Sunday, May 31, 2009

After Tiller

It'd be very good to pass some kind of major pro-choice initiative in the time to come, just to demonstrate that attempts to achieve political goals in America through acts of terrorism will be frustrated. Repealing the Hyde Amendment, perhaps? Or passing more powerful laws against intimidation at abortion clinics? I don't know what can be done, and Obama has plenty on his plate, so I doubt he'll be able to take on much new stuff. But you've got to show people who are willing to kill (and die) for various things that killing will have the opposite of the effect they want on our political system.

George Tiller, RIP

Via Jeff Fecke, here's a comment that illuminates the late-term abortion debate by making clear what George Tiller, recently murdered by an anti-abortion terrorist, did for a living:

In 1994 my wife and I found out that she was pregnant. The pregnancy was difficult and unusually uncomfortable but her doctor repeatedly told her things were fine. Sometime early in the 8th month my wife, an RN who at the time was working in an infertility clinic asked the Dr. she was working for what he thought of her discomfort. He examined her and said that he couldn’t be certain but thought that she might be having twins. We were thrilled and couldn’t wait to get a new sonogram that hopefully would confirm his thoughts. Two days later our joy was turned to unspeakable sadness when the new sonogram showed conjoined twins. Conjoined twins alone is not what was so difficult but the way they were joined meant that at best only one child would survive the surgery to separate them and the survivor would more than likely live a brief and painful life filled with surgery and organ transplants. We were advised that our options were to deliver into the world a child who’s life would be filled with horrible pain and suffering or fly out to Wichita Kansas and to terminate the pregnancy under the direction of Dr. George Tiller.

We made an informed decision to go to Kansas. One can only imagine the pain borne by a woman who happily carries a child for 8 months only to find out near the end of term that the children were not to be and that she had to make the decision to terminate the pregnancy and go against everything she had been taught to believe was right. This was what my wife had to do. Dr. Tiller is a true American hero. The nightmare of our decision and the aftermath was only made bearable by the warmth and compassion of Dr. Tiller and his remarkable staff. Dr. Tiller understood that this decision was the most difficult thing that a woman could ever decide and he took the time to educate us and guide us along with the other two couples who at the time were being forced to make the same decision after discovering that they too were carrying children impacted by horrible fetal anomalies. I could describe in great detail the procedures and the pain and suffering that everyone is subjected to in these situations. However, that is not the point of the post. We can all imagine that this is not something that we would wish on anyone. The point is that the pain and suffering were only mitigated by the compassion and competence of Dr. George Tiller and his staff. We are all diminished today for a host of reasons but most of all because a man of great compassion and courage has been lost to the world.

We want there to be doctors who do things like this. Because of anti-abortion violence and intimidation, there are only a few left. George Tiller was murdered for being one of them.

Sex With Ducks

Via Amanda, this is delightful.

Reality Imitates Satire

When I wrote about Sotomayor's pro-Yankee bias making her unfit for the Supreme Court, I thought it was pretty clear I was joking. However this fellow seems to think this is a legitimate issue.

I don't even know what to say. Words cannot begin to describe what just happened.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

California Demise

As Eric points out, "Californians only get back 78 cents for each dollar of federal taxes, ranking it 43rd of 50 for money tossed back into the state." I'd seen those numbers before, but I hadn't thought of them in the context of the California budget crisis. It's going to be hard to balance your budget when 22% of the money you send to DC doesn't come back.

I wonder to what extent the hideous proportional underrepresentation of California in the US Senate is a factor in this. In any case, part of the story has to be that California is an expensive state, which causes a bigger tax bite that isn't matched in the spending you receive. If you want to look at the tax/spending tables, they're here.

I've been daydreaming that we somehow get a federal bailout of California on which the state agrees to stop having idiotic political institutions like supermajority requirements for tax increases, in exchange for a big federal loan that they'll pay back in the future. There are probably a dozen reasons why this is impossible, but it would make lots of things better.

Let me take this opportunity to mention that California's flag looks like it was designed by a drunk person.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Where Are Brennan And Marshall?

Cass Sunstein writes about how the Supreme Court has moved sharply to the right since 1980. I'm sort of curious about how one would go about putting more William Brennan / Thurgood Marshall types on the court. Given the likelihood of more Senate pickups in the next cycle, I'd have to bet that 2011-2012 will be the best time to change the direction of things.

In the universe of possible Obama Supreme Court picks, I haven't heard much speculation about who might be likely to go in the Brennan/Marshall direction. Maybe I just haven't been reading the right stuff. But it's something that I'd be interested in knowing more about. I know that potential justices are often shy about expressing positions -- they don't want to be Borked in confirmation hearings -- but 2011 will be a great time to find someone who has written bold law review articles arguing for some variety of exciting lefty jurisprudence, or given speeches on the matter, or written well-argued opinions of that nature.

Friday Obama Caption Contest

'Operation Suck Less'

Andrew Gelman offers a nice corrective to the discussions of "Operation Gringo": the question of whether or not the GOP can win the electoral college even if their support among Hispanic voters erodes further. Gelman points out that one way to achieve this is to become generally more popular such that their baseline level of support, pre-Gringo, would be higher. Simply presenting a more diverse public face and coming up with an economic policy more imaginative than upper income tax brackets might be a good start.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Our Pants Are The KKK Without Hoods, Nooses, Bodies, Shirts, Underwear, And Bleach

According to Tom Tancredo, La Raza is "a Latino KKK without the hoods or the nooses." On one reading, where hoods and nooses are taken as metonyms for intimidation, murder, and the intentions that produce them, I suppose that's correct, but it renders his point empty. The reason that we dislike the KKK is that it intimidated and murdered lots of people. Take out the violence, and you just have a peaceful ethnic organization that fits nicely within civil society.

