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Speaking of Identity Politics…

[ 34 ] January 30, 2015 |

Shorter Jim Webb:  Sure, Barack Obama won two convincing electoral college majorities.  But it was the wrong kind of majority.  We need to be the party of Andrew Jackson again, if you know what I mean, which I think you do.

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Friday, Friday Links

[ 50 ] January 30, 2015 |
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It’s Not Erik Loomis’ Birthday Until bspencer Wishes Him a Happy Birthday

[ 51 ] January 29, 2015 |

So…a toast to Erik, everybody!!!

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On “Identity Politics”

[ 140 ] January 29, 2015 |

What Yglesias says here, responding to Jon Chait’s definition of “identity politics” as “shorthand for articles principally about race or gender bias” is very true and very necessary:

This is, I think, the problem with idea of “identity politics” as a shorthand for talking about feminism or anti-racism. The world of navel-gazing journalism is currently enmeshed in a couple of partially overlapping conversations, about “PC culture,” diversity, social justice, technological change, and shifting business models. One thread of this is the (accurate) observation that social media distribution creates new incentives for publications to be attuned to feminist and minority rights perspectives in a way that was not necessarily the case in the past. But where some see a cynical play for readership, I see an extraordinarily useful shock to a media ecosystem that’s too long been myopic in its range of concerns.

The implication of this usage (which is widespread, and by no means limited to people who agree with Chait) is that somehow an identity is something only women or African-Americans or perhaps LGBT people have. White men just have ideas about politics that spring from a realm of pure reason, with concerns that are by definition universal.

You see something similar in Noam Scheiber’s argument that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio went astray by emphasizing an “identity group agenda” of police reform at the expense of a (presumably identity-free) agenda of populist economics. For starters, it is actually inevitable that a New York City mayor would end up spending more time on his police department management agenda (something that is actually under the mayor’s control) than on tax policy, which is set by the State Legislature in Albany.

But beyond that, not addressing a racially discriminatory status quo in policing is itself a choice. Indeed, it’s a kind of identity group appeal — to white people, whose preferred means of striking the balance between liberty and security, in many contexts, is that security should be achieved by depriving other people of their civil liberties.

As I mentioned recently, Christopher Caldwell’s assertion that Obama only getting 40% of the white vote suggested that he was racially divisive (something he wouldn’t say about Romney getting less than 10% of the African-American vote or less than 30% of the Hispanic or Asian-American vote) is another classic example. Opposition to “identity politics” generally provides particularly strong illustrations of what it’s decrying.

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“Won’t Someone Please Think of the Children?” “No.”

[ 15 ] January 29, 2015 |

We’ve already established that for today’s Republicans the minimization of deaths is not a virtue, at least where something as important as arbitrary formal limitations on federal power are at stake. It’s important, therefore, that children get to share in this sweet, sweet freedom from tax credits Congress granted them:

King v. Burwell, the latest Supreme Court case attacking the Affordable Care Act, is largely perceived as a threat to people who purchased insurance through the law’s health exchanges. Should the plaintiffs succeed, at least 8 million people with plans purchased through such an exchange are projected to become uninsured — many of whom have life-threatening conditions. In reality, however, King presents an even bigger threat to American lives. Should the Supreme Court embrace the plaintiffs’ theory in King, up to 5 million children who had insurance long before Obamacare became law would also lose their insurance.

That’s 13 million newly uninsured people, many of them children.

However, it must be noted that Jon Adler has a letter* in which 11 House Democrats are clear that they intended to keep the liberty-destroying boot of health insurance off as many children as possible. Surely the will of Congress must be honored.

*Note: characterization of letter’s contents may not be accurate.

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A Corner in Wheat

[ 45 ] January 29, 2015 |

It is my birthday. I am now 41 with the personality of an 80 year old and the back of a 60 year old (as the snow has reminded me). Speaking of old things, my birthday present to the rest of you is A Corner in Wheat, the D.W. Griffith film from 1909. It has everything you want in a political film from the time. Horrible poverty. Grotesque wealth. Bread riots. And capitalists being killed in grain elevators. One of the best movies representing the Gilded Age.

I had my students watch it out of class for my film course that meets tonight. I also had them read Frederick Winslow Taylor’s The Principles of Scientific Management. In class, we are watching Modern Times. That’s right, it is early 20th century labor week.

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The Party of Death

[ 57 ] January 29, 2015 |

At The Week, I have some reflections on Michael Strain’s “sure, if we destroy the ACA plenty of people will die, your point being?” op-ed:

But the fact that the costs of the ACA might theoretically exceed the benefits doesn’t get us very far. What benefits, exactly, would accrue if millions of people were denied medical coverage because the ACA is seriously damaged or destroyed? It’s here that Strain’s argument falls apart.

