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The stupidity of the electoral college, part infinity

[ 206 ] December 20, 2016 |

After yesterday’s embarrassment, it’d be nice to think we can just accept the obvious and deep moral and political idiocy of the “Hamilton electors” movement, accept it for what is was (essentially, a strategy to avoid facing reality for a few more weeks) and move forward. As Mark Stern observed yesterday, it’s important to keep in mind that The Federalist Papers are at once a great work of political theory and an at times quite cynical exercise in political propaganda, and some essays are much more one than the other, and #68 obviously leans to the propaganda side. Hamilton is too smart to not be aware of the glaring, obvious flaw in the logic: We’re in the greatest danger of electing someone dangerously unfit during moments of hyperpartisanship, when one party is captured by the demagogue. Since the electors will be selected by virtue of their loyalty to that party, they’re hardly likely to be the kind of people capable or likely to recognize the demagogue as such, in an actionable way, either because they’re under the demagogue’s spell, or because they’ve convinced themselves the other side is always worse. During less partisan times, of course, the obviously dangerous and unfit demagogue capturing a party will more likely dealt with by ordinary means; the voters will simply vote for the other party.

But since this is 2016, the fallout could be far worse. The following chain of events seems at least plausible going forward:

1. Washington fines the faithless electors, in accordance with state law. (Satiacum, at least, is practically begging them to do it. The other three were at least pretending to engage in some sort of Machiavellian strategery; he’s been telling anyone who’ll listen that Clinton will never get his vote, even if it’s the 270th one, for months.)

2. This provides a test case for faithless elector laws, and they are ruled unconstitutional. (This would hardly be a stretch; it’s a perfectly plausible and perhaps the most straightforward way to read the relevant constitutional language.)

3. By taking away a disincentive, faithless electors become a greater threat going forward.

4. This threat is, in the present political climate, asymmetrical, because for whatever reason, party activists on the Democratic side are more prone to approach through the lens of intra-party disputes, and be driven into madness by contested primaries.


Jacob Levy on “identity politics” and Trump

[ 389 ] December 14, 2016 |

Jacob Levy’s blog post today is a must read. The first half takes to task the pundit’s fallacy of “too much identity politics cost Clinton the election” and the second half makes the case for the vital necessity of identity politics for any kind of liberal politics. This is “read the whole thing” territory, but let me just highlight a couple of bits:

There is something particularly absurd in the post-election morality plays that say “whites [or white Christians, or white Christian men] have now learned how to do identity politics and how to vote like an aggrieved ethnic group, because that’s what other groups have been doing all these years.” White identity politics is a constitutive fact of American politics, and if an election in which the Republican got the normal share of the white vote counts as white identity politics in action, well, that suggests a deep problem, but it doesn’t suggest a new problem.

White identity politics has moreover been a constitutive fact of the illiberal expansion of state power. The effect of some of the oldest instances of this are still with us, as is seen in the recent struggle over placing the Dakota Access Pipeline on lands that were reserved to the Sioux nation in an 1851 treaty that was subsequently violated but never voided. The effects of the decades-long white welfare state and the redistributive subsidizing of white wealth accumulation through housing policy are very much still with us in the wealth gap between whites and blacks, to say nothing of the enduring effects of racially discriminatory housing and urban policy on the shape of American cities. But the most currently politically salient effect of white identity politics as a source of state power is the combination of policing, imprisonment, crime policy, and drug policy.


The point generalizes. Until 2003, many states criminalized a variety of forms of sexual behavior between consenting adults. There were identity-neutral ways of describing the illiberal wrong of this. But the laws weren’t identity neutral in intent, and often weren’t even formally identity-neutral; they were criminal prohibitions on homosexual sexual activity that legitimized routine police harassment even when they weren’t enforced. The laws were unjust according to liberal principle, but would never have been repealed (in many states) and struck down (in the rest) without the identity-conscious political mobilization of gay and lesbian activism.