The Sotomayor nomination is really looking like a political masterstroke from Obama. Even though Senate Republicans are wisely holding their fire, the racist wing of the party is going bonkers. In addition to the racists, people who want to run for president in 2012 or gain short-term favor from the base will an incentive to go up against Sotomayor, and that will supply plenty of crazy villains to drive Hispanics closer to the Democrats.

How We Do It In Texas

To be reappointed as chairman of the Texas State Board of Education, creationist Don McLeroy needed a 2/3 Senate majority to vote for him. The vote was only 19-11 in his favor, so Governor Rick Perry will have to pick someone else.


Procreative Racial Deconstruction

Multiracial people have become the fastest-growing demographic group in America. I sort of identify with multiracial people. While I'm entirely descended from Bengali village Brahmins myself, the hotness of colorful hair over pale skin makes it likely that my kids will be multiracial.
Demographers attributed the recent population growth to more social acceptance and slowing immigration. They cited in particular the high public profiles of Tiger Woods and President Barack Obama, a self-described "mutt," who are having an effect on those who might self-identify as multiracial.
More social acceptance could definitely be a factor, and I guess immigration is more likely to bring you monoracial people, so that checks out too. The other stuff, I don't know. People don't usually think, "Tiger Woods and Barack Obama have high public profiles! I wonder if that black girl I know wants to get some drinks tonight." Maybe somebody can explain this to me. [Update: I guess they're saying that Tiger and Barack caused higher social acceptance of interbreeding. That makes sense, even if Obama's election strikes me as a little too recent a development to have an impact here.]

This next bit seems a bit optimistic, but it's exciting to hear:

"The significance of race as we know it in today's legal and government categories will be obsolete in less than 20 years," said William H. Frey, a demographer at Brookings Institution.

"The rise of mixed-race voters will dilute the racial identity politics that have become prevalent in past elections," he said.

Or in the best line from Bulworth, "All we need is a voluntary, free-spirited, open-ended program of procreative racial deconstruction. Everybody just gotta keep fucking everybody 'til they're all the same color."

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Tomorrow on Fox News

Mitt Romney (R-Red Sox Nation) attacks Sotomayor's impartiality. Clearly, a Yankees fan cannot be considered qualified to serve on the Court.

The Sotomayor Pronunciation Compromise

I can't believe we're really talking about this. No one really cares; I'm sure by Thursday even cable news will have moved on to something else. But since Neil and I are charter members of the "people who constantly have to teach others how to spell and pronounce their last name" Facebook group, let's have at it.

First off, let's note the tremendous irony of using "Niedermayer", which is probably German but certainly not English, as the reference for the "English" pronunciation of "Sotomayor".

Second, other than Sotomayor herself, no one's rolling the final 'r' or putting a partial glottal stop after the 't'. Plenty of Latino surnames have already suffered a similar fate. The majority of three-syllable words in English place the accent on the first syllabble, but no one calls the Yankees' third basemen "Alex ROD-ree-gez". But no one rolls the 'r's or pronounces the 'g' a bit closer to a 'k' sound. As is often the case, we've adopted the Spanish-language emphasis but Americanized the pronunciation. Her name's pronunciation as already been partially Anglicized.

Third, let's find something else to talk about. Please.

What We Can Learn From Pat Buchanan

Pat Buchanan:

Dick Cheney is giving the Republican Party a demonstration of how to fight a popular president. Stake out defensible high ground, do not surrender an inch, then go onto the attack.
Pat Buchanan is giving us a demonstration of how to be popular in the Republican Party. Stake out indefensible ground, talk about not surrendering, and praise attacks that lost you the House, Senate, and Oval Office.

Constructing Political Identities

Identity politics usually gets portrayed as something transactional. Some group wants something, and you give it to them in exchange for their support. It could be appointing one of them to an office, or supporting their position on some issue.

I wonder if something bigger than that is possible in the case of the Hispanic community. As far as I can tell, the Hispanic political identity is still somewhat malleable, and there's much to be gained in shaping it. One way to do this is to raise the profile of Hispanic left-wing figures, and get them into fights with unappealing non-Hispanic Republicans. It's true of everybody -- if you don't have strong feelings on some issue, but someone you regard as one of your people presents articulate and forceful arguments on that issue, you're going to gravitate towards the position she was arguing for. It works especially well if she's arguing against some obnoxious outsider.

I don't know if Sotomayor is the right person to pull this off, just because I don't know her well enough. But if she's good at dealing with confirmation hearings and then does a good job on the bench, and if liberals can generally do a good job in the media war around her, she could become the sort of figure who makes progressivism and the Democratic Party more attractive to Hispanics.

(I don't know to what sense Hispanics with roots in different Spanish-speaking countries see themselves as members of the same political community. In any event, if we're talking about constructing a certain sort of political identity rather than transacting with an existing one, this is the sort of thing we're trying to shape.)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Diversity of What?

Commenter N in Seattle raises an interesting point: should Sotomayor be confirmed, three of the nine members of the Court (Sotomayor, Alito, Thomas) will have attended the Law School of New Haven State University; four (Roberts, Breyer, Kennedy, and Scalia) will be alumni of the Umass-Cambridge School of Law. Note that Yale has one-third the number of studens as Harvard, meaning on a per-alumn basis it's clearly the best breeding ground for Supreme Court justices. Ruth Bader Ginsburg went to SUNY-Harlem (though she started her education at Harvard!), meaning that John Paul Stevens (Northwestern) will remain the only member of the Court who attended law school outside the 223 mile stretch between Harlem and Cambridge. He remains the last justice who attended a law school that was neither (a) in the Ivy League, nor (b) Stanford. The last justice to attend a state school was Warren Burger, nominated in 1969. So while Sotomayor's nomination brings the demographics of the Court closer in line with America's, and her early career path is somewhat atypical of SCOTUS picks, she likely took classes from similar professors and interacted with similar peers while at school. This was another reason to modestly prefer Diane Wood JD UT-Austin '72 over Sotomayor. Can't always get what you want, I guess.

