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Thanksgiving Links

[ 54 ] November 26, 2015 |

Happy Thanksgiving, and enjoy your spaghetti carbonara!


The Carson Bubble Has Burst

[ 168 ] November 25, 2015 |


We can argue about the extent to which he’s the con or the mark, but between his spectacular burn rate and Rick Perry-caliber campaign skills, we’ve passed peak Carson:

Ted Cruz, buoyed by tea party support and the backing of much of the conservative wing of the Republican Party, has surged to a virtual tie with Donald Trump in Iowa, generating the kind of momentum his team thinks will carry him deep into primary season.

“Sixty-eight days until Iowa,” said Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier, when asked whether the Texas senator was peaking too soon. “It’s game time.”

A Quinnipiac University survey released Tuesday found Cruz essentially deadlocked with longtime poll-leader Trump in Iowa: Trump stood at 25 percent and Cruz at 23 percent, within the margin of error. That’s more than double Cruz’s standing in the Oct. 22 Quinnipiac poll and it follows a Sunday survey, released by CBS and YouGov, that also placed Cruz in second place in Iowa, at 21 percent, trailing Trump but beating previous Iowa leader Ben Carson.


So instead, he stayed under the radar all summer, organizing in the early states and in those that vote in March, and focusing on fundraising, announcing last month that he had more cash on hand than any other GOP candidate. Now, his campaign is boasting one of the most robust operations in the country, with more than 100,000 volunteers nationwide and 2,500 in Iowa. He’s also organized in every county in the first four voting states.


That change has taken place in part thanks to Carson, who in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris has struggled to articulate a coherent foreign policy vision while Cruz sought to play up commander-in-chief credentials. Carson’s supporters have begun to shift to Cruz, with the CBS/YouGov poll finding that “Cruz’s move has come directly at the expense of Carson, as nearly one-quarter of his voters switched.”

The more thoroughly and rapidly Carson implodes, the better news it is for Cruz, who I think is an overwhelming favorite to win Iowa at this point.

On Trump, I think Nate Silver’s assessment is correct:

So, could Trump win? We confront two stubborn facts: first, that nobody remotely like Trump has won a major-party nomination in the modern era. And second, as is always a problem in analysis of presidential campaigns, we don’t have all that many data points, so unprecedented events can occur with some regularity. For my money, that adds up to Trump’s chances being higher than 0 but (considerably) less than 20 percent. Your mileage may vary. But you probably shouldn’t rely solely on the polls to make your case; it’s still too soon for that.

If Cruz wins Iowa, I think this makes Trump winning the nomination even less likely.

In the likely event that the race ultimately settles into Cruz against Rubio, I think the typical assumption will be that liberals should be rooting for the latter. I completely disagree. Ideologically, there isn’t a Confederate nickel’s worth of difference between them. Erik is right that the stakes of the Democratic Party are a lot lower than you think, but the stakes of the Republican nomination are even lower unless Trump shows more staying power than I think he will. The salient differences between Rubio and Cruz are that the former 1)is better at saying the loud parts quiet, 2)will be a more attractive general election candidate, and 3)can probably work more effectively with Congress. Any major party candidate can win a general election under the right circumstances, but Cruz would make a Republican win marginally less likely, perhaps significantly. He won’t be able to sell it; he’s not respected. Democrats are better off with Tony Ted. Definitely.

Journalist Confirms Earth is Round

[ 57 ] November 25, 2015 |


Kudos to Jim Dwyer for meeting the challenge of having a racist who is also a pathological liar attract support for a presidential bid:

How alarmed were New Jersey officials by reports of Muslims dancing in the streets of Jersey City and Paterson on Sept. 11, 2001, to celebrate the destruction of the World Trade Center?

They feared riots would break out and were ready to send in the National Guard and the State Police to preserve order.

But John J. Farmer Jr., then the New Jersey attorney general and the state’s chief law enforcement officer, said on Tuesday that he ordered an investigation that very day and found the reports to be bogus, more wild stories born in the stricken hours after the attacks.

