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Against “Authenticity,” Pea Guacamole Edition

[ 232 ] July 3, 2015 |


Burneko saved me a lot of time by writing this:

The New York Times published a recipe for guacamole with green peas in it. Not to insist that all guacamole must contain peas forever; not to say that people who have made guacamole without peas are dirty heathen swine; not to assert that pea-free guacamoles are inadequate. To suggest a fun variation on a tasty foodstuff. Hey, we think if you try adding some peas to your guacamole, you’ll like it. This has occasioned just such a performance, from too many corners of Twitter to call out here. Swooning and fainting and rending garments. Because somebody said that guacamole with peas in it tastes good.

This is dumb. Guacamole is mashed avocado dip. If it tastes good, it is made correctly.


When guacamole spread to other parts of the world, the familiar ingredients came to be thought of as the right ones because adding them to guacamole made it taste like guacamole made in Mexico. If your favorite guacamole recipe contains those familiar ingredients, that is fine. Make the guacamole that tastes best to you, because its only purpose is to taste good to the people who will be eating it. If it contains peas, that is fine. It is mashed avocado dip; the right way to make it is so it tastes good.

My guacamole is fairly basic—four avocados, a small fistful of finely chopped cilantro leaves, maybe a big tablespoon or so of minced white onion, some minced fresh jalapeño (or good cayenne powder if I’m feeling lazy), a big squeeze of lime juice, sea salt—because I am fanatical about avocados and only want enough accompaniment to flatter (and not compete with) them. But, I have had good-tasting guacamoles that contained: garlic, shallot, mint, basil, yogurt, sour cream, mango, corn, tomato, pineapple, lemon zest, olive oil, queso blanco, chipotle pepper, and more. A Guyanan coworker of mine once brought to an office potluck a bowl of guacamole that contained enough Scotch bonnet peppers to sizzle a fucking tunnel through the bowels of the earth so that we could deliver a serving of it to people on the far side, and it was delicious, even if a single bite of it prevented me from being able to taste anything else for the entire rest of the day. All of these guacamoles were fine, because they tasted good, which is guacamole’s only job, because it is food and not a fucking Republic of Texas flag.


Here’s what to keep out of your guacamole: the opinions and judgments and performative populism of food-scared internet weenies.

There are many variations of guacamole; Clark’s recipe is well within the family of recipes that can be fairly called “guacamole.” The criteria by which it should be judged are 1)whether it tastes good, and 2)that’s it.

Not Getting the Memo

[ 116 ] July 3, 2015 |

I pretty much agree with Stern on this:

Following the Supreme Court’s ruling that every state in America must grant marriage licenses to gay couples, at least two clerks tasked with issuing such licenses have resigned—one in Mississippi, one in Arkansas. Both will undoubtedly be chastised by the LGBTQ community for their blatant display of homophobia. But I think these clerks should be praised for their integrity. In other states, clerks are begging for a special right to discriminate against gays. At least these two had the courage to admit that their prejudice prevented them from honoring their oath of office.

I obviously strongly disagree with the underlying reason for the resignations. But I can certainly respect their actions more than the Mr. Plow conservatism that tends to be advanced in these cases — i.e. “I don’t want to do my job but I want to be paid anyway.” And when it comes to public officials, as in this case, treating citizens impartially is a core part of your job.

The Majoritarian Difficulty, ACA Trooferism Edition

[ 33 ] July 3, 2015 |

I don’t think the impeachment campaign is going to go well:

For the second time this week, we have polling confirmation that about 3 out of 5 Americans approve of the Supreme Court’s decision in King v. Burwell last week. In findings that closely echo those of an earlier CNN/ORC survey, the Kaiser Family Foundation’s tracking poll on health issues showed approval by a 62/32 margin, with a nearly identical 61/34 margin among self-identified independents. Unlike the CNN/ORC poll, KFF’s also breaks down the reaction by general opinion on Obamacare, showing that 30% of ACA opponents still think it makes sense to offer the same assistance to people buying insurance under the law whether or not a state purchasing exchange was established.

This is one of the oddities of Ted Cruz calling for retention elections as a remedy to judgifying he doesn’t like. It’s a quite terrible idea in itself. But in this case, it’s funny that conservatives think that retention elections fought in the issues at the end of the term would work out in their favor. Obergefell is the even stronger case. As is often the case, the Court was siding with national public opinion majorities against regional outliers. In some cases, this means national public opinion trumping local public opinion; in other cases it means national and local public opinion trumping state legislators. But whatever one wants to say about the two decisions that have eroded the saliva supply of the nation’s conservatives, they’re not “countermajoritarian” when it comes to the national population.