Selection bias tends to be more manifest at extremely high levels of achievement. If American education has only a modest tendency to push women away from math and engineering, MIT will be overwhelmingly male no matter what. Thus one possible reading of the tilt towards super-elite law schools for Supreme Court justices is that there's likely a tilt towards in other top pre-Justice career paths—law professors at top law schools, circuit court Judges, top legal positions in the Executive branch, etc. Since it's unlikely that these schools are the only place one can learn to be an appellate judge or Solicitor General, the Obama Administration might want to consider instituting something similar to the Rooney Rule, so that they at least interview top graduates of great-but-not-outstanding law schools when vacancies arise. Surely some of them would prove capable jurists.

Take A Letter, Maria

In the Democratic Party, our diversity is our strength. This is partly because it keeps our opponents from getting our names right, so they can't attack us effectively. Via Ben Smith, Mike Huckabee:
"The appointment of Maria Sotomayor for the Supreme Court is the clearest indication yet that President Obama's campaign promises to be a centrist and think in a bipartisan way were mere rhetoric."
While this sort of thing doesn't help you accumulate Hispanic support for your presidential bid, Hispanics are gravitating towards Democrats anyway, and it probably appeals to a large slice of the GOP primary base. Just don't expect to win a general election anytime soon.

Social Epistemology In Action

Scott Lemieux had Sonia Sotomayor as his #2 pick behind Diane Wood. Second on the Scott-list is a very good score as far as I'm concerned, which makes me quite happy with the nomination. (And yes, I'd like to see Pam Karlan be the next nominee, though obviously Scott knows more about that sort of thing than I do.)

Anonymous people, on the other hand, say negative things about Sotomayor. I have a high regard for Scott's opinion in matters like these. If anonymous people disagree with him, this will cause me to be suspicious of the opinions of anonymous people, not only on this issue, but on others. I will trust the views of anonymous people less in the future.

Bail Bonds And The Prison-Industrial Complex

Ivan Moreno's AP article goes into the way the bail bonds people are opposing cheap pretrial supervision programs, because these programs don't use the threat of prison to pressure the accused to post bail. According to a Colorado criminal justice planning manager, pretrial supervision costs $1.93 per day, while prison costs $104 per day. In light of that, it's interesting to see this from a bail bondsman against pretrial supervision:
"I hate it," said Chris Cagle of Atlanta, Ga. "It's a program that when it started it had some good to it. ... But now it's a bloated government waste."
Ordinarily, the prime candidate for the 'bloated waste' designation would be the program that costs over fifty times more -- imprisonment. You'd think that you should argue for imprisonment that you can only get out of by posting bond on grounds of how it contains flight risks, or something like that. The fact that this dude goes to the 'bloated government waste' line is a neat example of pseudo-libertarian rhetoric run amok.

I'd be curious to see more examples of things that the American Bail Coalition or other bail bonds industry groups lobbied for. These seem like the kinds of folks who would want to maintain our current socially destructive marijuana policies, since they have an interest in people being put in jail, though I don't have much information on what they're doing on that score.

Deep Thought

The Sotomayor nomination is good news for John McCain.

The (Deep) South Is Another Country, Part II

(Part one)

I was looking into the 2008 exit polls yesterday, when I noticed just how poorly Barack Obama faired among Southern whites in some states. Everyone is probably quite familiar with how the picture looks if we group the country into four regions; the Northeast is the most Democratic region, followed by the Midwest and the West somewhere in the middle, while the South is solidy Republican.

But we know that this doesn't tell the whole story. In particular, the "West" includes states that have vastly different ethnic makeups, rates of gun ownership, levels of urbanization, income, and education, and so forth. There's no reason that California and Wyoming ought to have similar political beliefs. But it turns out that among the white population, the same is true for the South. If we split off the "Deep South" states—the states where African-Americans account for over 25% of the population, which is not coincidentally the same set of states that Strom Thurmond carried in 1964—we end up with this picture:

In the rest of the South, a decent share of the white population was willing to vote for Barack Obama. But in South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, Obama's weighted average performance among whites was less than 20 percent. Where is Obama's next-worst performance? It happens to be in the seven states where white voters came closest to matching Obama's performance in the Deep South the Southwest and rural Interior West (UT, CO, NM, TX, ID, MT, WY; home states were excluded, leaving AZ out of the mix). In these states Obama averaged a comparatively healthy 32%. Considering Obama earned 43 percent of the white vote nation-wide, this means that the gap between Obama's performance the Deep South and the Southwest/Mountain West is larger than the gap between his performance in the Southwest/Mountain West and the national average. White voters in the Deep South appear to be distinct from white voters even in other Southern states.

In addition, Gen-Y whites in the Deep South don't seem have the same enthusiasm for Barack Obama as the rest of the nation's youth. You might say "well, that's because the Obama campaign didn't target those states", but even in the untargeted Upper South states (AR, TN, KY, OK, and WV), young voters still registered higher support for Obama than their older counterparts.

I'll write about What I Think This Means, but for time being I think I will just leave this finding to speak for itself.