Nevertheless, those ancient, false rumors were recycled as truth over the weekend by Donald J. Trump, who has folded them into his calls for the national registration of Muslims and possible closing of mosques. Speaking in Alabama, Mr. Trump said: “Hey, I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, N.J., where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering.”

Simply Murder

[ 96 ] November 25, 2015 |


In this kind of case, there can never really be justice, but the outcome is certainly preferable to the alternative:

A white Chicago policeman who killed a black teenager was charged with murder on Tuesday, hours before authorities released a long-awaited video that shows the youth walking away from officers as he is shot 16 times.

The graphic footage of last year’s shooting, taken from a camera mounted on the dashboard of a police car and made public under orders from a judge, sparked mostly peaceful street demonstrations in Chicago on Tuesday.

The clip showed 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, who authorities said was carrying a pocket knife and had the hallucinogenic drug PCP in his system, as he was gunned down in the middle of a street on Oct. 20, 2014.

McDonald is seen jogging away from patrol vehicles pursuing him from behind, and then veering off diagonally at a walk as two more officers pull up in a squad car ahead of him.

Two policemen are shown jumping out of their vehicle in the center of the road, and drawing their weapons while advancing toward McDonald, who continues to move away. Within seconds he is struck by bullets, spins and crumples to the ground, his body jerking as he is hit by additional rounds of gunfire.

Cook County’s chief prosecutor, Anita Alvarez, acknowledged that she timed the filing of the first-degree murder charge against officer Jason Van Dyke to precede the video’s disclosure in a bid to mute harsh public reaction to the footage.

Dashboard and body cameras are no panacea, of course. Some illegal use of force by police will escape their view. Sometimes, what they record will leave enough ambiguity to allow prosecutors and/or juries to rationalize the illegal actions of police. But sometimes the evidence will lead to a prosecution that wouldn’t have happened otherwise, and more importantly may prevent some unjustified uses of force from happening.

More Penetrating Insights From Richard Dawkins, SUPERGENIUS

[ 204 ] November 24, 2015 |


You may recall Richard Dawkins from such original, deeply important thoughts as “Ahmed Mohamed did not invent the concept of timepieces.” The world’s most important public intellectual — just ask him! — would like to expand on that:

So, not only is a Mohamed guilty of “hoax” based on Richard Dawkins’s fervid imagining of what Mohamed claimed to have done, Mohamed is comparable to a murderer, because he and the murderer share the same faith. Dawkins is the best spokesman for atheism a religious person could dream of.

Posner v. The Arbitrary Abortion Obstacle Course

[ 56 ] November 24, 2015 |


The Wisconsin statute seeking to shut down a majority of the state’s abortion clinics for no legitimate reason is exactly the kind of law you’d like to sic Richard Posner (who memorably eviscerated the asserted constitutionality of bans of “partial birth” abortion) on. Fortunately, Posner was on the panel that heard the appeal, and the results are outstanding:

The fixing of such a short deadline for obtaining admitting privileges, a deadline likely to deny many women the right to an abortion for a period of months while the abortion doctors tried to obtain those privileges, could be justified consistently with the Supreme Court’s abortion jurisprudence only if there were reason to believe that the health of women who have abortions is endangered if their abortion doctors don’t have admitting privileges. The district court correctly found that there is no reason to believe that. A woman who experiences complications from an abortion (either while still at the clinic where the abortion was performed or at home afterward) will go to the nearest hospital which will treat her regardless of whether her abortion doctor has admitting privileges.


As it happens, complications from an abortion are both rare and rarely dangerous-a fact that further attenuates the need for abortion doctors to have admitting privileges.


The state presented no other evidence of complications from abortions in Wisconsin that were not handled adequately by the hospitals in the state. And no documentation of a medical need for requiring abortion doctors to obtain admitting privileges had been presented to the Wisconsin legislature when it was deliberating on the bill that became the statute challenged in this case. The only medical evi-dence that had been submitted to the legislature had come from a doctor representing the Wisconsin Medical Society- and she opposed requiring that abortion doctors obtain admitting privileges. The only testimony presented to the legislature that admitting privileges are important to continuity of care was presented by a representative of Wisconsin Right to Life who happens not to be a doctor.