[ 43 ] July 2, 2015 |

Whew, for a second I was worried that the “neoconfederate apologist in 2015″ niche in the Democratic primaries would go unfilled. And, fortunately, he also takes care of the “people who would have a 0% chance of winning the nomination even if every other candidate were to get killed in a blimp accident today” niche in case Linc Chaffee drops out.

Antonin Scalia’s Fraudulent “Textualism”

[ 54 ] July 2, 2015 |

Scalia gesture

Patterico argues that federal judges not abiding by the tenets of ACA tooferism is not merely wrong, it’s an impeachable offense:

I would support all manner of reactions that the GOP will lack the guts to try — and that, if they did try, would cause them to get shellacked in the elections. For example, I would support impeachment of any and all of the Justices that voted in the majority of either King v. Burwell or Obergefell. That, in my view, is a proper constitutional reaction to lawless decisions (notwithstanding the disastrous precedent established by the Samuel Chase impeachment proceedings).

There are countless ways of demonstrating that this argument is being made in bad faith. But let’s go with my favorite one, the Rehnquist Court’s “sovereign immunity” jurisprudence. The Eleventh Amendment reads, in its entirety:

The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.

Despite what people who think that disagreeing with their interpretations of the 14th Amendment is an impeachable offense will tell you, most of the constitutional provisions whose interpretation leads to frequent Supreme Court cases are so broadly worded that the text does not yield technically “correct” or “incorrect” answers in a case of any interest. Reasonable people can disagree with what constitutes a “cruel and unusual punishment” or a denial of the “equal protection of the laws.” (This broad wording is necessary: an 8th Amendment that listed specific punishments rather than enacting a general principle against “cruel and unusual punishment” would essentially be a roadmap for how to get away with torture, in addition to becoming instantly obsolete.)

The 11th Amendment is an exception: it enacts a clear and specific restriction, not a general principle. It forbids a state from being sued in federal court without its consent by any citizen of another state or a foreign state. By implication, the amendment also answers another question: a state can be sued in federal court by a citizen of the state. The amendment could have been easily worded to ban any federal suit against a state; the fact that it didn’t logically requires the conclusion — absent another constitutional provision or act of Congress saying so — that citizens retain the right to sue their state government in federal court.

As it happens, in 1991 the author of the spittle-drenched dissent in King v. Burwell had the opportunity to address this very question. And:

Despite the narrowness of its terms, since Hans v. Louisiana, we have understood the Eleventh Amendment to stand not so much for what it says, but for the presupposition of our constitutional structure which it confirms: that the States entered the federal system with their sovereignty intact; that the judicial authority in Article III is limited by this sovereignty.

If the Eleventh Amendment forbids citizens of a state from suing their state government, one might say, words have no meaning. But that’s what the Court ruled.

At this point, I might be accused of committing a tu quoque fallacy. Since I’ve been consistently critical of the ridiculous line of “sovereign immunity” cases, am I therefore required to declare that the card says “Moops”? Of course not. In the ACA case, the “Exchange established by the State” language is embedded within a statute that takes up 1,000 pages of the U.S. Code. It is an elementary principle of statutory construction that statutory language must be read in the context of the statute as a whole. In this case, reading the isolated phrase as denying tax credits on exchanges established by the federal government on the state’s behalf produces an absurd result that contradicts both other specific provisions of the law and the general purpose of the statute. Which is why 6 members if the Supreme Court, including one justice who believes the law to be unconstitutional, refused to bite this particular lemon.

With the 11th Amendment, conversely, there is no other text — it says what it says in one sentence and that’s it. The text read properly does not produce an absurd result; it is perfectly logical to make state governments accountable in federal court to their own citizens but not to those in of other states or nations. As Justice Souter explains in his dissent in Seminole Tribe Congress considered but rejected language that would bar suits against a citizen’s own state. Conversely, no legislator involved with the ACA ever suggested the preposterous idea of going to the trouble of establishing a federal backstop that wouldn’t work; that idea is solely an ex post facto invention of the statute’s most fanatical opponents.

Justice Scalia attempts to get around all this by making a structuralist argument about the meaning of the Constitution as a whole. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this method of interpretation (although Scalia’s King dissent would rule it out.) But in this case, the argument is lousy. It’s true that states retain their “sovereignty,” but the idea that royalist assumptions of immunity for states that violates the rights of citizens upon whose consent the legitimacy of the government rests is an essential element of sovereignty in a democratic state is the purest question-begging, and perverse question-begging at that. If anything, the presumption created by a Constitution that “guarantee[s] to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government” should be the opposite. There’s certainly not nearly enough there to overcome the very strong presumption created by the specific wording of the Eleventh Amendment.