Monday, May 25, 2009


I think it bodes well that Obama has explicitly set out empathy as a desired trait in Supreme Court justices. As an ability to understand other people's lives -- what it's reasonable to expect of them, what will constitute an undue hardship, why homosexuals don't have sex with women -- is important to making the kinds of decisions that Supreme Court justices actually end up making. Empathy is a big part of how we understand people's lives and come to know these kinds of things.

Given the importance of empathy, it's good to set it up as part of a big liberal vision of what judges should do. Right-wingers claim that their judges just interpret what's there in the Constitution and/or that they aren't judicial activists. These two claims are regularly in conflict -- consider Lochner-era jurisprudence, in which the court struck down lots of economic legislation designed to help workers, because it was taken to violate the Constitutional rights of individuals.

There really hasn't been a corresponding liberal vision of what judges do. Many of our positions, like maintaining Roe, are broadly popular, and usually we appeal to those when trying to argue for and against various judges. But it's good to back all of that up with a general account of what makes someone a good judge. And I'm happy to see Obama trying to do that.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Real Socialists Speak

Via Pulpit bulls, I liked this comment by the national director of the Democratic Socialists of America on the RNC's attempt to change the name of the Democratic Party to something that sounds like his group: "they’re giving socialism a bad name by associating it with the Democrats, who are the second-most capitalist party in the world. The election of this president, sadly, hasn’t changed that."

Good on Dave Weigel for getting that.

The Bobblespeak Translations

This is clearly the correct way to absorb the Sunday talk shows.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Friday/Weekend Obama Caption Contest

Second Time as Farce

It should be noted that the recent "terrorists in your neighborhood" shtick is a reprise of one of the GOP's greatest hits—the thrashing of then-President Jimmy Carter and then-Governor Bill Clinton for their handling of the Mariel Boat lift. In 1980, Fidel Castro decided to play hardball with the US and opened one of his country's ports to the public. Over one hundred thousand Cubans packed onto boats and headed for Miami. Needless to say, this overwhelmed the Coast Guard and INS, leading Carter scrambling for space to put the Marelitos. In the end, they ended up housed in various military installations, including Fort Chafee, Arkansas, where riots struck fear into the local population. Clinton partially blames his defeat for reelection on the riots, though lots of other things went wrong during his first term as well.

The distinctions between the Mariel episode and the prisoners at Guantanamo ought to be obvious. It's fairly clear that the Camp Delta prisoners will end up in either ADX Florence, or one of the various prisons which has a Supermax wing. There are only a few hundred prisoners, not tens of thousands of refugees. The odds that any of them will ever be released within the United States is effectively zero. Et cetera. But Republicans seem to be think that the situations are close enough that ther jawboning will work. They must be looking at the comeback of the '70s throwback uniforms and the Guitar Hero-rooted renaissance for AOR and prog. Somehow I doubt this particular '70s show will work.

Independents on the Decline

(RSS readers may have to hit the link to see the graph) A nice catch from Chris Bowers, who observes that self-identification as an independent is down since April. Historically, the number of independents goes up when there's not an impending election to focus voters' attention, so the current trend definitely Means Something. Bowers thinks that current events are pushing independents into the arms of one party or another; current public debate has been highly partisan, perhaps more partisan than at any time in the past two decades, when there were always a decent number of folks in the middle muddying the picture. I find myself having a hard time coming up with an alternative explanation. So for the time being, absent evidence to the contrary, let's go with it.

Nancy Pelosi Is Russia In Winter

Daily Kos has Pelosi's net favorability falling 10 points, which is basically what you'd expect to happen when a figure most Americans don't have strong feelings about gets attacked on the news for a week.  It's something Republicans could feel happy about, I suppose.

But all we've got here are tactical victories of no strategic value.  Attacking Pelosi is like invading Russia.  The Russians retreat, give ground, let you take more territory.  It feels like you're winning!  And then around November, it starts to get really cold.  Pelosi does fine in November -- she just has to win one election on her home turf.  Linking other Democrats to her has never worked, since she keeps such a low profile.  People in some other Democrat's district are going to think of Obama long before they think of her.  All the cold hard ground you've gained is worthless.

Friday K

Pianist Eric Lewis covers Evanescence's "Going Under". Trust me, it's worth watching:

Leave your nominations for next week's kistch cover in the comments

The Total Population Of Terrorists

This Tyler Cowen post, "Worry less about releasing terrorists," is a few months old, but it's as good as ever.  
The total population of terrorists ebbs and flows all the time. When the number goes up by one hundred, no one much notices. If the number goes up by one hundred because we release some previously identified terrorists, there is or will be a public outcry. But it's the same consequence...
We evaluate outcomes differently when we feel we are in control or should be in control. We should examine this intuition carefully, since it is not always justified.
Suppose we close Guantanamo and everybody there, including the probably large number that had no interest in terrorism before their imprisonment, decides to become a terrorist as soon as they get out.  This could still be a positive development against terrorism, if Obama's magnanimous gesture and our return to respectability prevented even more people from getting consumed with hatred of America and becoming terrorists.

Not driving people crazy with egregious civil liberties violations should be a larger part of our anti-terrorism arsenal.  I'd like to see us try it a little more.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I Am Magnet Man

Dana Goldstein calls for "high-quality public magnet schools in urban districts."  Those are the sort of thing that produced me, as well as superior bloggers like my classmate Ryan Avent.

Enloe High School, in Raleigh, was the sort of magnet high school that did what magnet schools are supposed to do.  It was located in the poor middle of Raleigh, and the base students were mostly black.  But since it had lots of AP classes and smart teachers to teach them, white and Asian parents from the suburbs would compete to send their kids there.  The result was that you had a high-performing, well-integrated school where well-to-do parents would actively try to send their kids.  