It’s also true, though according to the cases just quoted irrelevant, that a 90-mile trip is no big deal for persons who own a car or can afford an Amtrak or Greyhound ticket. But more than 50 percent of Wisconsin women seeking abortions have incomes below the federal poverty line and many of them live in Milwaukee (and some north or west of that city and so even farther away from Chicago). For them a round trip to Chicago, and finding a place to stay overnight in Chi-cago should they not feel up to an immediate return to Wis-consin after the abortion, may be prohibitively expensive. The State of Wisconsin is not offering to pick up the tab, or any part of it. These women may also be unable to take the time required for the round trip away from their work or the care of their children. The evidence at trial, credited by the district judge, was that 18 to 24 percent of women who would need to travel to Chicago or the surrounding area for an abortion would be unable to make the trip.


But what makes no sense is to abridge the constitutional right to an abortion on the basis of spurious contentions regarding women’s health-and the abridgment challenged in this case would actually endanger women’s health. It would do that by reducing the number of abortion doctors in Wisconsin, thereby increasing the waiting time for obtaining an abortion, and that increase would in turn compel some women to defer abortion to the second trimester of their pregnancy-which the studies we cited earlier find to be riskier than a first-trimester abortion. For abortions performed in the first trimester the rate of major complications is 0.05-0.06 percent (that is, between five one-hundredths of 1 percent and six one-hundredths of 1 percent). It is 1.3 per-cent for second-trimester abortions-between 22 and 26 times higher.


Opponents of abortion reveal their true objectives when they procure legislation limited to a medical procedure- abortion-that rarely produces a medical emergency. A number of other medical procedures are far more dangerous to the patient than abortion, yet their providers are not re-quired to obtain admitting privileges anywhere, let alone within 30 miles of where the procedure is performed.


But a statute that curtails the constitutional right to an abortion, such as the Wisconsin and Texas statutes, cannot survive challenge without evidence that the curtailment is justifiable by reference to the benefits conferred by the statute. The statute may not be irrational, yet may still impose an undue burden-a burden excessive in relation to the aims of the statute and the benefits likely to be conferred by it- and if so it is unconstitutional.

The evidence of benefits that was presented to the Texas legislature and discussed by the Fifth Circuit was weak; in our case it’s nonexistent. The principal witness for the State of Wisconsin, Dr. Thorp, mentioned earlier, testified that the But he could not substantiate that proposition and admitted that both rates are very low. His expert report states that there are “increased risks of death for women electing [abortion] compared to child-birth,” but the studies he cited measured long-term mortality rates rather than death resulting from an abortion, and also failed to control for socioeconomic status, marital status, or a variety of other factors relevant to longevity. [cites omitted] In contrast, the plaintiffs’ expert Dr. Laube tendered a more apt study which concluded that the risk of death associated with childbirth is 14 times higher than that associated with abortion. [cite omitted]

Dr. Thorp acknowledged that the number of abortion providers is declining, but attributed this (again without substantiation) not to harassment but to our society’s “progressing in its recognition of what constitutes human life.” And he agreed as we noted earlier that admitting privileges are no more necessary for abortion than for other outpatient surgical procedures. Neither Thorp nor any other witness for the defendants was able to cite a case in which a woman who had a complication from an abortion wasn’t properly treated for it because her abortion doctor lacked admitting privileges. The evidence was heavily weighted against the defendants. We do not agree with the Fifth Circuit that evidence is irrelevant in a constitutional case concerning abortion.

TL;DR: if statutory requirements that make abortion far less accessible, placing a disproportionate burden on the poorest women, while having no relationship to a legitimate state interest do not constitute an “undue burden,” the term has no meaning.

To reiterate, if laws like the Wisconsin law are upheld by the Supreme Court, Roe has been overruled.

The Deep Thoughts of Scott Adams, SUPERGENIUS

[ 125 ] November 23, 2015 |


Beth alluded to this below, but I cannot resist making fun of Scott Adams’s complaints about how women rule the world:

When we get home, access to sex is strictly controlled by the woman.