Identity politics at its best, in other words, isn’t just a matter of being on some group’s side. It’s about fighting for political justice by drawing on the commitment that arises out of targeted injustice, and about having the intellectual resources to let us diagnose that targeted injustice. It lets us spot the majority group’s identity politics rather than treating it as the normal background state of affairs, and to recognize the oppression and injustice that it generates.

Bold mine; this is the core insight. It’s often targeted injustice that helps to create, or intensifies and makes salient the very identities that provide the resources to fight against them. This essay has helped me think through and clarify in my own mind more precisely what I find so pernicious the anti-identity politics mode of left/liberal commentary, particularly in the politics of the nightmare political environment of the age of Trump. All such critiques acknowledge (usually very quickly, to get it out of the way) that of course identity politics has accomplished some very good and important things, the problem is just that it’s gone too far. This is unsurprising, as identity politics is a category so broad it ostensibly encompasses the 19th Amendment, the Civil Rights Act, and that one time some college students overreacted to a perceived insult. But in turning them into one big thing, and turning that thing into (primarily) an object of derision and contempt, and the unwitting cause of our nightmarish new normal, is particularly dangerous because of the circumstances of our new normal, in which core civil rights accomplishments themselves might be under serious attack. The rhetorical project of categorizing all anti-racism, anti-sexism, etc into a concept most frequently associated with perceived alienating excesses could end up helping to minimize and de-legitimize opposition to the rollback of the racial progress of the civil rights era. As some research linked the other day by aturner339 shows, white people, including liberal white people, can be swung to racist positions relatively easily, as long as it’s not overtly explicit. It’s clear enough that a great deal of public opinion is top-down, and there’s really very little reason to doubt that Trump’s presidency is going to not just make America a more racist place, but will also make the American public more racist. It’s relatively obvious and straightforward how this is going to work with respect to his followers, but the post-election boomlet of anti-identity politics may be giving us some clues about how that process will unfold amongst those who ostensibly oppose him.

The Batman needs our help: update on SEK

[ 69 ] November 17, 2016 |

Our readers who follow SEK or LGM on facebook may already be aware of this, but for the rest of you: the vile monster we’ve come to know as “2016” has come for one of our own. For well over a decade now, a non-trivial portion of what makes the internet awesome has been Scott’s writing, here and at many, many other blogs, as well as The Raw Story and Salon, on matters political, philosophical and literary. He’s done battle with trolls the likes of which we may never see again, a larcenous, taunting University library, a Honda Civic, cancer, and then there’s this. (See also this.)

The monstrous, vile beast known as 2016 came for Scott with both barrels. What seemed at first an ordinary illness turned out to be a serious infection involving multiple organ failure, and landed him in the ICU in Houston well over a month ago. I was in Houston a few weeks ago and was able to pay him a visit. It was bad timing–because of a minor procedure he was coming out of sedation and less lucid and awake than usual, but I was able to convey some well-wishes and meet with some of his family and friends. The good: Houston is home to Scott’s parents, brother, and sister, he’s surrounded by the extraordinary medical resources of the Texas Medical Center (if you’ve never been, it’s quite literally the largest medical complex in the world; it’s like a small city of nothing but hospitals), and while there have been some setbacks, there has been progress in the right direction. And foster parents have been arranged for the Oldmen.

Another bad: He’s still very sick, and has a long way to go. Furthermore, it turns out a career of studying literary appropriations of evolutionary theory and visual rhetoric, teaching english composition, and writing about politics and culture on the internet does not leave one with the kind of obscene wealth that would be required to cover the medical bills associated with months in an ICU. In that spirit, Scott’s family and friends have set up a gofundme to help him cope with the expenses. If you can help Scott out, he (and we) would be most grateful. Please share this far and wide–I know Scott has many friends and admirers all over the internet, and the more of them we can reach the better.