North Carolina pays its teachers poorly (the starting salary is just over $30K a year -- there's a big downside to being an anti-union state) so teacher quality wasn't uniformly great.  But we still had quite a few teachers with Ph.Ds who just did that thing because they liked teaching smart kids and couldn't get good academic jobs.  Dr. Anderson taught me such a good AP Chem class that when I got to Harvard I skipped the year-long Chem 5/7 sequence or even the intense one-semester Chem 10 class, went straight to organic chemistry, and got an A in the first semester.  Then I started to study philosophy, lost all interest in chemistry, and got a C in the second semester.  Uh, anyway, magnet schools are good.

(I'm back in Austin until June 1, so blogging should get back to its regular pace for a while.)

Bedwetter Update

Jesus. Barbara Boxer? Russ Feingold? WTF?!?!

This Man Has A Hand in Middle East Policy

I don't know that much about Ilan Goldenberg, other than that he writes on Democracy Arsenal with some regularity. And Ezra introduced us at Netroots Nation, but I'd be shocked if he remembered the encounter. Nonetheless I took this photo of him, and he's headed to the Pentagon, which is an excuse to show another one of my photos of people in business casual dress speaking at microphones.

Just Makin' Shit Up

Wow, these guys just aren't thinking this through at all. Let me try to get this straight; we can't house Guantanamo prisoners in the United States because somehow a handful of their sympathizers—keep in mind that the 240 or so prisoners at Guantanamo are from various far-flung countries and therefore won't have a single group trying to spring them from jail; also there's no reason to house them all in the same place—are going to coordinate attack a maximum security prison, and have it work? Has this happened in the last half century, even with domestic prisoners? If they manage to bust open the prison without killing the prisoners, what happens next? The National Guard will fail to clamp down on the situation? A bunch of guys with no government issued ID and minimal English skills are going to melt into the civilian population of southern Illinois or rural Colorado?

If you tried to pitch this plot to Jerry Bruckheimer, he'd laugh you out of the room, saying the audience wouldn't believe it. But this is politics, so for some reason we have to treat this bed-wetting fantasy as a reasonable position.

Update: Time to find FBI Directer Robert Mueller a lifeboat.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The AP Wants Me to Pay Them for Getting You to Look at This

Click on the image below to see where the recession is hitting the hardest. Overall, things seem to be worst in Michigan/Ohio/Indiana, parts of the Deep South, and the interior portions of California and Oregon. Still, it's bad pretty much everywhere. The country's foreclosure problems are much more localized.

Congress Party Wins!

The Congress Party wins big in India. A rough-and-ready map of Indian politics onto American politics has Manmohan Singh's intelligent technocratic governance and the social liberalism of the Congress Party standing in for the Democrats, while the Hindu nationalism of the BJP is sort of like the Republican Party. So, the good guys won and crazy Hindu nationalists will be less equipped to beat up Muslims and uppity untouchables with impunity. Good stuff.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Mommification Watch: Not just for Michelle Obama!

Really, guys? We're going to put Kathleen Sebelius in an all-women photo op with yarn and babies at the table? Really? What's next, will they have Janet Napolitano bring some muffins to border patrol officials?

Even In New York City, People Use Cars

Matt Yglesias laments outer-borough NYC opposition to congestion pricing, claiming this is counter to their constituents interests since "the population in the outer boroughs is mostly low-income and mostly takes transit into the city". It's worth pointing out at this juncture that lots of people in New York City still drive cars. Trasnit commuters account for 50% of all commuters in Queens, 56% in the Bronx, and 60% in Brooklyn. That's certainly more than almost anywhere else in America, but from a political perspective it's a bare majority; you would have to get every transit rider in an election to vote for you, or convince some car commuters that the congenstion pricing will endu p benefiting them. Even if income level didn't have an effect on voting rates, district lines for State Assemblymen probably put several representatives in constituencies with fewer subway/bus riders than car drivers.

(Photo of cars stuck in traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge from Tom Holbrook)

Barack: Still an Unusual Name

You've probably read the tidbit that "Barack" shot up the SSA's list of popular baby names last year. It's a nice sounding story, but Baby Name Wizard Laura Wattenberg observes that jumping from being the 12,535 most popular name to the 2,409th most popular name affects fewer children's name than the 99th most popular name edging up to 98th. There just aren't that many kids named Barack. Perhaps it will crack the top 1,000 next year, but we're not there yet.

(Photo from Jane Whan Photography used under the CC-license)

Mr. Klein Goes To The Washington Post

This is going to be good. So far, I've really liked the post on menu labeling.

Guantanamerica [sic]

There has been a great degree of puzzlement of late when it comes to understanding the Obama Administration's position on the dispostion of Guantanamo prisoners ("detainees" is a euphemestic work design to make you think the government isn't really doing anything sinister and that maybe they'll be released any day now). So far, Congressional Democrats have allowed themselves to be rolled by conservative mau-mauing on the issue of "letting terrorsits into the United States" even though everyone knows full well that former Guantanamo prisoners will likely be put in either maxmimum security Federal Prisons in places like Marion, Illinois; in maximum security military detention facilities; or in places where the public is manly enough to understand that imprisoned terrorists don't pose any real threat to the United States just because the prison they're staying in happens to be on American soil.

