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Memorial Day Links

[ 56 ] May 25, 2015 |

Arizona and Higher Ed

[ 54 ] May 25, 2015 |


Terrific article. The grim conclusion about this totally proactive new paradigm:

Ultimately, Arizona shows two ways that universities can respond to government defunding. They can become country clubs, or they can become “knowledge enterprises” that rely on the Internet to deliver education to enormous, geographically diffuse student bodies. Either way, the gap between the type of education available to children from affluent families and that offered to everyone else is going to grow. There was a moment in American history, says Newfield, when “the kind of thing that the Bush family could take for granted at Yale became possible at U. Michigan for somebody whose father was a middle manager.” That moment is over.

[Erik] See also Andrew Hartman’s essay on the Republican war on the humanities.

Landmark Birthdays

[ 30 ] May 24, 2015 |

Happy 42nd birthday to 210-game winner Bartolo Colon! And, oh yeah, this guy.

Doesn’t the follow-up to “Catfish” write itself, really?

Looking Forward to the Weekend, Weekend

[ 22 ] May 22, 2015 |

Starting mine out right by taking in a Jason Isbell gig. Don’t tell ‘em you’re bigger than Jesus and give it away while I’m gone…

This Is What’s the Matter With Kansas

[ 69 ] May 22, 2015 |


I mentioned this briefly in my recent column about Kansas, but the $25 — i.e. de facto $20 — limit on daily withdrawals for TANF recipients merits more sustained attention. Max Ehrenfreund does so:

It’s hard to overstate the significance of this action. Many households without enough money to maintain a minimum balance in a conventional checking account will pay their rent and their utility bills in cash. A single mother with two children seeking to withdraw just $200 in cash could incur $30 or more in fees, which is a big chunk of the roughly $400 such a family would receive under the program in Kansas.

“The complexity of functioning in that cash economy as a very poor family is just not a reality that most of us experience day to day,” said Shannon Cotsoradis, the president of Kansas Action for Children in Topeka. “I pay my bills online.”

Since most banking machines are stocked only with $20 bills, the $25 limit is effectively a $20 limit. A family seeking to withdraw even $200 in cash would have to visit an ATM 10 times a month, a real burden for a parent who might not have a car and might not live in a neighborhood where ATMs are easy to find.

“Banks have traditionally not located themselves in neighborhoods that they perceive either to be unsafe, or where there’s no customer base,” said Kristin Seefeldt, a professor at the University of Michigan who studies the lives of low-income Americans. “If that’s the way they’re getting cash, that can be a real chore and a challenge.”

Reading the random anecdotes the lawmakers relied on underscores the last point. The fact that lawmakers seem to think that if a poor person uses an ATM at a given location they must be using the cash there as an illustration of one problem that arises from a legislature consisting exclusively of affluent people. But this one time someone allegedly took out $102 at Coors Field so all poor people in the state should pay a huge tax to banks! Can’t argue with that logic!

The welfare reform bill Clinton signed in 1996 is bad, and at the core of its badness is that it gave much more discretion to our glorious laboratories of democracy. Controls were not entirely absent, however, and in this case the policy change is illegal. HHS needs to step up here.

Sometimes, When Something Is Too Good to be True, It Is

[ 14 ] May 21, 2015 |

What would have been a remarkable social science finding turns out to have been based on fraud:

A study claiming that gay people advocating for same-sex marriage can change voters’ minds has been retracted due to fraud.

The study was published last December in Science, and received lots of media attention. It found that a 20-minute, one-on-one conversation with a gay political canvasser could steer voters in favor of same-sex marriage. Not only that, but these changed opinions lasted for at least a year and influenced other people in the voter’s household, the study found.

Donald Green, the lead author on the study, retracted it on Tuesday shortly after learning that his co-author, UCLA graduate student Michael LaCour, had faked the results.

I strongly recommend Kieran Healy’s piece on the subject. In particular, I’d like to emphasize this:

When something like this happens it raises many issues internal to academia, from the relative role of the authors involved, to the importance of available and replicable data, to the often unrecognized importance of simple honesty in science. As a social scientist I worry most about the quality the frauds we don’t spot. Science is often bitterly competitive but it depends on honesty. It is not set up to weed out liars. We simply can’t proceed without a vocational norm of honesty. Imagine what research, or talks, or conferences would be like if you had to routinely question not simply the quality or competence but the actual honesty of speakers. The same goes for supervision. Or consider having to check not just the quality of grad student work, but whether they were lying to you about the data. Much of what we do would become simply impossible.

…Jesse Singal interviews Donald Green.

The Intent of Congress Was To Make Subsidies Available on the Federal Exchanges. They Put it in the Text.