One potential line against the ACA is the radical libertarian one, holding that any effort by the government to provide health care to the non-affluent represents an unacceptable level of state coercion. The problem here is that the “freedom” to die of preventable illnesses and injuries is not one the vast majority of people value very highly. A Republican Party committed to these principles would be transformed into an electoral coalition that would make Barry Goldwater’s 52 electoral votes in 1964 look robust.

Since the people responsible for the anti-ACA effort know this perfectly well, the constitutional arguments against the ACA have the advantage of not logically requiring the Supreme Court to rule the entire modern regulatory state unconstitutional. The disadvantage is that they ask the court to deny many millions of people health coverage based on liberty interests that are ludicrously trivial.

The litigants challenging the constitutionality of the ACA do not contend that the federal government cannot regulate national health care markets. Rather, their constitutional argument boils down to an assertion that the government has the authority to assess a tax to compel people to purchase health insurance, but not a penalty. It’s pretty hard to argue that the fate of liberty in America hinges on this formal limitation on federal power.

The more successful federalist argument launched against the Affordable Care Act is similarly unattractive. Chief Justice John Roberts’ inept re-writing of the ACA’s Medicaid expansion allowed states to opt out. Republican-controlled states have eagerly rejected the large amounts of federal money on offer to insure more poor residents, something that is likely to result in the unnecessary deaths of more than 5,000 people a year.

I don’t think this particular protection of state autonomy is worth that many lives (or, indeed, a single life). But here’s the kicker: The Supreme Court’s decision does not even meaningfully protect state sovereignty. Under the court’s theory, Congress could have enacted the ACA’s Medicaid expansion by repealing the pre-existing Medicaid entirely. This, apparently, would be completely constitutional. There may be things worth 5,000 lives a year; an incoherent legal argument that doesn’t even really protect states’ rights isn’t one of them.

More at the link for those of you who are into that kind of thing. Read Beutler as well. Hiltzik is excellent too.

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Defense Innovation in China

[ 0 ] January 29, 2015 |

The Diplomat: APAC (one of my employers), recently introduced a new app. The app has a magazine format, and I have an article on defense innovation in the Chinese military-industrial complex in the third issue.

Yet for all of this success, serious questions persist. China remains dependent on access to foreign technology, with many of its most important systems stemming from Russian and Western designs. More importantly, however, China must figure out a way to manage the growing divide between its military and civilian economies. The United States and Europe have struggled mightily to harness their military-industrial complexes (MICs) to private industry, particular in the information technology sector. China’s MIC will soon face the same problems, and how it manages this obstacle will matter much more than questions about how much technology it can steal from the West.

I highly recommend both the article, and the app.

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I believe that LGM will not merely endure: We will prevail

[ 205 ] January 28, 2015 |

One more obstacle falls in LGM’s ruthless, albeit leisurely paced, march to the top of the blogosphere.

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Marshawn Lynch and Work to Rule

[ 176 ] January 28, 2015 |

Is Marshawn Lynch actually engaging in a labor action by his refusal to talk to the press? Sarah Jaffe makes a compelling case that Lynch’s continued defiance of the NFL and his refusal is actually a work-to-rule action:

Lynch may be alone in his actions at the moment, but it seems fairly clear that in following the letter of the NFL’s law — showing up to the press conference, and verbalizing an answer to a question — he’s demonstrating that he, not Roger Goodell or anyone else, controls the conditions of his labor.

Jaffe also connects Lynch’s actions to a topic she writes a lot about: emotional labor.

There is no doubt that Lynch gives the game everything he’s got and more — we should always remember when we watch football or any other physical, contact sport that we are watching people literally putting their safety and lives on the line for our entertainment. So why, on top of all that, does the NFL demand that its players show up at press conferences and answer the same inane questions with a ready smile?

Sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild defines “emotional labor” as the work we do to manage our emotions so as to produce a desired emotional state in others. We expect pro athletes to paste on a smile and explain why they won, how they lost, what it felt like to fumble the ball or throw that interception that put the other team ahead, minutes after they’ve been pounded within an inch of their lives.

The NFL doesn’t only demand emotional regulation at press conferences, though. It wants its players to behave a certain way on the field as well. Remember last season, when Lynch’s teammate Richard Sherman was fined for taunting San Francisco 49ers players and excoriated by the (mostly white) press for an emotional interview in which, among other things, he crowed to reporter Erin Andrews, “I’m the best corner in the game!”

