Subscribe via RSS Feed

Author Page for Scott Lemieux

rss feed

You Won’t Have Mittens To Kick Around Anymore

[ 120 ] January 30, 2015 |

Apparently, Romney figured out that if he had to scrap and claw to win a nomination contest in which he was effectively running unopposed, trying to beat actual competition wasn’t going to work out. 

Speaking of Identity Politics…

[ 69 ] 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.

Friday, Friday Links

[ 75 ] January 30, 2015 |

On “Identity Politics”

[ 153 ] 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.

“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.

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.

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.”

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.

Post-Snow Day Links

[ 222 ] January 28, 2015 |

Jon Chait’s Political Correctness

[ 242 ] January 27, 2015 |

Unlike at least one commenter, I’m inclined to think that Erik’s reaction to the unfortunate Chait p.c. piece was pretty much appropriate.  But I suppose what’s wrong with it could be spelled out in more detail.  First, as Angus Johnston says, it has a serious “what’s true isn’t relevant and what’s relevant isn’t true” problem.  Obviously, vandalism as a response to speech is illiberal and indefensible, but these isolated cases aren’t representative or defended by liberals of any influence or significance.  His examples of behavior that’s more common, on the other hand, tend to be self-refuting calls for less or different speech. People expressing disagreement with who gets chosen to receive a hefty check to express platitudes before a captive audience, for example, are not actually attacking on free speech; they are engaging in it. (Citing events invoking Catharine MacKinnon from the first Bush administration to pad out the list of anecdotes is a tell here, like a conservative culture scold still basing arguments around “Piss Christ.”) As Amanda Marcotte puts it:

While the article purports to be a lambast of “the culture of taking offense” and censorious attitudes, it quickly becomes clear that the only speech that Chait is interested in protecting is conservative or contrarian. When it comes to people saying uncomfortable or provocative things from the left, Chait comes across as just as censorious and silencing as any of the leftist prigs he attempts to criticize.

To be clear, Chait has plenty of examples of what has become a genuinely serious problem of liberals who react to uncomfortable ideas by turning to censorship: Harassment campaigns against conservatives, cancelling plays or art shows because of political incorrectness, tearing down anti-choice posters.

But outside of those few examples, most of Chait’s article is not a defense of rowdy public discourse at all, but the opposite: Most of the piece is little more than demands that liberals silence certain forms of discourse that make Chait uncomfortable. For a piece that mocks the use of “trigger warnings” to alert people about disturbing content, it sure seems Chait has no problem trying to silence anyone who says something that might hurt his feelings.

As Marcotte and several other people have observed, this argument in the Chait essay is particularly problematic:

Two and a half years ago, Hanna Rosin, a liberal journalist and longtime friend, wrote a book called The End of Men, which argued that a confluence of social and economic changes left women in a better position going forward than men, who were struggling to adapt to a new postindustrial order. Rosin, a self-identified feminist, has found herself unexpectedly assailed by feminist critics, who found her message of long-term female empowerment complacent and insufficiently concerned with the continuing reality of sexism. One Twitter hashtag, “#RIPpatriarchy,” became a label for critics to lampoon her thesis. Every new continuing demonstration of gender discrimination — a survey showing Americans still prefer male bosses; a person noticing a man on the subway occupying a seat and a half — would be tweeted out along with a mocking #RIPpatriarchy.

Her response since then has been to avoid committing a provocation, especially on Twitter. “If you tweet something straight­forwardly feminist, you immediately get a wave of love and favorites, but if you tweet something in a cranky feminist mode then the opposite happens,” she told me. “The price is too high; you feel like there might be banishment waiting for you.” Social media, where swarms of jeering critics can materialize in an instant, paradoxically creates this feeling of isolation. “You do immediately get the sense that it’s one against millions, even though it’s not.” Subjects of these massed attacks often describe an impulse to withdraw.