One thing to consider here is the likelihood that the Obama administration has already gamed out portions of the public debate on the treatment of former Guantanamo inmates. If you look at public appearances from the more liberated Obama Campaign operatives, one thing you will notice is that they anticipated almost everything; they knew that Obama would take a hit while he was in Hawaii; they understood that the Palin boomlet was ephemeral; they quickly realized that Joe the Plumber wasn't giving the GOP any real traction; and they determined that the proper response to the Bill Ayers controversy was not to elevate the controversy. Give the White House's unwillingness to engage on this particulary front, the most plausible conclusion is that they have determined that it is indeed a no-win situation. Getting into a debate with Lindsay Graham over where to house prisoners is more likely to harm the chances of treating them as common criminals than it is to help.

At some point, I suspect, the Obama Administration will game out some piece of public opinion, and it will be wrong. But at the moment, there ought to be a strong presumption that Obama and his team understand how to "make[] people who critisize him look like fools".

Bear in mind that I don't particularly like this set of events. Someone should really be willing to say "Look: the Republican party is just making shit up. The prisoners at Guantanamo will all go to maximum security prisons until they can stand trial. There is no danger to the American public; this is just a scare tactic the Republicans are using because they don't think you're smart enough to realize what's really going on." But it hasn't happened. Perhaps there's a reason for that ...

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Jon Huntsman Chooses China Over 2012

I was wondering whether Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman was thinking about running for the Republican nomination. He'd staked out a bunch of moderate positions, and there was some chance that he'd try to drive to the nomination through the sane people lane, avoiding the crazy people traffic jam where the Palins and Jindals and Mark Sanford types are all honking at each other. It's not like there's much of a sane people vote in the contemporary Republican Party, but if 10 candidates are fighting over 80% of the voters and you've got the other 20% to yourself, you have a shot. It's not a great shot, because as candidates get eliminated the anti-sane-people bloc ends up uniting against you. But there are circumstances in which it could work.

Anyway, he's now Obama's envoy to China, so that becomes somebody else's meager opportunity.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Cheney?

Steven Benen notes that Republican operatives are willing to say bad things about Dick Cheney, but only when they can hide behind the skirt of anonymity. I find this curious, since as best I can tell, Cheney doesn't have that much influence over the current Republican party. The major fundraisers probably have more attachment to Bush, Cantor, McConnell, McCain, etc., than they do to Dick. He's not going to run for office ever again. So why not throw him overboard?

(photo from phlezk of G.W.A.R. decapitating Dick Cheney)

What Josh Marshall Said

Read the whole thing. Since I have better things to do with my time than follow cable news obsessively, I have yet to be fully exposed to the ins and outs of the latest Pelosi-related torture dust-up. But if the person at the center of the scandal still supports creating a commission to determine what happened and who knew what when, it would seem to me that there's a strong presumption that she's not particularly guilty of anything.

Friday Obama Caption Contest

Thursday, May 14, 2009

EFCA Compromises That Aren't Worth Pursuing

Everyone's Least Favorite Democrat Not Named Evan Bayh is working out an EFCA "compromise". Said "compromise" faces the fact that Specter opposes both the card check and the arbitration provisions. Replacing card check with more rapid elections sounds like a modest concession, but dumping the arbitration requirements would hollow out the bill. Currently, once a union is certified, they have one year to negotiate a contract. If they fail, they must re-run the entire organizing campaign, getting pro-union cards from 30% of workers, holding an election, etc. Therefore management has tremendous incentive to stall negotiations. In fact, over 44% of newly certified workplaces fail to earn a contract. It's probably more important to tweak labor policy to get more unions through this second step of the unionization process than it is to get more unions through the first stip, only to have them fail at the second.

Andy Stern and his friends are hunting for compromises, but they are not stupid. If arbitration gets tossed, the bill should be voted down, and he should fund Joe Sestak.


Tucson has a nice airport with free wi-fi. I'm here for the next four hours plus; my plane leaves at 5:40am. I've seen four people here -- one sleeping traveler, one security guard, and two bus company employees making out behind their counter.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Health Care Stakeholders In Favor of Doing Something

I'm with Ezra and Kevin Drum on today's Big Health Care Announcement. To my eye, all that appears to have happened is that a lot of people have gotten together and agreed that health care costs should be lower. But no one has developed any specifics. There are noises that the specifics will come later, but will stakeholders prove capable of thinking about their cost control initiative and the Obama-Baucus-Grassley bill at the same time? Or will the latter consume all the resources devoted to the former? In addition, the fact that almost everyone is a party to the BHCA means that no one is left out in the cold. So you won't have a situation where, for example, insurers, unions, and doctors line up to make sure the cost-cutting comes out of the hides of drug companies, equipment manufacturers, and hospitals. Or insurers and GPs forcing a cramdown in revenues for specialists. Or whatever. Instead we're getting a "consensus proposals to reduce the rate of increase in future health and insurance costs through changes made in all sectors of the health care system". That sounds to me like a recipe for something long on pontificating whitepapers and short on action items that will produce significant savings.

(Photo courtesy of the totally awesome White House Flickr feed. Note that if the White House were interested in getting their photos in front of more eyeballs, they'd use Facebook)

Heisenberg's Senator

Having the next two days' talks at USC and Arizona to prepare for and little knowledge of the relevant issues, you're not going to see much from me on the blizzard of health care news that has come out today. For that you'll just have to read Ezra and the various people he's in dialogue with.

I am, however, quite amused at Arlen Specter's recent announcement that he in fact is open to a public health care plan, a reversal of his earlier view. It's like he's Heisenberg's Senator -- it's impossible to know his position and which way he's going at the same time. Right now I'm happy with his position, but I have no idea where he's going next.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

"Why don't homosexuals have sex with women?"