Um, as Beth’s linkee observes, “Er, dude, that’s how sex works. Both sex partners have to agree to it, otherwise it’s rape. And men have veto power when it comes to sex just like women do.” But this is just standard-issue “you buy her a Big Mac with fries and she WON’T EVEN PUT OUT” misogynist whining. Things proceed to get more idiosyncratically sexist:

If the woman has additional preferences in terms of temperature, beverages, and whatnot, the man generally complies.

If women always get their way on temperature, I’m pretty sure it’s news to them. But at least temperature is a common good that affects both people in a room and is subject to negotiation and compromise. The thing about how women always get their way with beverages, though, is really weird. In my understanding, it is entirely possible for people to consume a particular beverage while — at the same time, even! — someone else consumes a different beverage. Also, I may be unique in this regard, but I must say that while people are guests in my home, I try to accommodate their beverage requests irrespective of their gender or whether I am interested in having sex with them. How can I ever escape the iron grip of the matriarchy?

If I fall in love and want to propose, I am expected to do so on my knees, to set the tone for the rest of the marriage.

Um, yeah, not really. I have even heard rumors that some agreements to marry involve mutual discussion, and in some vanishingly rare cases may involve proposals by women.

This pretty much speaks for itself:

So if you are wondering how men become cold-blooded killers, it isn’t religion that is doing it. If you put me in that situation, I can say with confidence I would sign up for suicide bomb duty. And I’m not even a believer. Men like hugging better than they like killing. But if you take away my access to hugging, I will probably start killing, just to feel something. I’m designed that way. I’m a normal boy. And I make no apology for it.

I find the causal logic here both unpersuasive and highly disturbing. Although perhaps America’s epidemic of firearm violence is really the product of uppity women who will not even let men dictate their beverage choices.

This Doesn’t Change the Fact That Vince Foster was Killed to Cover Up Whitewater

[ 23 ] November 23, 2015 |


Inside the Clinton faux-scandal factory:

On Wednesday evening, a link appeared in red on the Drudge Report: “NOT FUNNY: Hillary Goes After Comedians for Making Fun of Her …” It led to a story put out by Judicial Watch, a conservative legal group that has played a key role in the perpetuation of the Benghazi investigation. The piece said that a staffer from Hillary Clinton’s campaign threatened Jamie Masada, founder of the Laugh Factory chain of comedy clubs, over a video compilation of Hillary jokes on the Laugh Factory website. “Besides demanding that the video be taken down, the Clinton campaign has demanded the personal contact information of the performers that appear in the recording,” Judicial Watch said. In short order, right-leaning sites including NewsBusters, NewsMax, Mediaite, the Daily Caller, and the Daily Mail aggregated the accusation.


So I called him. Masada told me that on Nov. 11, he got a call from a man named John—he doesn’t remember the last name—who sounded “distinguished, like an attorney.” John said he represented the Clinton campaign. He asked Masada “who had put him up” to posting the video. In a menacing voice, he told Masada, “This is not good for your business.” John then asked for the email or phone numbers of the five comedians who were featured in the video. “I told him, ‘Eff you,’ and I hung up,” says Masada.

How does Masada know that John was actually from the Clinton camp? He doesn’t. “I’m glad I’m not in politics or any of that stuff; you might know more than I do,” he says. “Maybe it was a prank, I have no idea. Was it real? Not real? I have no idea. He didn’t call back, that’s all I can say.” Nor is Masada sure how Judicial Watch even heard about the call. “The way I understand it, it’s because one of the [Laugh Factory] employees told a couple of people,” he says.


What we have here is a small-scale demonstration of how the Hillary smear sausage gets made. It starts with a claim that’s ambiguous at best, fabricated at worst, and then interpreted in the most invidious possible light. The claim is reported in one outlet and amplified on Twitter. Other outlets then report on the report, repeating the claim over and over again. Talk radio picks it up. Maybe Fox News follows. Eventually the story achieves a sort of ubiquity in the right-wing media ecosystem, which makes it seem like it’s been confirmed. Soon it becomes received truth among conservatives, and sometimes it even crosses into the mainstream media. If you watched the way the Clintons were covered in the 1990s, you know the basics of this process. If you didn’t, you’re going to spend the next year—and maybe the next nine years—learning all about it.

