Subscribe via RSS Feed

Author Page for Scott Lemieux

rss feed

Remember How Nixon’s Price Controls Destroyed the Democratic Party?

[ 75 ] August 18, 2014 |

Thomas Frank has another in his “why doesn’t Obama use his unilateral authority to cause the Republican Party to spontaneously combust” series up:

President Obama is in the doldrums. He has run out of ideas, and out of gas. His strongest supporters are in the grip of a morbid fatalism. There is nothing the president can do any longer, they sigh, because of the intransigent Republicans in the House of Representatives. The great days of the Obama presidency are behind us, everyone seems to believe, and the most this once-promising president can do now are hold convenings and issue small-bore executive orders while awaiting a round of midterm elections that are likely to go against him. Oh, woe is he.


There is also still an opportunity for momentous, headline-making, consensus-shattering deeds. Each of the following three ideas would move the country in the direction Obama has always maintained he wanted to move us—toward accountability, away from inequality, toward a healthy middle class. And each of them is sufficiently big that it might make a difference this fall.

I know! If Obama was actually willing to do something, he could take major executive action to address, say climate change. Or discrimination against gays and lesbians. Or immigration reform. Or maybe he shouldn’t bother, since something has changed in 2009 and for some reason these issues are all now at best of minor interest to progressives, just like massively expanding health insurance coverage for the poor.

Frank’s three proposed ideas aren’t bad ones, even if the framing is silly. More aggressive prosecution of financial fraud, sure, although I don’t think getting convictions upheld under actually existing federal statutes and actually existing federal courts is quite the slam dunk Frank suggests. More aggressive antitrust enforcement, quite possibly, although I’m pretty dubious about returning to Johnson-era standards. I’m not sure that bringing expensive litigation to, say, block the merger of the 3rd and 8th biggest shoe companies in the country is the best use of scarce prosecutorial resources. And while this could have benefit consumers I see no evidence that it would meaningfully reduce inequality — small businesses aren’t notable for providing better pay. Increasing college tuition is a serious problem, and Obama perhaps should be doing more, but much of the proposed action here is vague or unworkable. (I’ve written before about my puzzlement with the tendency of some leftier-than-thous to fetishize Nixon’s wage and price controls, but what seems most salient here is that the latter didn’t actually work.)

Whatever the merits of these ideas, however, I do know that 1)taking action on them would not meaningfully affect the outcome midterm elections, and 2)would not cause the Republican coalition to collapse. If bold executive action on important issues was what was necessary to win midterm elections, all of the actions Frank ignores would already be sufficient. I really have no idea why the value of pretending otherwise is supposed to be.

Varieties of Academic Boycott

[ 29 ] August 18, 2014 |

Michael Dorf, in his follow-up post on the University of Illinois’s violation of academic freedom:

As Brian Leiter notes, there is a move afoot to boycott the University of Illinois in response to its un-hiring of Salaita. I dislike academic boycotts generally, and I think it especially odd to boycott an academic institution on free speech grounds. Better, it seems to me, to try to persuade (rather than coerce) the University to correct its error.

Since I signed the statement put forward by members of my discipline, I thought I should clarify exactly what this boycott entails. This is the statement in its entirety:

Dear Chancellor Wise: we the undersigned will not visit the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus until Professor Salaita is reinstated to the position offered him by the faculty and which he had accepted in good faith.

This can be fairly described as a boycott, but I don’t believe that it in any way conflicts with the principles of free speech and academic freedom at stake in this case. Nobody is under any obligation to accept a speaking invitation as an individual, and declining to appear on campus would often mean forgoing honoraria; the costs are not solely offloaded on the other party. This seems like a form of speech and persuasion to me.

Some form of academic boycotts do, I think, conflict with academic freedom. If the statement suggested that UI U-C scholars should be denied invitations to campus, or blacklisted from conferences, or have similar sanctions imposed, I would not have considered signing it. I can’t speak for the statements of other disciplines, but the political science statement is very narrowly drawn and I think it is clearly consistent with principles of academic freedom.