[ 19 ] May 21, 2015 |

On the one hand, this is useful reporting:

Doug Elmendorf, the director of the nonpartisan CBO at the time of the law’s drafting and passage, says the idea that the subsidies would be limited to states creating their own exchange was never brought up while his office was estimating the cost of the law.

“It was a common understanding on the Hill, again on both sides of the Hill, on both sides of the aisle, in late 2009 and early 2010, that subsidies would be available through the federal exchange as well as through state exchanges,” Elmendorf said in an interview at the Peterson Foundation fiscal summit.

“And I’m confident in saying that because CBO’s analysis always worked under the view that subsidies would be available under the federal exchange.”

Despite all the scrutiny of his office’s cost projections, he said, the assumption of subsidies being available on both types of exchanges was never questioned, he said.

“Our analysis was subject to a lot of very intense scrutiny and a lot of questions, and my colleagues and I could remember no occasion on which anybody asked why we were expecting subsidies to be paid in all states regardless of whether they established their exchanges or not,” he said.

Sure, you could look at evidence like “every legislator in Congress and every relevant state official.” But surely it makes more sense to misquote President, Speaker of the House, Senate Majority Leader, Secretary of State, Prime Minister, and new host of the Late Show on CBS Jonathan Gruber instead.

The analysis, on the other hand, is not so good:

However, congressional intent is not the entire consideration. The Supreme Court’s justices vary in how much they take intent into account.

The more conservative justices are more inclined to look at the plain text of the law itself, which the challengers argue clearly limits the subsidies to state exchanges.

This, of course, is the Card-Says-Moops version of the con — whatever Congress intended, the “text” says that subsidies are only available on exchanges established by state governments. But it doesn’t. You can arrive at such a conclusion only by using methods of statutory interpretation nobody — including Scalia — would defend in any other context. You don’t construe statutory provisions by reading them in isolation from the structure and purpose of the statute as a whole. There’s only a contradiction between the text and the intent of Congress if you’re willfully trying to create one.


[ 70 ] May 21, 2015 |

Knowing that this will age me even further in the eyes of the reader, I was a big fan for a long time. He was influential enough that there was no way the show could have stayed fresh even if the execution remained the same, which it generally didn’t. Like many, I slowly drifted away from the show and its anachronistic format. But every once and I while it was comforting to tune in — the pre-Christmas show, with Shaffer’s Cher impression and Darlene Love, always reminded me of flying out as a college student and being home for the holidays and having access to cable. I’ve watched the show some in its final weeks, and while I can’t claim it’s great comedy at this late date I felt the same reassuring vibe. And the understated finale tonight was well-turned. Enjoy every sandwich.

Today In Great Hatchet Jobs (In the Non-Pejorative Sense)

[ 82 ] May 20, 2015 |

I have observed before that Pete Wells’s negative reviews are, in themselves, a dispositive argument against smarmy critiques of negative reviews.  They’re useful as consumer service, but they’re also just outstanding writing in themselves.  Today’s might be his best yet:

How anybody gets drunk enough to act this way is one of several fun Javelina mysteries to keep you entertained. Fresh or frozen, the margaritas have a slight chemical taste that I was thankful for because it tended to keep my own alcohol intake to near-Mormon levels. I also stayed alert and sober when faced with the Tijuana Manhattan, made with tequila in the place of whiskey and served in a rocks glass with no ice at all, even though it was the temperature of a freshly killed snake. While bartenders elsewhere have become insufferable bores on the subjects of ice and proper shaking techniques, the ones at Javelina are refreshingly free of such pretension. Even the water is sometimes served at room temperature.

One night, the bar made me a Paloma in a pint glass, while a woman at my table got her Paloma in a much smaller glass. Everybody knows women drink less than men, so we appreciated the thoughtfulness. To avoid making her self-conscious, I suppose, the restaurant even charged us both the same amount, $13.

At most restaurants, you are served what you ask for so routinely that your eyes glaze over with boredom. Javelina does not fall into the trap of dull predictability. One night after I left, I realized the guacamole I’d ordered had never arrived; it’s not every restaurant that gives you something to think about on your way home. Meanwhile, people at the next table were presented with a dish they insisted they hadn’t asked for. “You didn’t order brisket?” the server asked, keeping up the playful spirit.

One of Javelina’s calling cards, queso, is usually suggested by the servers when taking orders. Occasionally this Tex-Mex cheese fondue is served hot, but more often it arrives lukewarm, which prevents trips to the emergency room. The cooler temperature offers the added benefit of allowing a latex-like film to congeal on top, which provides an interesting contrast in texture with the liquefied cheese below.

That is so good David Denby is probably writing a book explaining how Wells is destroying American society right now.

