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“The story is a convergence of helicopter parenting with America’s primitive family policy.”

[ 323 ] July 15, 2014 |

This is…amazing in a horrible way:

Debra Harrell is currently in jail because she let her 9-year-old daughter play, unsupervised, in a public park. Almost everything about this story (which I noticed courtesy of Lenore Skenazy) is horrifying. Harrell works at McDonald’s. Her daughter used to tag along and stare at a screen at her mother’s workplace during the day. She asked to go to the park instead, was discovered to be without an adult, and her mother was arrested.

If I had grown up in South Carolina (and there was any chance these laws would be applied to white people), I think my parents would be doing life without parole. The idea that there are no circumstances under which a 9-year-old can be in public without supervision is bizarre. And the asusmption that 9-year-olds need constant supervision certainly isn’t reflected by American social policy (and that goes triple for deep red statehouses.)

And as Friedersdorf says, even if you assume that the child was in actual peril there’s no way that the trauma of being separated from her (arrested and now presumably unemployed) mother isn’t a net negative to the welfare of the child.

The Republican War on the ACA Never Ends

[ 109 ] July 15, 2014 |

The Republican Party will never rest until it has stripped tens of millions of people of their health coverage, but at least their latest dumb lawsuit will fall into the symbolic rather than the substantive realm of opposition.

I wonder if Boehner’s stunt will even serve its central purpose, appeasing the Tea Party’s perpetual skree machine. For example, Andrew McCarthy’s new treatise P.S. I AM NOT A CRACKPOT* proposes seven articles of impeachment, “each of which has several subparts.” If the suit is ultimately limited to one narrow issue that will be moot before the suit goes anywhere, it’s hard to imagine this brigade being satisfied.

*The man who caused Pauline Kael to flee film reviewing in horror is impressed: “The Left has the late Saul Alinsky as a model. We have a rejoinder — Andrew McCarthy.” Palajams Media, at the intersection of crank and cliche.

On Zizek and Plagiarism

[ 105 ] July 15, 2014 |

I concur with Michelle Dean:

And two: as a description of the intellectual process, this makes Žižek sound supremely lazy. Copying a summary is indeed a different thing than straight up stealing an idea, particularly if you’re cutting and pasting to criticize. But it still means Žižek was less than personally familiar with the book he’s holding up as a signature example of an evil trend. He’s not exactly setting a shining example of academic rigor, there.

All of these plagiarism panics, of late, share that laziness storyline. Is it just that hitting the top will do you in, make you a target for haters who will comb your work for harmless error? Is it the relentless demand to produce that comes with success that trips people up? Or is it that meritocracy is a total lie and lots of terrible, sloppy work can be so elevated by everyone’s genuflection to intellectual status that it takes years to discover it was constructed with all the finesse of your average Reddit hack?

I’ve been defaulting to that last explanation, myself.

Voodoo Economics in the Sunflower State

[ 208 ] July 14, 2014 |

Kansas Republicans pushed through a series of massive tax cuts.  As always, they were justified as a free lunch — economic growth would be so explosive that revenues would actually rise! How did that work out? 

Instead, job growth in Kansas trails the nation. The state’s rainy-day fund is dwindling to zero. Month after month, revenue comes in even lower than fiscal officials’ most dire expectations.

In the rest of the country, school budgets are finally beginning to recover from the toll of the last recession; in Kansas, they’re still falling. Healthcare, assistance for the poor, courts, and other state services are being eviscerated.

But they have more great ideas!

More tax changes were enacted last year. The top rate was cut to 3.9% in stages through 2018. But other cuts were reversed; much of a sales tax reduction was canceled, and the standard deduction was cut back, effectively raising taxes for the middle- and working-class.

In all, as the CBPP documents, the changes will cut the taxes of the wealthiest 1% of Kansans by 2.2%. The poorest 20% of Kansans will see their taxes rise by 1.3%.

The impact on overall state revenue has been devastating. Despite Laffer’s prediction, the state ended fiscal 2014 with a shortfall of $338 million.

In conclusion, upper-class tax cuts cannot fail — they can only be failed.

On MoDo And Chelsea Clinton

[ 119 ] July 14, 2014 |

I’m surprised it took Dowd this long to glom onto the emerging narrative.  A few points:

  • Chelsea Clinton’s career path so far does indeed reveal several rackets central to the American political economy that are eminently worthy of criticism.  Her $600 K “news” sinecure at NBC certainly represents much of what is wrong with America today.  $75K speaking fees ditto, although since Clinton donates them to the family foundation I’d say she wasn’t the perfect representative of this point (her parents, I agree, are a different story.)
  • As always, I’m dubious about personalizing what are systematic issues, which of course is what Dowd does.  The $600 grand from NBC to do nothing in particular is certainly the symptom of something very wrong and it’s fair game to note that Clinton benefited from it, but we also shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that she didn’t cause the problem. Had Clinton turned down NBC’s money it wouldn’t have gone to elementary school teachers or starving orphans or cancer research; it would have gone to some other pseudo-celebrity to do pseudo-journalism.
  • Dowd strikes me as particularly poorly positioned to tell this as a story of “wanton acquisitiveness” among individuals.  What does Dowd get paid for writing 1600 shallow, consistently fact-challenged words a week?  Does Dowd donate her own speaking fees to charity?