And yet, I can find nothing in Patterico’s archives calling for the impeachment of Scalia and Thomas (or Alito, who also shares this misreading of the Eleventh Amendment.) Indeed, as a first approximation the group of people fulminating against King who have anything critical to say about the “sovereign immunity” cases is a null set. I wonder what could possibly explain this?

Oh, and as for the idea that the Obergefell majority should be impeached, I have a certain equal protection case to discuss…

Does It Violate the Constitution to Not Admit Students Who Wouldn’t Be Admitted Anyway?

[ 102 ] July 2, 2015 |

The Supreme Court seems poised to rule all public affirmative action programs unconstitutional, although Anthony Kennedy might step in with another one of his “affirmative action might be permissible in theory although it never is in practice” specials. This would be regrettable, as well as revealing the “originalism” of Thomas and Scalia for what it is. Jamelle Bouie reminds us of an instructive fact about this particular plaintiff:

What’s striking about this case—and what makes it frustrating to some observers—is the curious question of Fisher’s academic record. Put simply, as Nikole Hannah-Jones documented for ProPublica, affirmative action wasn’t her problem.


Neither special circumstances nor grades were determinative. Of the 841 students admitted under these criteria, 47 had worse grades than Fisher, and 42 of them were white. On the other end, UT rejected 168 black and Latino students with scores equal to or better than Fisher’s.

To call this discrimination is to say that Fisher was entitled to a space at the UT Austin, despite grades that didn’t make the cut. It’s worth pointing out that the university gave her the choice of transferring from a satellite school, which she rejected.

Despite the “taking slots from people who deserve them” narrative so beloved by opponents of affirmative action, the “victims” are highly likely to be these kinds of very marginal cases, coming from the part of the applications process where distinctions are essentially arbitrary. Using diversity is a criteria in making these otherwise arbitrary distinctions isn’t bad policy and doesn’t violate the Constitution.

Why Honoring Jefferson Davis Is Unacceptable

[ 109 ] July 1, 2015 |


The discussion that starts here raises a very important point. There’s one defense of monuments to Confederates that runs something like “sure, Davis was a slaveholder, but we have slaveholders on the $1 and $2, a white supremacist on the $5, a slaveholder and ethnic cleanser on the $20, and so on. Why is Davis different?”

I think the answer to this should be clear. There’s a difference between honoring a slaveholder or white supremacist from the 18th or 19th century and honoring them for their support for slavery and white supremacy. Washington isn’t on the $1 because he was a slaveholder, but because he was the first (and still one of the best) presidents and also a major leader in the Revolutionary War. Lincoln is widely honored because of his crucial role in preserving the union and smashing the slave power, not because of the belief he held for most of his life that a multiracial democracy was impossible. The Constitution protected slavery, but its sole purpose was not the protection of slavery. (And we should also remember that the options the framers had in 1787 were a Constitution that provided some protection for slavery, or no deal. The idea that Virginia or Georgia or South Carolina would have agreed to an antislavery constitution with better bargaining is Green Lanternism that makes “Obama could have made Joe Lieberman vote to nationalize the American health care industry” look plausible.) The Revolutionary War and the Constitution were both the product of a combination of admirable motives, immoral motives, self-interest, and practical politics. One can admire the sentiments of the Declaration of Independence while also being mindful that the “all mean are created equal” part was observed in the breach to disastrous effect. Evaluating these things involves complicated judgments.

The Confederacy is a different story. Protecting slavery was its sole reason for being. Confederate leaders aren’t honored in spite of their commitment to treason in defense of slavery; in 99% of cases they’re being honored because of it. (Nobody would be naming highways in Washington state after Davis because he was Pierce’s Secretary of War.) As I said in the previous post, the idea that people like Robert E. Lee are being honored because they were fine gentleman or fathers (except for, you know, the slaves) is absurd even if you take the assertions at face value like you shouldn’t. I have great parents and you probably do too, but nobody’s building statues of them or naming schools after them. Confederate leaders are honored because of their role in the Confederacy. And the purpose of secession was 1)protecting slavery, and 2)that’s it.

To be clear, I’m not arguing that tributes to non-Confederate leaders shouldn’t be assessed critically. (Personally, I’m OK with Washington and Lincoln on the currency, but would remove Jackson with all non-deliberate speed.) A norm may emerge that honoring slaveholders in any way and no matter what else they did is unacceptable, and that would be OK with me. Norms could develop against naming things after political leaders in general. But those are complicated questions. Confederate leaders are an easy case.

