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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.

Egalitarian income growth: Why?

[ 77 ] September 19, 2016 |


Bucking recent trends, the wallets of the poor and least-educated swelled the most. Income at the twentieth percentile (meaning the level at which exactly one-fifth of the population earns less) grew by over 6%. The average income of households headed by someone who left school before ninth grade—typically reached at age 14 or 15— grew a fulsome 12.5%, compared with just 3.2% growth in those headed by someone with a bachelor’s degree or more. Just as the disadvantaged are usually the first to lose their jobs in a recession, they have been the last to benefit as the economy has recently closed in on full employment, argues Jared Bernstein, an economist at the Centre on Budget and Policy Priorities, a think-tank. That also helps to explain a fall in the poverty rate from 14.8% to 13.5%—the largest annual percentage-point drop in poverty since 1999.

Link. Paywalled, but google it if you want to read the whole thing (never mind, seems to work now. Was paywalled when coming from facebook). When I first heard 2015 was an unusually strong year for income growth, I was mildly surprised at the relatively obust figure. But the egalitarian, inequality-reducing pattern of the growth was far more surprising. I’ve been teaching a kind of “intro to social science” interdisciplinary class the last few years on inequality, with a non-exclusive focus on efforts to explain current trends in economic inequality in the US in particular and the developed world more generally. The material I’ve been working with (think Hacker and Pierson, Piketty, Atkinson, Milanovic, etc.) And while these scholars differ in various ways in their account of the primary causes of growing inequality and the the kinds of policies needed to counteract it, it’s safe to say we haven’t exactly embraced any of the policies they recommend in any significant way. Pessimist that I am, I’m inclined to assume this is a one-off in light of larger trends, but that pessimism is bolstered by my lack of any compelling story to anchor any optimism to.

So what’s going on? If you’ve got any links to compelling explanations for the relatively egalitarian character of income growth, or a theory of your own, please provide. (In a facebook discussion, someone suggested we might be seeing the effects of various local and state increases to the minimum wage. This strikes me as a prima facie plausible explanation for strong income growth in the 20th percentile, but it’s hard to see it having this kind of impact on the 50th).

Relatedly, here’s a good piece about how economic inequality has been studied widely by economists and by Americans, but rarely by American economists:

Galbraith, for his part, says that he has found other American economists’ interest in the topic lacking. He has found that in American economics, there’s one accepted explanation for the growth of inequality: that globalization and technology created a world in which high-skilled people did well and others did not. If you come along with a different set of ideas, he told me, “you find that it is not open to any discussion.” When he has looked to publish papers and data with other explanations for rising inequality, he finds there’s no proper journal open to it.

Why is class conflict more taboo in the United States, a nation dreamed up with at least a bit of rhetoric about throwing off the rigid class structure of Europe? Michael Zweig, an emeritus professor at SUNY Stony Brook, says that American economists haven’t always shied away from social problems like class and inequality. But during the second half of the 20th century, he says, class was “driven from the discipline,” Zweig says. This is largely because U.S. economists focused on the market, always the market.

“In the American economics profession, the scope of economics as a field has been reduced to a study of the market, as though the market was the same thing as the economy,” he told me.

…..commenters are emphasizing the effects of a tight labor market, understandably. That also appears to be central to Jared Bernstein’s analysis (thanks for the link). I suppose I’ve been reflexively dismissive of the possibility of the low unemployment rate having this kind of effect, because we’ve not really seen any kind of recovery in labor force participation from the collapse, and a rising participation rate in response to low unemployment would counteract the effects of a tight labor market. It looks like I may well have been wrong about this, too.


[ 80 ] September 15, 2016 |

I maintain a digital subscription to the New York Times. I do this because it seems marginally worth it to have unlimited access to a major national newspaper, although it’s a fairly close call, and I’ve contemplated giving it up a few times. (I’m currently getting a very good teaser deal because I called up threatening to cancel.) Why the Times? Habit, mostly. The Times and the Washington Post both have very real and clear strengths and weaknesses, but I can’t claim to have ever done a serious accounting of them that led me to the conclusion the Times was a better choice. I’ve just always read it, going back to grad school when M-F campus pickup paper subscriptions were so cheap as to be virtually free. I’ve seen a number of people, in comments here and elsewhere, threatening and/or pledging to cancel their subscription for the express purpose of protesting the extraordinary and appalling return of the “Clinton Rules” and I’ve had some sympathy with that sentiment. I’m skeptical this kind of protest will ever occur in the kind of numbers necessary to have practical value, but I don’t have much confidence in that judgment, and it would certainly feel right.

That said, I never hear anyone talk about the opposite. I’m thinking if I do go through with such a course of action, I’ll also sign up for a Washington Post subscription at least to get me through the election, and if I do, I’ll make a point of letting them know that I’m signing up primarily to gain access to the outstanding and important investigative journalism of David Farhenthold on the Trump Foundation. Whatever fleeting value negative reinforcement might have, positive reinforcement might have it too. And while both sides do it hackery may wax and wain, it has always and will always be with us, while the same can’t be said for resource-intensive long term investigative journalism Fahrenthold is doing.

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