As hilzoy tells us, that question came from Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell, before casting the decisive vote to uphold Georgia's sodomy laws in Bowers v. Hardwick. (The clerk he was talking to, as it turned out, was a closeted gay man.) Powell would later regret his opinion.
In 1990, three years after retiring from the Court, Powell told a group of New York University law students that he considered his opinion in Bowers was an error. "I do think it was inconsistent in a general way with Roe. When I had the opportunity to reread the opinions a few months later I thought the dissent had the better of the arguments." However, Powell believed that the case was one of little importance and spent only thirty minutes thinking about it.
This, as hilzoy says, is why it's important to have a diverse Supreme Court. If you're not a gay person, you might not think that the right of gay people to have sex with each other is especially important. You'll probably still think that your own right to have sex is very important. For many of the issues that come before the court, there's no explicit ranking of rights to be found in the Constitution that you can interpret to figure out what you're supposed to do, still less one that explains how to weigh these in a particular situation.

So people are going to fall back on their own experiences. (People unusually gifted with empathy may be able to understand the weight of their decisions in the lives of others very much unlike them, which is why Obama is right to prize that quality.) But this is why it's good to have people who have had a wide variety of different experiences on the Court.

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Voyage Begins

I'm about to start on a big adventure where I fly around the world giving talks on my philosophy research. All is funded by my benevolent employers at the National University of Singapore, under whose auspices I'm presenting two papers at a total of 10 US and UK universities over the summer. I should be airborne in six hours.

This means that blogging will probably be unpredictable for the next ten days or so (during which I present papers at USC, Arizona, Miami, and Tennessee). Maybe I'll sign up for one of those wireless-in-every-airport plans and get lots of blogging done! Or maybe that won't work out and I won't. In any case, if I don't post much, don't worry that I've fallen to the dread swine flu.

Update: My schedule is requested! Here's where the Moral Naturalism Project is taking me:
May 9 - Fly from Singapore to San Francisco
May 12 - Fly from San Francisco to LA for USC talk on 12th
May 13 - Fly from LA to Tucson for University of Arizona talk on 13th
May 14 - Fly from Tuscon to Miami for University of Miami talk on 15th
May 17 - Fly from Miami to Knoxville for University of Tennessee talk on the 18th
May 19 - Fly from Knoxville to Austin
June 1 - Fly from Austin to Chicago. Illinois State talk on the 4th and Illinois talk on the 5th.
[Now things get a little hazy. I have some free time between talks and I'll probably go somewhere on the Eastern seaboard for a few days but I don't know where.]
June 9 - Fly to London for King's College London talk on June 10. Chill at Oxford for a while, maybe Edinburgh. Return on June 19 or so.
[More haziness. Hopefully somehow involving girls.]
June 20something - Fly to Grand Rapids for Calvin College talk and subsequent Michigan talk.
Early July - Visit DC
Rest of July - Hang out with family in SF, or wherever they might be at the time.
Late July / Early August - Fly to Seattle for Puget Sound talk
August 5 - Fly from San Francisco back to Singapore

Thursday, May 7, 2009


Glenn Thrush reports: "Senate majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is offering Arlen Specter a sop after leadership stripped Specter of his seniority -- the chairmanship of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs, according to a senior Democratic aide." I don't know what Specter's views on crime and drug-related issues are, but if they're reasonable and it makes him happy enough that he doesn't start causing trouble that's fine with me. (I don't mind if he causes high-profile but low-cost trouble that helps a real Democrat beat him in the primary, like when he cheered on Norm Coleman. I'm worried about him causing low-profile but high-cost trouble that the good Democrats of Pennsylvania can't easily detect.)

On a side note, I've always found the word "sop" kind of funny. I've only seen it used in the third-person way that Thrush uses it, when somebody else doesn't get what they really want and is offered something lesser as a consolation. I don't know if you're allowed to use it first-personally or second-personally, as follows:
Durbin: Sorry, Arlen, we can't suddenly make you an incredibly senior Democrat.

Specter: Darn it! I can't keep my seniority... can I have a sop?

Durbin: All right, I'll give you a sop. How about this bread soaked in some liquid?

Specter: I don't want that.

Durbin: [Eating] Mmm. Well, how about letting you chair the Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs.

Specter: Okay, that's a reasonably good sop.

Michael Savage Banned From The UK

Via Brian, Michael Savage is banned from entering the UK because of his role in spreading ethnic hatred. Apparently he wants to sue the UK or something in response. Media Matters has a nice rundown on many of the people he's wanted to kick out of America, including American-born children of immigrants and ACLU members. He also has suggested a ban on Muslim immigration.

I appreciate how the UK is treating members of all races who spread hatred the same way. Other banned people include a Hamas MP, Neo-Nazis, a Russian skinhead, a violent Jewish extremist, a Hezbollah guy, and Fred Phelps.

This is only tangentially related, but Savage has claimed "that any heterosexual woman today over the age of 25 who grew up in America is basically a dominatrix." I don't entirely understand what the point of that comment was. I hope it isn't true. It would mean that several of the women I've been involved with were reluctant to tell me what they really wanted and I might have left them unsatisfied.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

People Mention Peter Railton And I Get Excited

Via Ezra, here's something from Robin Kar, who clerked for Sonia Sotomayor and did a PhD at Michigan:
Judge Sotomayor stands out from among these people as one of the very brightest; indeed, she is in that rarified class of people for whom it makes sense to say that there is no one genuinely smarter. (Others who have stood out in this way in my experience would include Harold Koh, the former dean of Yale Law School, and Peter Railton, a moral philosopher at the University of Michigan.)
I don't know Sotomayor or Koh personally, but I know Peter Railton. He was the dissertation advisor of one of my dissertation co-chairs, Brian Leiter. Spending time with him was one of the big reasons I left Texas for a year to be a visiting graduate student at Michigan. And, yeah. "It makes sense to say that there is no one genuinely smarter" is right. I didn't think that judges ever got the chance to demonstrate that they were in that league. Kar did his PhD at Michigan where Railton is, so he knows the man well. (Kar and I have overlapping scholarly interests, got Newcombe fellowships, and graduated magna from Harvard, so it's conceivable that our mutual Railton-admiration arises from an extremely surprising a posteriori identity between us.)