Today’s Drug Warrior Nonsense

[ 58 ] August 17, 2014 |

I’m generally a fan of Tyler Kepner, but yikes this is a really bad argument:

Alas, Steinbrenner acknowledged that Rodriguez would be back next season. No surprise there: Teams tend not to cut players to whom they owe $61 million for the next three years.

“I know my brother-in-law ran into him in the city, says he looks good, he’s fit,” Steinbrenner said. “You know Alex is a hard worker; Alex will be ready. We just have to go from there, see how he does and how he responds to playing every day in spring training.”

Rodriguez is a hard worker? Oh, please. His repeated reliance on performance-enhancing drugs shatters that myth. But this is the kind of nonsense we will hear, again and again, when Rodriguez takes over this team’s air space next spring.

This comes after a defense of the completely indefensible penalty given to A-Rod, natch. Being “insufferable” is apparently suffucient cause for imposing a punishment of more than three times what the collective bargaining agreement properly calls for.

Anyway, if you hate the use of PEDs in sports that’s your privilege, but the idea that because ARod took PEDs he’s therefore not a hard worker is absolutely absurd. Nobody becomes a 4.0 WAR player at age 35 by sitting on the couch eating Ho-Hos. This fallacy, though, I think is why so many sportswriters are completely freaked out by steroids in ways they aren’t freaked out by other forms of cheating (or, in the case of baseball players who used PEDs before the testing and punishment regime was collectively bargained, “cheating.”) They seem to believe that you can just take a pill or a shot and are magically transformed into a far better athlete. But that’s not how it works, at all. Indeed, perhaps the most important reason PEDs enhance performance is that they allow athletes to heal more quickly and hence train harder. They might enhance bang for the workout buck as well, but at the top level they’re not going to do anything for you if you’re not working extremely hard. The idea that one of the greatest athletes to play any American professional sport is a lazy bum because he took PEDs is silly and insulting.

If Kepner thinks that PED users are lazy, I would invite him to try to ride three legs of the Tour de France in successive days and then phone up Lance Armstrong and tell him he’s not a hard worker.

Academic Freedom For Me…

[ 104 ] August 16, 2014 |

You will be unsurprised that Glenn Reynolds has no problem with academics being fired for the political content of their Twitter feeds:

A FACULTY CANDIDATE WHO TALKED ABOUT BLACK PEOPLE THIS WAY WOULD BE UNEMPLOYABLE ANYWHERE. SAY IT ABOUT JEWS, THOUGH, AND IT’S CONTROVERSIAL. “Yet ad hominem attacks are also a BDS strategy that serves to silence opponents. Many faculty who believe the university made the right decision about Salaita are now unwilling to say so publicly.” BDS people have made clear by their actions that they are nasty antisemites who deserve no respect.

First of all, let us once again dispense with the silly idea that Salaitia was a mere “candidate,” despite having agreed to an offer and been scheduled to teach classes.  By this logic, he could have been teaching for a month and not been hired.  The trustee approval is pro forma; he was treated by the university as an employee, which he was.  The idea that he wasn’t fired is such vacuous formalism it would embarrass proponents of the Hilbig litigation.  He was fired.

So let’s consider another hypothetical.  What if someone said “something like that” about, say, Palestinians?  I happen to have a test case handy:

Note here that Reynolds isn’t talking about Hamas, or Palestinian terrorists; he’s talking about Palestinans as a group. The evidence alleging anti-Semitism in Salaita’s tweets is far more ambiguous. (Indeed, I don’t think they constitute evidence that Salaita is anti-Semitic at all, although some of the tweets are hateful and indefensible even if they are not anti-Semitic.) It is being asserted that Salaita retweeting a tweet saying that a reporter’s story — not the reporter, the story — should have ended at the “point of a shiv” is a firable offense. Reynolds has called for the literal, not metaphorical, murder of Iranian nuclear scientists.