Today in absurd false equivalence and normalization

[ 118 ] November 16, 2016 |

Newsweek, ladies and gentlemen.

This is going to continue to get worse before it gets better.

Avoiding the circular firing squad

[ 271 ] November 9, 2016 |

Since I’m sure it’s already beginning in the comments here and elsewhere.

Here are two stories you’re going to see a lot of in the coming days and weeks, often pitted against each other:

“The shameful treatment of Hillary Clinton—creating corruption and ‘scandal’ narratives out of little more than thin air, characterizing her political positions and career in a misleading, if not dishonest manner (“center-right,” neocon, etc), and holding her to all manner of sexist double standards—played some real role in her narrow defeat. It was expected and inevitable from Republicans and some segmetns the media, but shamefully and recklessly many on the left propagated much of this nonsense as well, which likely contributed to her defeat.”


“In an election when the mood of the electorate was distinctly anti-establishment, Hillary Clinton was a terrible choice—the wrong candidate for the moment. This was clear enough during the primary, and those who ignored and supported Clinton over Sanders bear significant responsibility for this loss.”

Please consider the following:

*As more and better data becomes available, consider both of these possibilities in light of emerging evidence about the 2016 electorate a) dispassionately, without regard to which better fits with the case for your preferred candidate, and b) with an eye toward the future, rather than recriminations for the past.

*Be aware that they aren’t necessarily opposed to each other—they could both be accurate, and they could both be more or less false.

*Screaming these at each other is probably counterproductive.

As a form of self-care I probably won’t be in the comment thread here much if at all (or any other election-related comment threads) for at least a few days, so if you have some comment you really want me to see, contact me directly.

Some scattered thoughts after an afternoon of canvassing

[ 155 ] November 5, 2016 |

This is really exhausting for an introvert like me, but it kind of helped with the low level constant anxiety/fear/stress I’ve been feeling for weeks now. I’m sure I’ll be back to my dyspeptic self tomorrow, but for now it helps.

Talked to many dozens of people, mostly but not all from a list of registered Democrats (who haven’t early-voted as of yesterday). Zero Trump supporters (indeed zero non-Clinton supporters) but then I doubt many Trump supporters would be willing to drive through West Dayton, let alone live there.

Mostly talked to older African-Americans. When I launched into the boilerplate about how this is likely to be a very close, very important election, etc etc etc, they’d often give me a raised-eyebrow look that said, very clearly, “do you really think I don’t understand what’s at stake with this election?” and we’d quickly move on to logistics–polling locations, early voting hours, etc.

White people, on the other hand, are exhausting. Only talked to handful, but they all wanted to talk about at least one of their “issues” (EMAILZ make me sad, wasn’t Bernie dreamy?, IjustdontlikeherforsomereasonIcantputmyfingeron, random 90’s references, etc) before committing to doing the sane, responsible, necessary thing. As exhausting as this was, working a white neighborhood would be probably be much more so.

The GOTV machine I was a cog in seems to be functioning at such a level that it seems unlikely very few votes getable votes on the table in West Dayton. It’s impressively efficient, well-staffed with volunteers, and well-organized.

Early voting is a BFD. In talking to busy people with complicated lives, it makes it a lot easier to make a plan to vote they can commit to. I knew this, intellectually, but it was really driven home today. Absolutely worth fighting to defend and expand.

Only a few people want to take advantage of the captive audience to talk politics, but one woman, just getting home from a double shift as I arrived to her house, was pure gold. I’m going to reconstruct my favorite part of her rant as faithfully as possible, but I’m not doing is justice–it was just a marvelous, angry, hilarious rant. The gist of it:

Look, I get it, you white people* had a hard time with Obama being president so you need a racist president. I get it. I don’t like it but I get it. But what I don’t get is why you needed a racist who is so goddamn crazy and stupid! Couldn’t you find a racist who could actually know how to run the damn government? I mean, I wouldn’t vote for him–he’d still be bad for people like me–but at least he’d know what he’s doing? What good does it do the damn white people when Trump shits the bed? It’s not like there’s some other special country they move to when he takes this country down. We get a black president and he does a pretty good job, and your response is murder-suicide? You white people need to get smarter about how you do this racism thing.

