAA has created and that its member institutions continue to prop up. There’s now a debate over whether schools should pay the “full cost of attendance” for their athletes—the expenses that aren’t covered by a scholarship. Those expenses average around $3,500 per athlete per year, with the cost differing by school. Schools could make this small concession, considering it a tiny price to pay given the estimates of the fair market value of a college football player. Instead, they’re whining about how this is going to drive them out of business. Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard told the Des Moines Register it will cost $750,000 annually to pay for the students’ cost of attendance, and “we’ll have to pass those costs on to our fans,” in part by raising ticket prices. “It’s another financial hurdle that we have to deal with,” Pollard said.

Pollard didn’t talk about financial hurdles in 2012, when Iowa State opened a $20.6 million football complex. He also hasn’t groused about all the scrimping and saving the school will need to do to pay his own $900,000 salary. If, like Iowa State’s players, Pollard took home $0 per year, then the university would have more than enough to give every Cyclone athlete a free education. What say you, Mr. Athletic Director?

The NCAA in a nutshell: oligopolistic profits for me, “amateurism” for thee. Blow it up now.

12 May 16:24

The Supreme Court’s Medicaid Disaster

by Scott Lemieux

Brad DeLong is excellent on the consequences of the Supreme Court arbitrarily re-writing the ACA:

This is the piece of the article that leaves me most annoyed because of the absence of context. Why have 20 states refused to take part in Medicaid expansion? It’s not because of how the Affordable Care Act was written. All states currently participate in Medicaid–it is a good deal for a state to do so. The ACA changed Medicaid. But John Roberts rewrote the law from his post on the Supreme Court to give states the option of (a) simply continuing with Medicaid-as-it-exists-in-2013 in addition to the options of (b) participating in Medicaid-as-it-exists-in-2014 and (c) dropping Medicaid entirely.

When John Roberts rewrote the ACA from the bench, he did so very badly. The expansion of Medicaid meant that a great many people who used to show up at safety-net hospitals without any insurance at all will now be covered by Medicaid, so the rationale for the Disproportionate Share Payments to safety-net hospitals that treat the uninsured will go away, hence the ACA eliminates the no longer-needed DSP. But in states in which Medicaid isn’t expanded, the need for the DSP remains. When Roberts rewrote the law, did he rewrite the law so that the DSP remains for states that do not accept Medicaid expansion? No. Will safety-net hospitals in non-expanding states close as a result? Some of them, probably, without some other emergency fix. Did Roberts know what he was doing? Almost surely not. If you rewrite a law from the bench, shouldn’t you and your clerks first familiarize yourself with the law enough so that you know what you are doing? Next question!

When John Roberts rewrote the ACA from the bench, he did so very badly. The expansion of Medicaid meant that people with incomes less than 133% of the poverty line will now be covered by Medicaid, so they will not need to be eligible for subsidies to make the policies offered on the exchange affordable to them. But in states in which Medicaid isn’t expanded, people with incomes less than 133% of the poverty level will need to purchase heath insurance on the exchanges if they are to have any form of coverage at all. When Roberts rewrote the law, did he rewrite the law so that people not covered by Medicaid with incomes less than 133% of the poverty line become eligible for exchange subsidies? No. Will there thus be millions of people left out in the cold? Yes. Did Roberts know what he was doing? Almost surely not. If you rewrite a law from the bench, shouldn’t you and your clerks first familiarize yourself with the law enough so that you know what you are doing? Next question!

An additional wrinkle–a wrinkle that may have pushed Arizona into the Medicaid expansion camp–is that non-U.S. citizen legal residents of the United States with less than five years of residency and incomes less than 133% of the poverty line are eligible for exchange subsidies. Thus the ACA, as rewritten by John Roberts, treats working-poor non-citizen immigrants with less than five years of residency much more favorably than it treats working-poor citizens. Did Roberts know what he was doing? Almost surely not. If you rewrite a law from the bench, shouldn’t you and your clerks first familiarize yourself with the law enough so that you know what you are doing? Next question!

Now, you could blame Congress rather than the Supreme Court for this if they had any reason to believe that the Supreme Court would strike down the mechanism for expanding Medicaid, but of course they had no reason whatsoever to expect such an unprecedented intervention. (If Congress can use highway spending to enforce a tenuously related national drinking age, why should the umpteenth expansion of Medicaid have even been in question?) The lack of precedent might not be an issue if the Supreme Court was enforcing a specific constitutional provision, but it was doing no such thing. The argument has a Shelby County problem — not only is there no specific prohibition the Medicaid expansion violated, Congress is explicitly authorized to tax and spend for the general welfare. The Constitution does structurally establish a federal system, and I suppose I could come up with a hypothetical where the federal spending power was so coercive that it threatened the very structure of federalism itself (“not a penny of federal money if you don’t modify your divorce laws!”), although trying to come up with any such law that could actually be enacted by Congress I get nothing but a loud buzzing noise.