Of course, Doug Henwood finds this story fascinating and would like to subscribe to its newsletter. I wonder if it will be reported as fact in his forthcoming book or it will have to wait for the second edition.

Today In Racist Demagoguery

[ 65 ] November 22, 2015 |


The Donald:

Going back to at least Barry Goldwater’s “constitutional” opposition to civil rights and the strident “law and order rhetoric” of the early 1960s, the Republican Party has specialized in racist dog whistles. But Republican front-runner Donald Trump doesn’t do dog whistles. He specializes in train whistles. Consider the tweet he just sent out with bogus statistics on crime. According to the tweet, 81 percent of murdered whites are killed by blacks. In fact, that’s the reverse of the truth. Most people are killed by members of their own race because crime is motivated by proximity and opportunity. As the Huffington Post notes, “According to the U.S. Department of Justice statistics, 84 percent of white people killed every year are killed by other whites.”

By wildly inflating the likelihood of a murderer of a white person to be black (an exaggeration of nearly sixfold), Trump is catering to the worst sort of racism. Perhaps the icing on the cake of this anti-black outburst is that the source of information cited in the tweet—the “Crime Statistics Bureau” of San Francisco—doesn’t seem to exist. What remains to be seen is if the Republican Party and the other candidates will repudiate this crude and dangerous race-baiting.

I think we can pretty safely conclude that the wished-for repudiation ain’t happening. And, of course, the media is ready with “shape of the world, both sides differ” stories.

And then there’s this:

Donald Trump is not directly inciting violence. But violence is happening at Donald Trump events — with some frequency. It’s alarming that Donald Trump is not saying, repeatedly, that this is wrong and needs to stop. It is even more alarming that after the August hate crime, and after the repeated incidents at Trump events since then, Trump is willing to say that “maybe he deserved to be roughed up.”

A disturbing postscript: if the Trump campaign had had its way, the incident in Birmingham wouldn’t have been witnessed by a journalist at all. It wasn’t easily visible from the “pen” where reporters were being held during the event; the CNN reporter had managed to slip into the crowd. In the past week, the Trump campaign has started tracking down reporters outside the “pen” and forcing them to return there — and after the CNN reporter taped the fight in Birmingham yesterday that’s what happened to her. The campaign’s attempt to keep reporters from witnessing Trump events from the perspective of attendees is worrisome in its own right. It’s especially worrisome when what’s happening in the crowd at those events could involve someone getting roughed up.

Trump is leading in the polls because in all this, he’s not an outlier within his party. It’s the inevitable song that was going to be played on Nixon’s piano. “Mainstream” Republicans are more likely to one-up him than repudiate him.

…The racist fake stat Trump re-tweeted came from an explicit fan of Hitler. The parody novel we’re living in continues to be a little too on-the-nose.

Run, the Donald, Run!

[ 94 ] November 22, 2015 |


Er, I mean, liberals would be very, very upset if Donald Trump were to use a third party campaign to bully pulpit the Overton Window on steroids. At least as angry and fearful as Republicans were towards Ralph Nader.

Cajun Victories

[ 78 ] November 22, 2015 |


This is pretty big:

Republican Sen. David Vitter lost his bid to be the next governor of Louisiana on Saturday, and it wasn’t even close. The two-term senator lost the runoff election to Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards by double digits, setting the stage for the state to potentially become the first in the Deep South to accept a pivotal part of Obamacare.


Jindal also rejected federal funding to expand Medicaid. Edwards has pledged to sign an executive order authorizing the expansion of the program on his first day in office. That’s a really big deal. Such a move would provide coverage to about 225,000 residents in one of the poorest states in the nation.

Edwards is no progressive hero. But if he’s able to expand Medicaid that in and of itself makes the election worth it. Of course, a “dealbreaker” theory of electoral politics would counsel not voting for Edwards, which is precisely why they’re stupid.

Some interesting background from Weigel:

In Louisiana, it’s an open secret that Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.) concluded a years-long blood feud with Vitter by ending his presidential campaign on Tuesday.