On the other hand, Jeffrey Rosen thinks Sotomayor isn't that bright. And I haven't read enough of his piece to get a confident sense of it, nor have I talked to enough of its detractors and supporters to get a fully balanced view of its strengths. But sources who will remain anonymous tell me that Rosen wrote it just because he wants sexists and racists to like him. And if that's good enough for an article in The New Republic, why isn't it good enough for a blog post?

Supreme Head Fakes

Ezra points out that we're basically seeing an oppo dump against Sonia Sotomayor, poured through the keyboards of Jeffrey Rosen and Richard Cohen. Maybe I've been watching too many NFL draft tactical gimmicks, but it seems to me that a nifty White House strategy would be leave minor hints that Sotomayor is under serious consideration for the next several months. Let the far right demonize her more and more, and then, boom! It's Elana Kagan. Or somebody else who ruins a big Republican investment in demonizing the wrong judge. Which is not very nice to Sotomayor, I'll grant, but assuming that we get a really good judge out of it I hope she'd be happy.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Mark Halperin, Call (Out) Your Editor

As we have been told, authors of articles often don't write their headlines. This makes it possible for an author to write a relatively mundane article and unwittingly receive a racially inflammatory headline. In such a situation, the author's responsibility is to muse about how the editors who title their articles about Obama's Supreme Court options "White men need not apply" ought to be swiftly affected by economic trends prevalent in the news business.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Panic Of 1825

Astute commenters and emailers responded to a previous post by pointing out that financial panics where individual actions generate systemic risk have been with us for a long time. People in particular mentioned the panic of 1825, so I went and looked it up. The wikipedia entry begins, "The Panic of 1825 was a stock market crash that started in the Bank of England arising in part out of speculative investments in Latin America, including in the fabled imaginary country of Poyais."

Wait, so the Bank of England nearly collapsed because of people investing in an imaginary country? Well, yeah, it looks like that's basically what happened.

Good News At AWARE

The feminists beat the homophobes 1414-761, passing a vote of no confidence in the right-wing activists who had taken over Singapore's top feminist NGO, and electing a new executive committee.

Anita Hill For Supreme Court!

Via the good folk of Unfogged, this rocks. I wonder if Anita Hill would make things so awkward for Clarence Thomas that he would resign earlier than expected, freeing up another space.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Who Would Jesus Southern Republicans Torture?

Mark Kleiman is right, the commentary on the Pew torture poll is producing a lot of faulty analysis. The religious demographic traits that align with torture also align with other factors, such as education, region, race, and political affiliation. After all, in the present time, White Evangelicals are much more Republican than the population as a whole, and Republican leaders are more supported of torture; therefore, it shouldn't be that surprising that White Evangelicals are more supportive of torture.

That said, it's worth pointing out that a certain subset of American Christianity has in the past had a similar ends-justify-the-means attitude when it comes to the treatment of outsiders (and let's be clear, when a pollster says "suspected terrorist" most of the country hears "swarthy brown people"). Looking backwards, nineteenth Century efforts to "civilize" Native American populations involved a lot of what we would today call immoral behavior in the name of God. And while a number of Northern churches were the center of the abolitionist movement, the presence of slavery in the Bible was used to justify the "natural order" of antebellum times. A lack of concern for non-believers isn't unique to Christianity, as the residents of the Middle East or Kashmir will tell you, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

Iraq: Only Slightly More Dangerous This Month

It should be noted that while April had the highest number of US casualties since 2008, Feburary actually had a higher casualty rate. And while the death toll for both Americans and Iraqis is on the rise, it's worth remembering that violence in Iraq has historically been low in the winter time, followed by a spring time spike before the summer heat cuts down on violence.

Can Feminists Take Back Singapore's AWARE From An Antigay Church?

Big happenings in Singapore tomorrow.

For the last quarter century, the leading organizational advocate for the cause of women has been a group called AWARE (Association of Women for Action and Research). AWARE has functioned tirelessly and effectively for equality in marriage rights, citizenship, the treatment of foreign domestic workers, and disenfranchised women across the island state.

Amazingly, AWARE has just been taken over in a coup by a group of conservative Christian Singaporean women concerned that AWARE was too "pro-gay".
It's a pretty crazy situation. A few months ago, a bunch of right-wing activists got many female members of the antigay Church Of Our Savior to quietly sign up as AWARE members. Dozens of them suddenly showed up at a general meeting and voted church members onto the Executive Committee. Then they fired staff and replaced them with church members, dismissed volunteer subcommittee chairs, excluded the former president from meetings, and literally changed the locks on the building. The church members' most significant motivation was to eliminate a force for gay rights in Singapore, but if a conservative church manages to take over a feminist organization, there's going to be a whole bunch of badness.

Tomorrow there's going to be another general meeting, and lots of people (including at least one of my students and a colleague in the department) have been trying to get women they know to go to the meeting. The plan is to hold a vote of no confidence in the right-wing activists who are now on the Executive Committee, and if that passes, have them replaced with better people. But it's fairly unclear how the meeting will go at this point -- there's some possibility of parliamentary trickery to avoid a vote of no confidence. Unfortunately, I'm going to be giving my moral philosophy class an exam during that time, so no on-the-scene liveblogging. But I'll keep you updated, and let's hope the real feminists win.