If the Court is going to freelance and invent prohibitions that swim against the text of the Constitution, it faces a particularly high burden of proof — there had better be a crucial liberty interest at stake and the logic needs to be airtight. We’ve been through most of this before, but the Medicaid expansion part of Sebelius fails spectacularly on this score:

  • If Congress had just created the ACA’s version of Medicaid from scratch, it would be unquestionably constitutional.
  • If Congress had just repealed Medicaid outright this would unquestionably be constitutional.  Roberts’s logic seems to imply some sort of permanent state entitlement to receive federal money once it’s been given, but he can’t possibly believe that.
  • If Congress expanded Medicaid by just making it a Medicare-style federal program, this would unquestionably be constitutional even though it would give less autonomy to the states than the ACA’s Medicaid expansion did.
  • And the fact that the decision is based on this transparently results-oriented, farcically incoherent formalist hair-splitting  means that by definition there’s no meaningful liberty interest being protected by the Court, even you believe that that extratextual “rights” of states should be privileged over the statutory rights of actual citizens.   The ACA’s Medicaid expansion did not threaten to deprive state governments of anything they’re constitutionally entitled to, and Congress remains free to pursue identical goals in ways that are actually more “coercive” towards state legislatures.  The decision is also a disaster on a pragmatic policy level for the reasons cited above.
  • The fact that the decision is based on this transparently results-oriented, farcically incoherent formalist hair-splitting also means that Congress is given little guidance going forward.
  • And, please, save the “but it was 7-2, just like the permanently unassailable Dred Scott v. Sandford!!!!!” argument.  Even in the enormously unlikely event that Breyer and Kagan weren’t voting strategically, all this would prove is that Breyer and Kagan joined a terrible opinion and were probably extremely naive about the consequences of doing so.  In Breyer’s case, at least, this would have been far from the first time.

Whether 5-4 or 9-0, what the Supreme Court did to the Medicaid expansion was terrible constitutional law and worse policy.

11 May 00:26

Like A Gay Sonic Boom

by Andrew Sullivan

Football, masculinity, race, and love collide together – in a few, too-human moments that defy any words. It’s a new world.

11 May 00:57

So They Should Have Drafted Sammy Watkins After All?

by Scott Lemieux
Brian Stouffer

The NFL is just looking out for Gordon. Pot kills your ambition to give yourself brain damage for the profit of a cartel of exploitative oligarchs.

The NFL – always looking out for the health of its players!

According to an ESPN report, Browns receiver Josh Gordon is facing a season-long NFL ban for a drug test that came up positive for marijuana.

It’s Gordon’s second failed test. (The first was announced last summer—Gordon claimed it was codeine from his cough medicine—and he served a two-game suspension.)

How the league gets to 16 games from two failed tests is anyone’s guess. We dove into this a bit last year, but the NFL’s drug policy is secretive and impenetrable, and covers much more than just failed tests.

Gordon knew the rules and so it was dumb for him to smoke pot, but…can anyone make a case for the NFL testing its players for it? With PEDs I can at least understand the argument, but marijuana — why should that be tested for at all?

It’s also a bad break for Browns fans, since in a transformation from its epically bad 1st round two years ago the Browns are showing distinct signs of competence. Manziel isn’t a lock like Andrew Luck or anything, but certainly getting him for Trent Richardson and a 3rd rounder is a massive win. But it would obviously help if their best skill player didn’t miss the entire year.

07 May 17:15

The Last Confederate Is Clarence Thomas

by By Charles P. Pierce

On Monday, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in the case of Town of Greece v. Galloway. In its 5-4 decision, the Court determined that the town could open its public meetings with a prayer. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the prayers did not violate the Establishment clause of the First Amendment because there is a long-standing tradition of such prayer, and because, in Kennedy's opinion, the prayers were not coercive in regards to the people at the meeting who might not share the religion in which the prayers are based. Justice Clarence Thomas voted with the majority. In his concurring opinion, however, he went much further.

Thomas stated, flatly, that the Establishment clause never was meant to apply to the states (or to local governments) at all. In Thomas's stated view, the Establishment Clause "is best understood as a federalism provision - it protects state establishments from federal interference but does not protect any individual right." In short, Thomas is saying that the separation of church and state is meant to apply only to the federal government. This was such a radical re-interpretation of the existing law that not even Antonin Scalia was willing to go as far off the diving board as Thomas did. But it is of a piece with Thomas's general view of the relationship between the federal government and the states, and it is of a piece with the fact that Thomas has allied himself for his entire career on the bench with what has proven to be the most fundamentally dangerous constitutional heresy. That there is an obvious historical irony to this can't be lost on anyone. To see this more clearly, it's necessary to go back almost 20 years to another case, one on which Thomas was on the losing side, but one in which he stated most directly the philosophy that led him to write his dissent this week...