The Final

[ 70 ] July 13, 2014 |

After more than 110 minutes, I finally have a rooting interest — Argentina being shut out the rest of the way to avoid the abomination of penalty kicks.

“The current death score is 159-0.”

[ 243 ] July 13, 2014 |

This Saletan column has been sitting in my tabs for several days, waiting for me to contain my amazement long enough to write about it. Fortunately, Bertram has already beaten me to the punch:

I wonder if Israel’s cheerleaders realize the damage they do their own cause when they write things like “Israel, unlike Hamas, isn’t trying to kill civilians. It’s taking pains to spare them” and “But in the Gaza war, it’s clear that Israel has gone to great lengths to minimize civilian deaths. The same can’t be said of Hamas.”…Anybody who is not parti pris can see that the Netanyahu government has partially contrived and partially been trapped by a domestic political climate that requires them to kill numbers of Palestinians in order to satisfy the Israeli electorate. Of course there’s the usual blather about “operatives” and “terrorist infrastructure”, but it is hard to take seriously the idea that anyone believes this as a description of Israeli aims. In fact nobody does, but lots of people in political power in the West think they have to go along with the story and pay lip service to Israel’s “right to defend itself”, even though concretely this takes the form of airstrikes against densely populated urban areas with predictable civilian deaths. Meanwhile, those who speak for the Israeli government go around claiming that no state could tolerate missiles being fired into its territory and that any state would have to retaliate. This is false, indeed absurd: much of British policy in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and 80s was deplorable, but though the IRA fired plenty of mortar rounds across the border, nobody seriously contemplated taking out “terror operatives” by aerial bombardment of civilian housing in the Irish Republic.

I have only a couple of small points to add. First of all, this is another illustration of why focus on motives in politics is generally misplaced. I also find Saletan’s readings of the relevant Israeli officials implausible, but it doesn’t actually matter whether they sincerely think they’re minimizing civilian deaths or not. They’re using tactics that guarantee many civilian deaths; what the motives are is fundamentally beside the point.

This also isn’t a defense of Hamas’s rocket strikes. They’re both objectionable in themselves and as with most heighten-the-contradictions strategies the chances that they will make things better by making things worse as opposed to just making things worse are roughly 0%. But this doesn’t change the fact that the Israeli response has been grossly disproportionate.

“Many students come to regret that decision, wishing they had never reported the assault in the first place.”

[ 188 ] July 13, 2014 |

Not taking sexual assault seriously, part the far too many. Pretty much every detail is a scandal, but here’s an example:

The woman at Hobart and William Smith is no exception. With no advocate to speak up for her at the disciplinary hearing, panelists interrupted her answers, at times misrepresented evidence and asked about a campus-police report she had not seen. The hearing proceeded before her rape-kit results were known, and the medical records indicating trauma were not shown to two of the three panel members.

One panelist did not appear to know what a rape exam entails or why it might be unpleasant. Another asked whether the football player’s penis had been “inside of you” or had he been “having sex with you.” And when the football player violated an order not to contact the accuser, administrators took five months to find him responsible, then declined to tell her if he had been punished.

And if this is the pass athletes in Division III programs at liberal arts colleges get…well, we know where this is going.

Wanker of the Day

[ 120 ] July 11, 2014 |

Tom Junod.

Runner-up: Mark Kiszla.

Charlie Haden

[ 47 ] July 11, 2014 |

The great bassist, who played was part of Ornette Coleman’s first great band and went to make crucial contributions to plenty of other great music (most famously with Keith Jarrett), has died. I assume Howard will have more recommednations/stories in comments. R.I.P.

Wonderful tribute by Fred Kaplan. Chinen is outstanding as well.

Anti-Labor Practices Are Ends In Themselves

[ 154 ] July 11, 2014 |


I do think krgthulu’s correct that our horrible economic policies exist in part because the super rich like it that way, but I think it’s wrong to think they know what they’re doing. Yes inflation is going to be worse for them than the rest of us, but a shit economy won’t be great for them either. It’s enough that they believe inflation will be horrible for them, it doesn’t need to be true.

That rich elites weren’t begging the government to take the health care nightmare off their hands taught me that they often don’t have any idea what they’re doing.

This point can be illustrated by one of the takeaways from Esther Kaplan’s extraordinary piece about the closing of an extremely efficient lighting fixture factory in Sparta, TN. As she observes, the evidence that chasing lower labor costs by closing domestic factories increases profitability is actually dubious-to-nonexistent. Essentially, the savings you get from cheap labor tend to get eaten up if not exceeded by the additional costs from transportation and warehousing as well as the loss in market share that results from you not being able to get products to customers as quickly. But the stock markets like moving factories to lower labor costs, so they’re rational for managers and owners even if they aren’t in the longterm interests of the company. And the markets reflect the anti-labor assumptions of American elites.

Compensation Is So 20th Century

[ 44 ] July 11, 2014 |

A parable. 

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