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

It’d be nice to see the NFL Players Association step in here and at least say something about the league’s constant harassment of Lynch. Except that the NFLPA is absolutely worthless, with far less power than any of the other professional sports unions. Thus this devastating article at Deadspin today calling for the NFL players to unionize and acting like the NFLPA doesn’t even exist. Because that’s not far off. This might be the single best put-down of a bad union I have ever read.

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Today In ACA Troofer Hackery

[ 42 ] January 28, 2015 |

When you’re trying to sell one of the most risible conspiracy theories in the known universe, one almost remarkably devoid of evidence, you’re going to produce a lot of hackery.  For example, say your theory rests largely on an assertion that Ben Nelson demanded that subsidies be only made available on state exchanges (as opposed to Nelson’s actual belief that there should not be a single federal exchange.)  Well, I happen to have Ben Nelson right here and:

But Nelson, who announced his retirement in 2011, speaks for himself in a brief filed by Democratic congressional leaders and others.

“I always believed that tax credits should be available in all 50 states regardless of who built the exchange, and the final law also reflects that belief as well,” Nelson wrote in a letter to Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) who sought Nelson’s view.

The saucer people Moops got to him too! WE’RE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS PEOPLE!

Meanwhile, a reader found this entertaining bit of diversion from Jonathan Adler, responding to the fact that the four Selbelius dissenters rejected his reading of the statute:

Jonathan Adler, an architect of the legal challenge in King, doubted that the administration’s citation of the 2012 dissent would impact the case.

“It’s more of a cute debater’s point than a substantive legal point,” he said in an email. “It tells you something about the strength of their case.”

Why, yes it does, although not in the way he means the phrase. Needless to say, Adler doesn’t think that this kind of evidence is merely a “cute debater’s point.” Section V of the Adler/Cannon brief cites a letter signed by 11 Texas House Democrats advocating for a single national exchange. The obvious problem with citing it as evidence that the Moops invaded Spain is that nothing in the letter says that subsidies wouldn’t be available on federally-established exchanges; indeed, the thrust of the letter is a worry that states will set up inferior exchanges, not that federally-established exchanges would fail. (Inadvertently revealing that the letter itself doesn’t actually support their interpretation, they combine it with the erroneous inferences made by an NPR report about the letter.) And of course, as the government’s brief observes (fn 19), the petitioner’s brief “rel[ies] heavily” on the 2012 but not 2010 or 2014 comments of President, Speaker of the House, Senate Majority Leader, Secretary of State, Governor of all 50 states, and discredited NFL commissioner Jonathan Gruber, whose comments have also been cited in arguments by Cannon.

So it’s not that Adler and Cannon think that how public officials contemporaneously interpreted the statute is irrelevant. There’s just almost no evidence of legislative intent that supports their fantastical theory. If the Sebelius dissenters agreed with them, they’d certainly find it relevant and not a mere “debating point.”

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Were the Poor Responsible For the Financial Meltdown? (SPOILER: No.)

[ 91 ] January 28, 2015 |

The only possible value of Christopher Caldwell’s self-immolating attempt to define Obama’s legacy is the compendium of particularly witless winger talking points it offers to future historians.  One of these silly arguments was an assertion that the basis of the depression was “a multitrillion-dollar real-estate debauch that Clinton’s and Bush’s [no Barney Frank? — ed.] affordable-housing mandates had set in motion.”  Does this assertion have any empirical basis?  The answer will continue not to surprise you:

This theory has never had much empirical support behind it (just the opposite, really). But a new paper by Duke’s Manuel Adelino, MIT’s Antoinette Schoar, and Dartmouth’s Felipe Severino shreds it.

The study looks at who was actually taking out mortgages in the run-up to the crisis, and who defaulted once it hit. Their conclusion? The poor didn’t, in fact, start taking out more and bigger mortgages than everybody else. Borrowing rose, sure, but it rose for everybody. We all bought into the idea that housing prices would keep going up, and that faith doomed us — not loans made to the poor.

[…]

As the first chart indicated, there wasn’t a lot of change in which income groups were getting mortgages from 2002 to 2006. But this chart shows that the dollar value of delinquencies for 2005-2006 mortgages was concentrated more heavily than ever among the richest borrowers. “Of course,” the authors write, “the total dollar value of mortgages that are delinquent went up dramatically for mortgages originated in 2006 relative to those originated in 2002, but clearly this is not driven primarily by low income borrowers.”

Scapegoating the poor for the financial crisis was always a stretch. But especially given the data here, it’s long past time we put that dubious theory to bed.

But, in fairness, I’m pretty sure it was poor homeowners that ordered financial institutions to sell worthless mortgage securities while representing them as low-risk investments.

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