“You can’t get anyone to admit it, but it’s what everyone thinks,” said Julia O’Donoghue, the state politics reporter for the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “We spent two days talking about refugees and then two days talking about Jindal. Those first two days were the only ones in the runoff when John Bel [Edwards, the Democratic nominee] was on defense.”

So, in the asshole contest between Jindal and Vitter, the latter won. Which is good news for poor people in Louisiana.

The SUPERGENIUS of Chip Kelly, SUPERGENIUS: A Progress Report

[ 68 ] November 21, 2015 |


Petchesky, on Coach Kelly’s assertion that General Manager Kelly didn’t really do that much to restructure this offense (which currently ranks 23rd in DVOA, two spots behind Jacksonville and one spot behind a Cowboys team that’s been 80% Weeden and Cassel) this offseason:

“Four changes” is significantly underselling the overhaul. No position is more important than quarterback, and Bradford has been mediocre even before these injuries that remind you he came with a reputation as fragile. There are two new running backs, who haven’t impressed even as Kelly figures out how to use them. Two additions to the wide receiver corps, Nelson Agholor and Miles Austin, have both been busts. And Kelly’s most discussed offseason moves—replacing both starting guards from last year—have proven as damaging to the line as cynics predicted.

Despite Kelly’s protestations, those are sweeping changes, and they’re all his. Maybe the Eagles will figure things out—at 4-5, they’re just a half-game back in a weak division. If not, it all comes back to Kelly. When you’re picking the players and calling the plays, there aren’t many excuses left.

Obviously, with Bradford injured after 9 games that were below-average by any possible metric (what would have anticipated that except everything about his prior NFL career!), his most massively overpaid running back providing sub-replacement level results, and his patchwork offensive line and receiving corps a complete shambles, I don’t think anyone can defend his big picture moves at this late date. Sam Donnellon argues that his little moves haven’t worked out either:

But here are some names often overlooked, names that might have as much, or even more, to do with why the Eagles have lost three games this season by a total of six points.
James Casey. Chris Polk. Casey Matthews. Brandon Boykin.

Each was a valuable contributor to a special-teams unit that was extremely special last season. Each made considerable contributions as the Eagles built a 7-2 record that included close victories over the Colts (30-27), the Redskins (37-34) and the Rams (34-28). Aside from Boykin at nickel back, each played sparingly elsewhere, allowing them to focus almost entirely on their special-teams responsibilities, allowing them to contribute huge plays at opportune times that were a big reason – perhaps the biggest in retrospect – why the Eagles were in a much better situation at this point last season than they are this year.

I am sure that the Bradford trade and the decision to allocate such a high percentage of the team’s cap space to running backs have not only worked out badly but were irrational at the time. With respect to special teams, I have to be more tentative. Special teams performances tend to be volatile, and sometimes attributing a decline to personnel choices is a just-so story. But, still, Donnellon has a real prima facie case. The Eagles had the best special teams in the league last year per DVOA, and have dropped to 18th this year. There is a major caveat, which is that the Eagles have been the unluckiest team in the league in terms of the factors beyond their control, which surely explains some of the decline. But since the second-unluckiest special teams (Seattle) is still #3 in DVOA, it can’t explain all of the decline. It is, at least, a fair question to ask.

What follows is a list of the circumstances under which an NFL coach should have full control over the team’s personnel in 2015:

1)If you have Bill Belichick under contract.
2)That’s it.

If there is an exception to this rule, it is enormously unlikely to be someone with 2 years of experience in the NFL. Both of these jobs have become so demanding and specialized it’s hard to do one of them well, let alone both simultaneously. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Kelly has compounded that with errors understandable from someone whose (undeniably exceptional) resume is mostly at the NCAA level: overvaluing running backs, overestimating the ability of good scheming to overcome personnel holes, underestimating the difficulty of turning someone with a good arm into a good quarterback relative to his peers. The Eagles were in a difficult spot — I can understand them not wanting to lose someone who had done a very good job as head coach in his first two years — but Kelly should have known better.

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