By Charles P. Pierce

On Monday, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in the case of Town of Greece v. Galloway. In its 5-4 decision, the Court determined that the town could open its public meetings with a prayer. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the prayers did not violate the Establishment clause of the First Amendment because there is a long-standing tradition of such prayer, and because, in Kennedy's opinion, the prayers were not coercive in regards to the people at the meeting who might not share the religion in which the prayers are based. Justice Clarence Thomas voted with the majority. In his concurring opinion, however, he went much further.

Thomas stated, flatly, that the Establishment clause never was meant to apply to the states (or to local governments) at all. In Thomas's stated view, the Establishment Clause "is best understood as a federalism provision - it protects state establishments from federal interference but does not protect any individual right." In short, Thomas is saying that the separation of church and state is meant to apply only to the federal government. This was such a radical re-interpretation of the existing law that not even Antonin Scalia was willing to go as far off the diving board as Thomas did. But it is of a piece with Thomas's general view of the relationship between the federal government and the states, and it is of a piece with the fact that Thomas has allied himself for his entire career on the bench with what has proven to be the most fundamentally dangerous constitutional heresy. That there is an obvious historical irony to this can't be lost on anyone. To see this more clearly, it's necessary to go back almost 20 years to another case, one on which Thomas was on the losing side, but one in which he stated most directly the philosophy that led him to write his dissent this week.

On May 25, 1993, in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that, absent an amendment to the Constitution, the states could not limit the terms of their representatives in Congress. At issue was a term limits law that had been passed in Arkansas, term limits being a front-burner issue at the time thanks to the efforts of Newt Gingrich and his Contract With America. The majority decided that, because the Constitution was a pact between all the people of the United States, and not a compact between states, only the people themselves could change the process by which they elected their representatives to the Congress. Writing for the minority, Thomas disagreed, strongly.

Emphasizing that "the Federal Government's powers are limited and enumerated," Justice Thomas said that "the ultimate source of the Constitution's authority is the consent of the people of each individual state, not the consent of the undifferentiated people of the nation as a whole." Consequently, he said, the states retained the right to define the qualifications for membership in Congress beyond the age and residency requirements specified in the Constitution. Noting that the Constitution was "simply silent" on the question of the states' power to set eligibility requirements for membership in Congress, Justice Thomas said the power fell to the states by default. The Federal Government and the states "face different default rules," Justice Thomas said. "Where the Constitution is silent about the exercise of a particular power -- that is, where the Constitution does not speak either expressly or by necessary implication -- the Federal Government lacks that power and the states enjoy it."

That has been the basic argument since the Constitutional Convention began, and every time that it has been litigated -- in the debates over ratificaton of the Constitution, in the battle over the tariff with South Carolina, when Webster stood up to Hayne, when John C. Calhoun fashioned his doctrine of nullification out of it, when the nation tore out its own guts between 1860 and 1865, and, most recently, when "massive resistance" became the strategy through which white supremacy sought to break the civil rights movement -- it has failed. It was the basis for the Reconstruction amendments, especially the 14th, which Thomas curiously elides in both his term-limits dissent and his government-prayer concurrence.

Nonetheless, it persists, as we've seen most recently in the rhetoric of Tea Party politicians, and on the broken hills around the Bundy Ranch. It persists because there always are forces that seek power by denying the basic fact that of a United States of America, and that the reason for that is that the Constitution is an agreement between the citizens of that country, not between 50 independent republics. That is the reason for the first three words of the Constitution, and the basis for the American political commonwealth. In the nullification crises of the mid-1800's, President Andrew Jackson called James Madison himself out of retirement. Madison's work on the Virginia and Kentucky resolves of 1798 was being used to justify nullification, and Madison responded with a ringing endorsement of the view that the Constitution was a compact between all of the American people, and not an agreement between states. In a letter to Edward Everett that he knew would be circulated widely, Madison wrote:

It was formed, not by the Governments of the component States, as the Federal Govt. for which it was substituted was formed; nor was it formed by a majority of the people of the U. S. as a single community in the manner of a consolidated Government. It was formed by the States - that is by the people in each of the States, acting in their highest sovereign capacity; and formed, consequently by the same authority which formed the State Constitutions.Being thus derived from the same source as the Constitutions of the States, it has within each State, the same authority as the Constitution of the State; and is as much a Constitution, in the strict sense of the term, within its prescribed sphere, as the Constitutions of the States are within their respective spheres; but with this obvious & essential difference, that being a compact among the States in their highest sovereign capacity, and constituting the people thereof one people for certain purposes, it cannot be altered or annulled at the will of the States individually, as the Constitution of a State may be at its individual will.

That brings us back to Clarence Thomas. Long-distance psychoanalysis is almost always worthless, so I will leave that to the savants of the Beltway press corps. I only will point out that, in his career as a Supreme Court justice, Clarence Thomas, an African American from rural Georgia, presents us with a staggering political and historical contradiction. He is the last, and the truest, descendant of John C. Calhoun.

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