*she interjected caveats about how her use of “you white people” should not be construed to include people such as myself and Obama/Clinton supporters generally, so this didn’t come off as hostile or accusatory as the words on the page might make it appear.

Politics is the strong and slow boring of hard boards, Washington climate bill edition

[ 34 ] October 19, 2016 |


A reader asked for a post on I-732, a carbon tax on the ballot in Washington State. I’ve been avoiding writing about it because the story is too depressing, but it should be done. A series of loosely connected observations and commentary on 732 and related issues follows.

• Rather than try to offer my own summary, I’ll begin by simply assigning Dave Roberts’ piece on the history and the politics. It’s very good. Go read it.

• First things first: whether your sympathies lie with the alliance or CarbonWA, vote yes.

• Seriously, vote yes. If you don’t believe me listen to these climate scientists.

• A few months ago I was much angrier and would have written very nasty, snide things about, the Sierra Club, and Jay Inslee, had I written this post then. Now, I’m feeling a bit more appreciative of the tragic nature of the alliance/carbonWA split. At most points in time over the last six years, there have been plausible and sympathetic reasons to support both sides and both approaches.

• That said, that CarbonWA was able to agree on the text of an initiative and get it on the ballot and the Alliance hasn’t yet agreed on exactly what their initiative would look like is revealing: coalition politics are vital and important, but for the purposes of constructing an initiative designed to win statewide but also satisfy all key coalition-partners with diverse goals can be debilitating.

• With this in mind, while I obviously wasn’t privy to the December negotiations between the two groups, the claim reported by Roberts that internal polls and research showed the Alliance approach had a better chance of passing should be treated with a great deal of skepticism. For one thing, they were comparing an actual initiative vs. a theoretical one, and it’s easier to disguise the warts of the latter.

• Furthermore, there’s a decent case to be made that the median voter in Washington is a suburban white affluent moderate who is susceptible to anti-tax, anti-big government rhetoric but nevertheless concerned about the environment. A revenue neutral tax re-structure might be necessary to win them over. The alliance people are almost certainly correct that revenue neutrality won’t win over actual Republicans, but that’s beside the point. There’s a population of once-R-leaning, now probably D-leaning moderates who are still all too easily spooked by tax increases, especially general ones.

• That said, if I were designing a bill from scratch, I might have aimed for a slightly revenue positive bill, with the increased revenue earmarked for clean energy projects. That probably would be just as, or slightly more, appealing to the median voter in Washington state. But evaluating an actual proposal against a perfect one in one’s head isn’t a reasonable standard for initiatives.

• There’s a part of me that can’t help but see the desire to use a climate bill as the kludge to DO ALL THE PROGRESSIVE THINGS like fix the tax structure, fund McCleary, deal with the whole “most regressive tax structure of all 50 states” problem and so on is a way of not taking climate change sufficiently seriously. This is particularly the case in a state in which previous efforts with full Democratic control of state government manifestly failed. I’m old enough to remember when Ron Sims ran against Christine Gregoire for in the Democratic primary for governor in 2004 on a revenue neutral to the state, positive to the taxpayer income tax, and was trounced by his status-quo supporting opponent by a better than 2-1 margin. Granted, she had some advantages over him and was likely to win regardless, but that was still a clear rebuke of a tax overhaul. Climate change policy can’t solve all our problems, and it’s hard not to conclude that the alliance was treating it as something of a magic bullet.

• It’s worth keeping in mind that while 732 doesn’t fix the fundamentally regressive nature of state taxation, it does make the tax code less regressive than it currently is—in fact it does more on that front than has been accomplished by anyone else in Washington politics recently.