My position at the time of the latter incident is that Reynolds could not be fired for his statements based on the principles of academic freedom, and that applies to his new disgusting tweets as well. Reynolds himself, however, is happy to benefit from these protections but does not want them extended to people he disagrees with, which is a disgrace.

…in comments, IB refers us to this excellent post from Michael Dorf:

Some​ supporters of the university’s decision point to the often-important distinction between firing and not hiring. Academic freedom, they point out, is mostly a matter of contract law, and because Salaita had not yet been formally hired by the University of Illinois, he was not entitled to the same protection as someone who was already a member of the faculty.

But that view appears to be false as a matter of contract law. Like many other states, Illinois law offers protection to people who, in reasonable reliance on an offer that falls short of a fully enforceable contract, take actions to their detriment. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed this principle of “promissory estoppel” as recently as 2009, in the case of Newton Tractor Sales v. Kubota Tractor Corp.

Salaita has an almost-classic case of promissory estoppel. He was told by Illinois that trustee approval was essentially a rubber stamp, and in reliance on that representation he resigned from his prior position on the faculty of Virginia Tech.

REAL MEN Follow Illegal Orders Without Complaint

[ 26 ] August 15, 2014 |

Jesus Christ, what a pathetic operation Tucker Carlson is running.

It’s not easy to out-hack a Joe Scarbrough/Mike Allen tag team, but they did it.

Perry Indicted

[ 45 ] August 15, 2014 |

I’m as contemptuous of Perry as anyone, but this seems really thin.  To the extent that the statute reaches Perry’s behavior, itself kind of a stretch, it’s hard to see how the statute is consistent with the separation of powers established by the state constitution.

…more here.  And here.

Hacks of the Day

[ 125 ] August 14, 2014 |
  • Dylan Byers. What can you even say at this point?
  • Good point by Harold Pollock about the most offensive of Kevin Williamson’s recent offensive columns.  Even leaving aside the flagrant racism, the premise of the article is idiotic.  Yes, when Republicans were in charge of the state government East St. Louis was just like Paris!
  • Cary Nelson asserted last week that Steven Salita “had not received a contract.”  So the question is whether he was dissembling or pretending to know things he didn’t.  At any rate, what’s left of his argument is that retweeting someone’s metaphorical criticism of a pundit is a firable offense if it’s done to advance a political position Cary Nelson doesn’t like.  Whether this would leave any remaining content to the concept of “academic freedom” I leave to the reader.

The Militarized Police

[ 57 ] August 14, 2014 |

Serwer puts Ferguson in context:

These heavily armed men are part of a more recent tradition: the militarization of American police. They are, like domestic surveillance, weapons built to fight a faraway war turned homeward. Hands-up is how black people survive nonviolent protest in the era of what author Radley Balko calls the “warrior cop.”

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the Department of Defense has transferred $4.3 billion in military equipment to local and state police through the 1033 program, first enacted in 1996 at the height of the so-called War on Drugs. The Department of Justice, according to the ACLU, “plays an important role in the militarization of the police” through its grant programs. It’s not that individual police officers are bad people – it’s that shifts in the American culture of policing encourages officers to ”think of the people they serve as enemies.”

Since 2001, the Department of Homeland Security has encouraged further militarization of police through federal funds for “terrorism prevention.” The armored vehicles, assault weapons, and body armor borne by the police in Ferguson are the fruit of turning police into soldiers. Training materials obtained by the ACLU encourage departments to “build the right mind-set in your troops” in order to thwart “terrorist plans to massacre our schoolchildren.” It is possible that, since 9/11, police militarization has massacred more American schoolchildren than any al-Qaida terrorist.

And this is only one critical component of the story; definitely read the whole thing.

Thursday Wednesday, Although Still Clickable Thursday, Links

[ 56 ] August 13, 2014 |

Speaking of the NYT Magazine

[ 19 ] August 13, 2014 |

Hacktacular! I especially like Draper’s assertion that he was citing the Pew data (that completely disproves the core assertion of his article) because Reason‘s advocacy polling was kinda sorta doing the same thing.