The Confederacy Won the Peace

[ 143 ] July 1, 2015 |


The statistic at the end of the second paragraph says it all:

The Confederates won with the pen (and the noose) what they could not win on the battlefield: the cause of white supremacy and the dominant understanding of what the war was all about. We are still digging ourselves out from under the misinformation that they spread, which has manifested in both our history books and our public monuments.

Take Kentucky. Kentucky’s legislature voted not to secede, and early in the war, Confederate Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston ventured through the western part of the state and found “no enthusiasm as we imagined and hoped but hostility … in Kentucky.” Eventually, 90,000 Kentuckians would fight for the United States, while 35,000 fought for the Confederate States. Nevertheless, according to historian Thomas Clark, the state now has 72 Confederate monuments and only two Union ones.

Another excellent example is the fact that if you drive from Seattle to Vancouver you do so in part on the Jefferson Davis Highway. Given that Washington not only didn’t secede, but didn’t exist, during Davis’s brief period heading the treasonous slave state I think we can safely chalk this up to 100% hate, 0% heritage. A bill was proposed to get rid of it in 2002, but it generated intense Republican opposition and was ultimately killed in the Senate:

The opponents describe the highway change as a needless affront to Davis, who remains revered in some quarters and for whom plenty of schools are named in the South.

Now Representative Thomas M. Mielke, a Republican from Battle Ground, has taken up their cause and is opposing the bill, expected to come up for a vote on Thursday.

Mr. Mielke circulated an e-mail message to his colleagues on Tuesday night, attaching a biography of Davis and calling him ”an outgoing, friendly man, a great family man who loved his wife and children and had an infinite store of compassion.”

“Sure, he was a traitor who believed that slavery was a cause worth dying for and supported the establishment of apartheid police states in the South after the civil war, but he was a nice guy.” Hey, maybe Mohamed Atta remembered to call his mother every birthday, we could start naming roads after him too! I’m afraid when it comes to public monuments I’m in the “Nice guy? I don’t give a shit. Good father? Fuck you, go home and play with your kids” school. The fact that Republican legislators in states that had nothing to do with the Confederacy are willing to make such transparently silly arguments to preserve the monuments to the slave power is highly instructive.

Returning to Loewen:

Perhaps most perniciously, neo-Confederates now claim that the South seceded for states’ rights. When each state left the Union, its leaders made clear that they were seceding because they were for slavery and against states’ rights. In its “Declaration Of The Causes Which Impel The State Of Texas To Secede From The Federal Union,” for example, the secession convention of Texas listed the states that had offended them: Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa. These states had in fact exercised states’ rights by passing laws that interfered with the federal government’s attempts to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act. Some also no longer let slaveowners “transit” through their states with their slaves. “States’ rights” were what Texas was seceding against. Texas also made clear what it was seceding for: white supremacy.

And there are plenty of other illustrations. Uniform support of the Fugitive Slave Act by the slave power in itself reveals the “states’ rights” argument as a con. Any “strict constructionist” would look at the wording of the Fugitive Slave clause and its placement in Article IV and construe the return of fugitive slaves as a state, not federal, responsibility. And perhaps the single most important issue in the dissolution of the Democratic Party was the unwillingness of Congress to impose a proslavery constitution on Kansas that its citizens didn’t want. The Confederate Constitution did not permit states to abolish slavery. 99% of arguments about “federalism” are really arguments about policy substance, and attempts by Confederates and their apologists to claim they were motivated by “states’ rights” are particularly fraudulent.

Lefty Purity For Thee…

[ 93 ] June 30, 2015 |


What does Harper‘s publisher Rick MacArthur do when he’s not publishing poorly reasoned and anti-factual screeds about the perfidy of the Democrat Party? Why, bust unions of course:

MacArthur may have once defended U.A.W. as “the country’s best and traditionally most honest mass labor organization,” but he contested his staff’s right to unionize, contending that the literary editor and senior editors served as supervisors and hence failed to qualify for protection under the National Labor Relations Act. He hired veteran employment lawyer Bert Pogrebin to advocate on his behalf before the National Labor Relations Board, but the federal agency denied his appeal. The day before staffers held elections and formally joined UAW Local 2110 on Oct. 14, MacArthur wrote a letter assuring them the union would neither give them a voice in the selection of the next editor in chief—he believed Metcalf was angling for the position—nor “solve the financial problems of the magazine or get us more subscribers, newsstand buyers or advertisers.”

Added MacArthur, with a touch of irony: “It will, of course, be able to collect initiation fees and dues from you.”

In January 2011, the magazine laid off union instigator Metcalf and pro-union ally associate editor Theodore Ross, a move that the union interpreted as retaliation and that MacArthur defended as an effort to “cut expenses.”