The Potential Burwell Aftermath

[ 60 ] May 20, 2015 |

John Boehner

The political play for congressional Republicans should the Supreme Court go Moopy is pretty obvious. Pass a bill that temporarily extends subsidies to the federally established state exchanges while being loaded with poison pills, Obama vetoes it, Republicans assert that Obama is the reason the state exchanges will fail, media dutifully reports that Views of Shapes of the World Differ and Both Sides Do It and Obama Lacks the Leadership to Lead With Leadership (while conservative media outlets and pundits will have additional narratives that will get some mainstream traction, like Obama’s Use Of the So-Called “Veto Power” Is An Unprecedented Attack on American Constitutionalism.)

But will this actually happen? My guess is that congressional Republicans are too dysfunctional to actually pull this off. Chait agrees:

Obviously, Obama is not going to sign a bill that puts Obamacare on the path to extinction. The purpose is simply to give Republicans a talking point — they can say they passed a bill and blame Obama for vetoing it. But odds are that Republicans will fail to unify around a bill that can pass both houses of Congress with only Republican votes, because some will deem even a bill that causes Obamacare’s eventual demise unacceptably conciliatory.

Likewise, Sargent sees the cracks deepening:

Of course, even if the Court does gut subsidies, the Price alternative isn’t going to happen. Even if Republicans could unite behind the Price plan, or some other alternative, Obama would veto it, and try to pressure Republicans — in Congress and the states — to implement a simple subsidy fix. But the fact that a leading conservative like Price is now opposed to a temporary subsidy patch even on Republicans’ own terms is a reminder that Republicans may prove too divided to accomplish even that.

The lesson that both Chait and Sargent take from this is that Republicans should be careful what they wish for. My read on the situation remains…maybe. I still think there are two factors that will contain the damage for Republicans. First, the states where the Supreme Court could wreck the exchanges overwhelmingly shade red, and in many of these states Republicans are essentially invulnerable. (I do think a Moops invasion would be politically damaging to Scott Walker, a fact that evidently takes on added significance given that he’s a frontrunner for the Republican nomination.) And, second, average voters tend not to be very good as assigning responsibility, and the media won’t necessarily help even if Congress can’t even pass a Potemkin fix. The political press can ignore an awful lot of facts on the ground if they get in the way of the Both Side Do It default.

The precise political effects of the Supreme Court wrecking the exchanges cannot be known. But I do think it’s clear that the only question is how bad it will be. No matter what a there will be a lot of states that don’t have functional exchanges for a while, and while Republicans might pay a political price for this they probably have a lock on the House at least until 2020. Needless to say, by far the best outcome would be for the Supreme Court to not willfully misread the law in order to wreck the exchanges.

Was Gonzales v. Raich Wrongly Decided? [Spoiler: No.]

[ 53 ] May 19, 2015 |

Pursuant to our recent discussions, I would urge people interested in issues of federal power to actually read the Raich opinions, just as it’s useful to actually read Wickard. The Stevens opinion for the Court is a very clear description of the relevant doctrines and persuasively explains why the actions of the government were, while wrong as a policy matter, constitutional. And while I’m sure Ginsburg extensively quoted Scalia’s concurrence in Sebelius partly to tweak him, she also did so because it’s brilliant. Congress has the power to regulate interstate markets, and it also has the power to pass regulations necessary to effectuate these regulations, even if the additional regulations reach behavior that is local or noncommercial. (Here’s one tip, gleaned from having taught these cases multiple times: if someone tells you that the Supreme Court found that Raich and Monson were themselves “engaged in interstate commerce,” you know that either they haven’t read the opinion or don’t understand it.) As long as the connection between the broader scheme and the regulation is rational, the courts should defer to Congress’s judgment.

Still, I can see a counter. The War on (Some Classes of People Who Use Some) Drugs is a moral catastrophe. Aren’t liberals entitled to their own cynical uses of federalism? I don’t think you could write a Raich opinion I would want to join, but perhaps you could write one that wouldn’t do much damage. You could begin by emphasizing that Wickard was correct and remains good law. As all three Raich dissenters did, you could certainly distinguish the cases. Raich is more like Wickard than Lopez because there’s a connection to a broader regulatory framework, but the link between the CSA and the actions of Riach and Monson is more attenuated than the link between the AAA and Filburn. (The quotas at issue in Wickard by definition applied only to commercial farms of significant size; the CSA is less discriminate.) If you could write a decision narrowly enough to protect people like Riach without threatening the regulatory state, what’s the harm?

Well, first of all, if you wrote the opinion that narrowly the effect on the W O (scopwus) D would be trivial. Raich presented a relatively unusual set of facts for a federal action. Cases involving the purchase of controlled substance, large-scale possession, distribution, links to firearms, and/or links money laundering could all go forward — in other words, the federal level of the drug war would pretty much proceed as usual. At the state level, Raich would not help at all. The negligible benefits of restricting the federal power to destroy small amounts of homegrown marijuana do not justify the risk of narrowing the federal commerce power.