After This Strained Comparison, Ms. Dowd Was Put on the 60-Day DL

[ 71 ] August 13, 2014 |

Maureen Dowd, really:

As our interview ended, I was telling him about my friend Michael Kelly’s idea for a 1-900 number, not one to call Asian beauties or Swedish babes, but where you’d have an amorous chat with a repressed Irish woman. Williams delightedly riffed on the caricature, playing the role of an older Irish woman answering the sex line in a brusque brogue, ordering a horny caller to go to the devil with his impure thoughts and disgusting desire.

I couldn’t wait to play the tape for Kelly, who doubled over in laughter

So when I think of Williams, I think of [Michael] Kelly. And when I think of Kelly, I think of Hillary, because Michael was the first American reporter to die in the Iraq invasion, and Hillary Clinton was one of the 29 Democratic senators who voted to authorize that baloney war.

Let’s leave aside the nutty ethnic/gender politics, as much as they explain. I obviously have no problem with attacking Clinton on her Iraq War vote, particularly since she’s currently re-vindicating those of us who supported Obama in the 2008 primaries on foreign policy grounds. I’m not sure what it’s doing in a a Robin Williams remembrance, but whatever.

But Michael Kelly as a passive victim of the Iraq War? Really? Dowd is apparently hoping we’ve forgotten that Kelly was not merely a fanatical Iraq War supporter, but one of the most disgustingly jingoistic and demagogic ones. “That Kelly was brave in going to cover the combat,” Tom Scocca observes, “does not change the fact that he chose to be bold with other people’s lives.” Here, for example, is Kelly after Al Gore criticized the proposed invasion of Iraq:

Gore’s speech was one no decent politician could have delivered. It was dishonest, cheap, low. It was hollow. It was bereft of policy, of solutions, of constructive ideas, very nearly of facts — bereft of anything other than taunts and jibes and embarrassingly obvious lies. It was breathtakingly hypocritical, a naked political assault delivered in tones of moral condescension from a man pretending to be superior to mere politics. It was wretched. It was vile. It was contemptible. But I understate.

The column goes on to call Gore an idiot for saying that Osama bin Laden and other architects of the 9/11 attacks remained at large while Bush was busy preparing an invasion of a country that had nothing to do with 9/11. It must be read to be believed, although I don’t particularly recommend it. More here. I don’t wish death on anyone, but to pretend that Kelly was just a disinterested journalist rather than an influential proponent of the “baloney” Iraq War, please.

On a related note, I see that Dowd will now be writing for the NYT magazine. I assume her assignment will be to take over the “let’s do a point-by-point comparison of people with vaguely similar names” thing. (This week: Jean Vajean and Jean-Claude Van Damme! Are you laughing yet?) For virtually every writer in the world, including those who write obituaries, this assignment would make their writing less funny. But for Dowd, it would be exactly the right level in terms of both intellect and wit.

…see also. And here.

Standing Athwart History, Indeed

[ 142 ] August 12, 2014 |

It seems right that in the same week Kevin Williamson argued that as long as you ignore African-Americans American federalism has been awesome, he would also write something like this:

There are a few lines in here that a good editor would cut but could be waved off as unwitting bad judgment — the Heart of Darkness reference, three fifths, making fun of the hair. But when the writer also decides the best comparison for a young black kid’s behavior is a monkey and to gratuitously question his parentage, there’s really not much question, is there?

There’s also the unstated humor of Williamson describing his subject as “racially aggrieved,” as if the description does not apply to Williamson himself, or as if the kid’s aggrievedness is not, in this case, warranted.

I assume that the National Review was looking for someone who combined John Derbyshire’s racial politics and the pretentious pseudo-intellectualism of Roger Kimball, and on these criteria the Williamson hire has to be considered a major coup.

Page 4 of 716« First...23456102030...Last »