• Also, as the California example demonstrates, when the time and the politics are right a carbon tax can be revisited to emphasize other progressive priorities.

• If this fails and the alliance moves forward with an initiative in two years just in time for the Hillary backlash election, God help us.

• Also, if you’re in the ST zone and care about the climate please vote yes on ST3. There’s lots of details about for us transit nerds to be frustrated with, but it’s a) really pretty good overall, especially by North American standards, and b) the only realistic alternative is a delayed, cheaper version of what’s currently on offer. And one of the reasons I’ve come around on prioritizing rail to emptier parts of suburbs over rail in the city is at least there’s a chance for dense development there–the first round of light rail in the city has demonstrated that moderately dense established Seattle neighborhoods just have too many politically powerful wealthy homeowners who know how to play anti-upzone politics, while some suburbs (Lynnwood and Shoreline in particular) are proving more enthusiastic about station-adjacent upzones than Seattle has been. Hell, there are still empty lots less than a quarter-mile from light rail stations that opened in 2008 zoned for 2-3 stories.

• Also, if you actually care about not cooking the planet, you can’t really justify anti-density activism. If you commute via Hummer 200 miles a day or whatever, that’s bad, but what DiCaprio et al are trying to do is infinitely worse—you’re forcing many thousands of present and future people to pump more carbon into the air for many decades to come, including some people who would choose not to, if allowed to make that choice. If parking inconveniences, or not having to look at newer and taller buildings than you’d prefer for aesthetic reasons are more important than the future of the planet, fine, but own that preference ordering.

Non-citizens not voting

[ 18 ] October 18, 2016 |

It appears Donald Trump’s people have discovered Richman et al (2014), or at least the Monkey Cage post about it, to dress up his “rigged” routine. I wrote about brief post about this last year, citing some good skeptical commentary by Ahlquist and Gelbach. It may not surprise you to learn that that skepticism appears to have been warranted. (I can’t tell if that link is going to show up as gated or not, because I’m at work and have institutional access, but the gist of it is this: the Richman finding is premised on an implausibly low level of measurement error for the data they’re working with, which is probably what produces their result. Once more plausible assumptions about measurement error are applied, it appears more likely to suggest that “the rate of non-citizen voting in the United States is likely 0.”) I love the Monkey Cage, and I’m glad it exists, but this is of course a danger of that particular model of overlapping journalism and scholarship–counterintuitive and politically juicy findings get the most attention and no one notices when they’re later debunked.

The existence of the Velvet Underground proves Donald Trump is a good and decent man

[ 41 ] October 13, 2016 |

It’s within the realm of possibility that Jessica Leeds’ account of being groped by Donald Trump on an airplane is false. Plausible-sounding false accusations can happen to bad people, after all. Given the preponderance of evidence, I know how I’m betting, though. That said, it’s possible more information could emerge that would increase my skepticism of her account. Early efforts to identify such evidence, however, are not promising. So far, we’ve got Katrina Pierson’s armrest trooferism (watch the reactions of the guy on the left), and this morning, we learn from Jim “Gateway Pundit” Hoft that because she used a metaphor for groping that was also used in an obscure rock song 48 years ago, we can be certain she made it up.

Watching the on-the-fly defense strategies Trump apologists come up with over the next 26 days may be as entertaining as the shoestorm itself.

It’s not so much the other shoe dropping as a category 4 shoe storm

[ 80 ] October 12, 2016 |


The hits just keep coming.

This should be fun

[ 196 ] October 3, 2016 |



The New York attorney general has notified Donald Trump that his charitable foundation is violating state law — by soliciting donations without proper certification — and ordered Trump’s charity to stop its fundraising immediately, the attorney general’s office said Monday.

James Sheehan, head of the attorney general’s charities bureau, sent the “notice of violation” to the Donald J. Trump Foundation on Friday, according to a copy of the notice provided by the press office of state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D).