Of course, one way you can ensure you have the money to pay anti-labor lawyers is to pay your interns a big fat goose egg to work full time in Manhattan.

While MacArthur’s magazine has been unreadable for a while, I was wondering if perhaps there was a commercial justification for what has been intellectually ruinous. Maybe there’s a large market out there that really wants to read the same terrible leftier-than-thou article with a nominally different byline about how Barack Obama betrayed his campaign promises by failing to unilaterally turn the American political economy into Denmark’s every month? Nope: in fact, their circulation is cratering. It’s really a shame what’s happened to what was not that long ago a terrific magazine, but at this point it’s probably never coming back.


[ 67 ] June 30, 2015 |

As Lennie Briscoe would say, nothing good comes from this:

In an expected but potentially devastating blow to public sector unions, the Supreme Court announced on Tuesday that it will hear a case called Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association in its next term. Friedrichs, as Justice Elena Kagan explained in a similar case last year, asks the justices to “impos[e] a right-to-work regime for all government employees” throughout the country, and it does so based on an aggressive reading of the First Amendment that could have absurd consequences for the government’s relationship with its own employees. Should this case prevail, moreover, that decision could be an existential threat to many public sector unions, potentially draining them of the money they need to operate.

Looks like we might be heading for another failure of the Affordable Care Act.

The Left-Right Coalition Against the ACA

[ 218 ] June 30, 2015 |



The [ACA’s] critics have consistently presented a much louder and more certain attack, and its supporters a more cautious and muted defense, and this has remained the case even though, on virtually every point, the critics have been wrong and the supporters right.

And what’s worse is that it’s not just people on the right who continue to repeat erroneous claims about the ACA. I see Trudy Lieberman is doing the rounds shilling for her disgracefully dishonest Harper’s story on the ACA. Now NPR listeners, and not just subscribers, will “learn” a bunch of lies: that the Medicaid expansion hasn’t reached many people because of the structure of the act itself rather than the Supreme Court and then Republican public officials, that the ACA is increasing the cost of health care rather than making it cheaper, that the current number of uninsured is the ceiling rather than the floor, that the statute passed at the behest of insurance companies rather than in spite of their fervent and expensive opposition. Particularly since the destruction of the ACA would lead to the vastly inferior status quo ante or something even worse than that, Lieberman is collaborating with the ACA’s right-wing opponents, wittingly or not.

Lieberman derides Paul Krugman as a “cheerleader” for the ACA (underlining that the point of her article is not to inform readers or to figure out a way to address the many remaining defects of the American health care system as to congratulate herself for her brave ideological purity.) Only when people read Krugman’s shorter summary of the ACA they will learn much more and what they learn will actually be true.

While we’re here, I don’t think that A.W. Gaffney’s recent Jacobin piece was nearly as objectionable as Lieberman’s. It wasn’t largely devoted to right-wing talking points about the ACA. But it’s still based on two telling related mistakes. First of all, it also yadda-yaddas the Medicaid expansion, a particularly serious problem when you’re asserting that the ACA is devoid of egalitarian commitments. The ACA is neither purely “neoliberal” nor purely left-egalitarian; it’s a compromise between these elements. Which isn’t surprising, since the Democratic coalition is, as it’s always been, a coalition of left-liberals with moderates and conservatives, and federal social programs have always reflected these tensions. Gaffney’s 2014 article is based on a similar mistake: there’s been no “turn” away from support for universal health care. In 2010 as in 1948, there were many Democrats who would have supported a more universal model, and there were Democrats who didn’t, and the votes of the latter were essential to anything passing. Had supporters of more universal care insisted on a more universal model, they would have gotten what their predecessors got under Truman and Nixon: nothing. The left wing of the Democratic Party blowing up the ACA because it was too neoliberal would not in fact reflect a greater commitment to egalitarianism (as I’m sure Gaffney would agree.)

Which brings us to this curious passage:

There are many roads to what is called, often problematically, “universal health care.” Some nations — for instance, Canada — have systems of national health insurance in which a governmental “payer” insures everyone (though the provision of care may remain predominantly private). Other nations have “national health services” — e.g., Britain — where the provision of care is a direct public service.

There is a very curious omission here: hybrid European models that 1)achieve egalitarian health care goals at least as well as British nationalization or Canadian single-payer, and 2)are far more viable endpoints for a better American health care system. If you’re trying to figure out a better path in the United States, policies passed by Westminster-style parliamentary systems is the last place you’d look. If you’re serious about better health care, as opposed to just running down the ACA, you can’t ignore institutional constraints.

Tuesday Links

[ 13 ] June 30, 2015 |

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