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More Penetrating Insights From Richard Dawkins, SUPERGENIUS

[ 179 ] 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

[ 51 ] 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.

The Welfare Myth

[ 46 ] November 21, 2015 |


Alec MacGillis has an excellent article on the demobilization of poor voters in poor counties, which leads to the election of governments that slash benefits they desperately need. Kentucky has received a lot of discussion, but there’s also Maine:

In Maine, Mr. LePage was elected governor in 2010 by running on an anti-welfare platform in a state that has also grown more reliant on public programs — in 2013, the state ranked third in the nation for food-stamp use, just ahead of Kentucky. Mr. LePage, who grew up poor in a large family, has gone at safety-net programs with a vengeance. He slashed welfare rolls by more than half after imposing a five-year limit, reinstituted a work requirement for food-stamp recipients and refused to expand Medicaid under Obamacare to cover 60,000 people. He is now seeking to bar anyone with more than $5,000 in certain assets from receiving food stamps. “I’m not going to help anybody just for the sake of helping,” the governor said in September. “I am not that compassionate.”

His crusade has resonated with many in the state, who re-elected him last year.

But at least splitting the anti-LePage vote totally bully pulipted the Overton Window to the left!

This seems like a good time to note that the ostensible basis for LePage’s war on the poor is entirely without empirical foundation:

For as long as there have been government programs designed to help the poor, there have been critics insisting that helping the poor will keep them from working. But the evidence for this proposition has always been rather weak.

And a recent study from MIT and Harvard economists makes the case even weaker. Abhijit Banerjee, Rema Hanna, Gabriel Kreindler, and Benjamin Olken reanalyzed data from seven randomized experiments evaluating cash programs in poor countries and found “no systematic evidence that cash transfer programs discourage work.” Attacking welfare recipients as lazy is easy rhetoric, but when you actually test the proposition scientifically, it doesn’t hold up.

Saturday Links

[ 25 ] November 21, 2015 |

New Hampshire, the Establishment, and the Base

[ 180 ] November 20, 2015 |


Nate Cohn:

The last two Republican presidential primary contests have followed the same script: A conservative candidate wins in Iowa, a relative moderate wins in New Hampshire, and the latter — with broader appeal and all of the establishment’s resources — outlasts the former in a protracted fight for the nomination.

But so far this cycle, New Hampshire’s voters aren’t playing along. Donald Trump has led every poll in New Hampshire since June. Candidates like Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush have struggled to get out of the single digits.

There is, however, one significant twist. Trump is the non-Establishment candidate, but he’s also the relative moderate. On issues like Social Security, Trump has shrewdly exploited gaps between Republican elites and the Republican base by moving to the left. His xenophobic rhetoric doesn’t reflect any substantive differences with the other major candidates.

It is time for me to concede that the people who saw Trump as a real threat to win the nomination (including Paul) were onto something. I would still rank this as less likely than Rubio or Cruz winning. And I’m not backing off at all on Carson — I don’t think a 70% burn rate and campaign skills scarcely better than Rick Perry’s are propelling anyone to the nomination. But is it possible for Trump to be the Republican nominee? I have to say that it is. If they were held next week he would almost certainly win Iowa and New Hampshire, and it’s hard for me to say that someone who can do that can’t win.

The Unbearable Lightness of Antonin Scalia

[ 61 ] November 20, 2015 |

Scalia gesture

As always, what’s particularly offensive about Antonin Scalia’s PROVOCATIVE comparisons of the rights of gays and lesbians and the rights of child molesters is that the underlying arguments are ludicrously incoherent:

If your theory leads you to the conclusion that Brown v. Board of Education was incorrectly decided, you need a new theory. Of course, Scalia has said elsewhere that he would have voted with the majority in Brown. But this just makes his theory less coherent than Rehnquist’s. “Judges cannot determine which minority groups are entitled to heightened protections under the equal protection clause except when they can” loses quite a bit of force as a critique of the Supreme Court’s holding that same-sex marriage is a fundamental right.

How can Scalia justify making an exception for Brown? It certainly cannot be derived from the text of the 14th Amendment, which does not mention race. Instead, Scalia has to argue that the equal protection clause was originally understood as applying to discrimination against African-Americans, and only this form of discrimination.

This argument, however, quickly collapses. Cases in which Scalia has interpreted the 14th Amendment as forbidding racial discrimination have generally not concerned the rights of African-Americans. Rather, these decisions have done things like shut down integration measures pursued by local school districts or protected the alleged rights of mediocre white college applicants to attend their first choice of school.

These applications pretty much destroy Scalia’s allegedly “originalist” reading of the 14th Amendment. There is no evidence that the 14th Amendment was originally understood as forbidding affirmative action programs, and Scalia has never even tried to make such a case. Scalia can try to escape from this by saying that the 14th Amendment forbids a broader, more abstract principle of racial discrimination than it was originally understood as doing. But once you’ve started down that road, there’s no principled reason to deny that the amendment forbids invidious discrimination against groups Scalia does not think are protected by the 14th Amendment, like women and gays and lesbians.

And, of course, it’s worse than that for Scalia. For all his bluster implying that he’s America’s Last Honest Judge, we shouldn’t forget that Scalia joined and has aggressively defended Bush v. Gore, the nakedly partisan resolution of the 2000 presidential election that, as it happens, was decided based on the Equal Protection Clause. Scalia would have us believe that it’s absurd to think that discrimination against gays and lesbians is forbidden by the 14th Amendment. But, apparently, it’s perfectly reasonable to think that the 14th Amendment forbids counting votes without a uniform state-wide standard if the count threatens to result in George W. Bush losing an election… and not in any other case (including the non-uniform count that awarded Florida’s electoral college votes to Bush.) Scalia has never offered an “originalist” defense of Bush v. Gore, and I’m pretty confident we’re never going to get one.

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