Alternatively, you could write a broader opinion that might undermine more federal actions under the CSA — but there’s no way of writing such an opinion that wouldn’t threaten huge swaths of the federal regulatory state. If Wickard is overruled — if the federal government cannot regulate activities that are not interstate commerce even it deems them necessary to a broader regulation of an interstate market — then the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional, a great deal of environmental regulation is unconstitutional, and so on. Sure, as Scalia and Kennedy showed if you’re hacky enough you find a reason to uphold or not uphold anything, but since a liberal has no reason to believe that a liberal will typically occupy the median vote of the Supreme Court, hoping that the Supreme Court will use more aggressive federalism doctrines to strike down laws you don’t like without striking down laws you do like would be really dumb.

Indeed, the idea that the commerce power could be used to attack the war on drugs without threatening other aspects of the federal regulatory scheme is, if you know anything about the history of the Supreme Court, almost painfully ignorant and naive. The federal courts are, in fact, particularly unlikely to apply their discretion to narrow the ability of the government to enforce drug laws. Raich itself is an excellent argument against the idea of applying more heightened levels of scrutiny to the necessary and proper clause in the hope of stopping the drug war.

The Court’s judgment in Raich was sound. As Sebelius and Shelby County demonstrate, once the courts stop deferring to reasonable congressional judgments about what is “necessary and proper” or “appropriate,” a great deal of mischief can ensue, and the court’s judgments about what is “proper” and “appropriate” will be inherently arbitrary and political. The consensus the Court reached about federal power in the wake of the New Deal made sense, and revising it would be a terrible idea.

David Brooks’s Pathetic Iraq Excuses

[ 176 ] May 19, 2015 |


David Brooks starts off his apologia with some stoned-dorm-room stuff about how if Hitler had been strangled in the crib we wouldn’t have the GI Bill or as many women in the workforce, which means that nobody can really held responsible for Iraq. It does not improve from there. First, note this crafty bit of dissembling:

Which brings us to Iraq. From the current vantage point, the decision to go to war was a clear misjudgment, made by President George W. Bush and supported by 72 percent of the American public who were polled at the time. I supported it, too.

The implication is that more than 70% of the public supported the war ex ante. But if you click the link — which readers of the hard copy edition won’t be able to — you’ll see that the 72% approval rate comes from a poll done with the troops already in the field. Before this rally effect, support was significantly lower. A majority of the public still supported the war, but particularly given the post-9/11 context this support was rather tepid. So I’m afraid Brooks can’t brush this off by saying that the consensus was wrong — there was plenty of opposition at the time even as the public was being misled.

It gets worse:

The first obvious lesson is that we should look at intelligence products with a more skeptical eye. There’s a fable going around now that the intelligence about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was all cooked by political pressure, that there was a big political conspiracy to lie us into war.

That doesn’t gibe with the facts. Anybody conversant with the Robb-Silberman report from 2005 knows that this was a case of human fallibility. This exhaustive, bipartisan commission found “a major intelligence failure”: “The failure was not merely that the Intelligence Community’s assessments were wrong. There were also serious shortcomings in the way these assessments were made and communicated to policy makers.”

As Chait observes, the obvious problem here is that Robb-Silberman was only allowed to go forward on the condition that it would not judge the administration’s responsibility. As he explains the evasion: “Step 1: Prevent a Senate report from looking into whether the administration lied. Step 2: Ignore the existence of the report that did show the administration lied. Step 3: Pretend that an intelligence failure and a deliberate effort to cook the intelligence are mutually exclusive.” When congressional investigators were finally allowed to judge the administration’s culpability, they found them plenty culpable.

In addition, Chait is still being too generous to himself and other supporters of the Iraq War by continuing to use the essentially useless term “weapons of mass destruction.” There was, I agree, some evidence that Iraq possessed some of what were labelled WMD as the term was used, even if the administration exaggerated some of it and made up a lot more of it. What there never was any serious evidence that Iraq had WMDs that would pose any threat to American civilians or more threat to people under Huessein’s control than any number of conventional weapons. And, as always, what Davies said. If you’re a sophisticated observer and were still taking the administration seriously after Colin Powell went to the UN and lied his ass off that’s on you.

After some of the dime-store Brukeanism that Brooks remarkably used to defend the Bush adminisration’s lack of planning, the punchline:

I wind up in a place with less interventionist instincts than where George W. Bush was in 2003, but significantly more interventionist instincts than where President Obama is inclined to be today.

If I understand correctly from the preceding paragraphs, this means that the U.S. should ramp up the killing without even the pretense that it’s bringing democracy with it. I suppose Brooks has learned something, but it’s really not the right lesson.

…Greg Sargent has more on the attempt to whitewash Iraq.

…and see also Maloy.

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