The night before that, The Washington Post had reported that Trump’s charity had been soliciting donations from other people without being properly registered in New York state.

According to tax records, Trump’s foundation has subsisted entirely on donations from others since 2008, when Trump gave his last personal donation. This year, the Trump Foundation made its most wide-ranging request for donations yet: it set up a public website,, to gather donations that Trump said would be passed on to veterans’ groups.

But the Trump Foundation never registered under article 7A of New York’s Executive Law, as is required for any charity soliciting more than $25,000 per year from the public. One important consequence: Trump’s foundation avoided rigorous outside audits, which New York law requires of larger charities which ask the public for money.

I eagerly await the Trump campaign’s measured, politically savvy handling of this issue.

I think Rod Dreher may have self-radicalized on the internet

[ 156 ] September 19, 2016 |

Rod is upset with the Pope again. But this time, it’s not for suggesting maybe we should treat gay people a little more like human beings. The Pope’s error is taking the wrong parts of the Bible–those that seem to call for a course of action Dreher deems unwise– seriously. Dreher’s disdain for the prospect of even a modest increase in the Muslim population in the realm of historic Christendom is so intense he simply can’t make heads or tails of what Pope Francis could possibly even mean. Rod reads a report of some recent comments from Pope Francis on the refugee crisis:

Pope Francis has encouraged Europeans to welcome refugees, calling authentic hospitality “our greatest security against hateful acts of terrorism.”

And responds with utter befuddlement:

What on earth is he talking about? It may be right for Europeans to welcome refugees — I don’t agree, but it’s a debatable point over whether or not charity requires Europeans to take that risk– but to say that welcoming over a million Muslims into Europe is “our greatest security against hateful acts of terrorism” is at best absurd propaganda. Who can possibly believe this? The same people who believe that “diversity is our strength”?

An explanation of why the Pope’s statement is obviously wrong is not forthcoming, as he shifts gears to garden-variety scaremongering and angry denunciations of commenters.

I wouldn’t claim to know precisely what Pope Francis meant in the passage in question, but taken at face value it straightforward enough. Here are some statements that range from ‘obviously correct’ to ‘plausible’:

1. There are already around 20 million Muslims residing in the EU, a number far larger than the total population of Syrian refugees.
2. Insofar as terrorism is a serious threat in Europe, it’s largely through people already residing there.
3. Radicals who wish to recruit their fellow Muslims to the terrorist cause find that a widespread perception of hostility and bigotry to Muslims in European countries helps their cause.
4. Turning away refugees in desperate need because of their religion and/or country of origin makes Europeans look like anti-Muslim bigots to their existing Muslim populations.

Now, I have no idea if this strategic wager is correct; I don’t have the kind of detailed knowledge of patterns of radicalization that would allow me to have an opinion worth a damn. But it’s entirely plausible, and it’s clearly not ‘at best absurd propaganda.’ It’s remarkable that Rod is so committed to avoiding a path that Pope Francis, correctly, recognizes as required by basic decency in general and basic Christian decency in particular that he can’t even consider the possibility that such a path might also be a practical as well as compassionate and decent.

The kicker:

The more things like this happen, the more sense Trump’s idea to halt Muslim immigration for the time being makes. What a crazy year when Donald J. Trump makes more sense on anything than a Pope.

As you let that sink in, keep in mind two things. First, this statement is written by a man who has spent much of the last several years trying very hard to convince anyone who’ll listen that it’s contemporary liberals who’ve become an unprecedented threat to religious freedom. Second, as recently as just a few months ago Dreher routinely expressed horror and dismay at the rise of Trump, and what that rise meant for conservatism, and how evangelical acquiescence to Trumpism was evidence of a deep sickness in American Christianity and the Conservative movement. Watching Dreher, predictably, come home, it occurs to me that perhaps Trumpism is best understood not so much a betrayal or failure of politicized evangelicalism, but a return to its 1970’s roots.

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