Let me get this straight. Rosin wrote an article promoting her recent book in Slate with the title “The Patriarchy Is Dead.” Some people on Twitter disagreed with this rather obviously silly and overstated premise and even used — avert your eyes! — what the kids today call “hashtags” to express their disagreement. (There are cases where Twitter can be used to engage in outright harassment rather than just disagreement, but nobody seems to be claiming that this is one of them.) And apparently the principles of freewheeling liberal free discourse are that — these people should not have disagreed with Rosin’s piece? That using Twitter snark to express disagreement crosses some magical line? To the extent that “P.C.” means anything at this late date, it’s Chait who’s expressing the “P.C.” views here. I admire a lot of Rosin’s work, but we should also return once again to dsquared: using provocative contrarianism to attract attention and then whining when people take the bait is not very sympathetic behavior.

…I also recommend this from Jia Tolentino. 

BREAKING! Spain Still Not Invaded By The Moops

[ 61 ] January 27, 2015 |

As I recently noted, Brian Beutler has an excellent piece pointing out that Republican members of Congress universally rejected the contention soon to be considered by the Supreme Court that Congress did not make subsidies available on the federally established exchanges: they assumed that the subsidies would be uniformly available even after it was abundantly clear that multiple states would not establish exchanges. Greg Sargent has followed up with state officials, and YOU’LL NEVER GUESS WHAT HE FOUND:

I can now add more: Several state officials who were directly involved at the highest levels in early deliberations over setting up state exchanges — all of them Republicans or appointees of GOP governors — have told me that at no point in the decision-making process during the key time-frame was the possible loss of subsidies even considered as a factor. None of these officials — who were deeply involved in figuring out what the law meant for their states — read the statute as the challengers do.

Cindi Jones was appointed in August of 2010, after passage of the ACA, by Republican governor Bob McDonnell to head his Virginia Health Reform Initiative panel. A key question it faced was whether the state should set up an exchange or default to the federal one. The question of whether the failure to set up an exchange would sacrifice subsidies was not a consideration throughout the discussions, she says.

“There was no discussion at any meeting that one of the reasons we would want to do a state based exchange was that it would be the only way we would get subsidies,” says Jones, who was held over from a previous Democratic administration and now works for Governor Terry McAuliffe. Referring to 2010 and the spring of 2011, Jones said: “The discussion of whether or not to set up a state-based exchange versus a federal exchange would have been different if one of the issues we had to consider was whether or not our citizens would get subsidies.”

Sargent gets the response of Jonathan Adler, who says it doesn’t matter that nobody read the statute as he now reads it. Michael Cannon has made similar arguments on Twitter, sometimes willfully distorting Nancy Pelosi because he’s a complete hack and doesn’t care who knows it. But it does matter, for two obvious reasons:

  • Climbing Mount Chevron.  For the troofers to win, it is insufficient for them to demonstrate that their nonsensical reading of the statute is plausible.  They have to show that it is unambiguously correct.  The fact that all the relevant parties at the time believed that the subsidies would be available on the federally established state exchanges makes it enormously difficult to show that Congress clearly established otherwise.
  • The Dr. Strangelove Problem.  Remember, Adler and Cannon aren’t “the card says Moops!” troofers, they’re “the Moops invaded Spain” troofers.  Their contention is that Congress established a federal backstop that was designed to fail because it wanted to coerce the states into establishing their own exchanges.  Leaving aside that this makes no sense on its face — if you wanted to do this you wouldn’t set up a federal backstop at all, rather than set up a Potemkin one nobody was even eligible to purchase insurance on — if you’re trying to coerce the states you obviously don’t keep the consequences of states failing to establishing an exchange a secret. The consequences of states not taking the Medicaid expansion before it was re-written by John Roberts were made clear and widely understood.  The fact that nobody thought that a state’s citizens would be ineligible for subsidies if the federal government established their state exchange makes it clear that the Adler/Cannon theory is transparently wrong.

Not that any of this will necessarily matter to a majority of the current Supreme Court, but in a rational universe the King cert petition would have been returned with “why are you wasting our time with this crap?” written over the top of it.

The Silver Downside

[ 16 ] January 26, 2015 |

If this is true — and Sherrill is a very sharp analyst — here’s a reason not to break out the champagne after the arrest of Sheldon Silver:

Silver is the most powerful ally that unions and tenants-rights groups had “and the criminal charges will tilt the politics of state government inevitably to the right,” said Ken Sherrill, Hunter College political-science professor emeritus. “It will be a huge change because the next speaker will be more under the control of the governor, someone the governor thinks will not cause him any problems, not someone with an independent power base.”


Page 1 of 74612345...102030...Last »