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On Perez/Ellison

[ 273 ] December 30, 2016 |


I think Jeff Stein gets it right. To summarize:

  • This is not an ideological dispute. Both Ellison and Perez are solidly on the left of the party, and anyone who thinks Perez is a neoliberal is an ignoramus and/or a massive dumbshit. (Yes, yes, Perez nominally supported the TPP. But leaving aside the idiocy of defining a public official’s politics based on One True Issue — a process by which you can conclude that anyone is a heretic — all this means it that he was a member of the Obama administration. The Secretary of Labor doesn’t set trade policy.)
  • Both would, at worst, figure to be massive improvements over Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, admittedly for a position many people seem to think is vastly more important than it is.
  • There are two obvious points in Ellison’s favor for this particular job: his experience as an elected official and the fact that he’s already shown an ability to unify diverse factions within the party. Perez was an outstanding Secretary of Labor and should have been Clinton’s VP nominee, but I don’t see what he would bring to this particular job that would overcome those advantages.
  • So while Perez would be good, Ellison seems like the best choice.

…and, now, the strongest reason for supporting Ellison:

Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz said Friday he’ll leave the Democratic Party if Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) is appointed the next chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

“I’m going to tell you right here on this show, and this is news – if they appoint Keith Ellison to be chairman of the Democratic Party, I will resign my membership to the Democratic Party after 50 years of being a loyal Democrat,” Dershowitz told the Fox Business Network.


“You Know, You’re a Nasty Guy.”

[ 136 ] December 30, 2016 |


David Farenthold, one of the few national campaign reporters who could emerge with his or her held high, one what it was like to cover Trump properly.

The fact that the Clinton Foundation — a philanthropic organization that has saved millions of lives and entailed no significant misconduct by the Clintons despite the very real potential for conflicts of interest — received considerably more sustained critical coverage than the Trump Foundation — a straight-up grift — is, in a nutshell, the story of the coverage of the 2016 campaign. Whether it was motivated by animus towards Clinton, an implicit assumption that Clinton should be treated as the president-elect, or the need to find false equivalence, a lot of vulnerable people are going to suffer because most campaign journalists failed massively. Kudos to Farenthold for actually practicing journalism.

Bad Applications of Anti-Harassment Law Should Not Be Used to Justify Mostly Eliminating Anti-Harassment Laws

[ 186 ] December 29, 2016 |


I agree with the bottom line of Eugene Volokh’s analysis here: Shurtz’s foolish decision to wear blackface at a party to which her students were invited is not legal harassment and, as an isolated incident, should not be a firable offense. (Although I remain unclear what exactly the sanction is: is it just a temporary suspension with pay? Is the university moving to fire her?) But there are a couple of problems with Volokh’s analysis:

Shurtz had told the students that she would be “going as a popular book title”; she didn’t tell the students up front what it was, but the book was the recent (and acclaimed) “Black Man in a White Coat,” a black doctor’s “reflections on race and medicine” (according to the subtitle). Shurtz’s “costume incorporated a white doctor’s lab coat, a stethoscope, black makeup on her face and hands, and a black curly wig resembling an afro.” The university report states that Shurtz “was inspired by this book and by the author, that she greatly admires [the author] and wanted to honor him, and that she dressed as the book because she finds it reprehensible that there is a shortage of racial diversity, and particularly of black men, in higher education.”

But many people find whites putting on makeup to look black to be offensive. I’m skeptical about the soundness of this view: The university report justifies the view by saying that “Blackface minstrelsy first became nationally popular in the late 1820s when white male performers portrayed African-American characters using burnt cork to blacken their skin” and that “wearing tattered clothes, the performances mocked black behavior, playing racial stereotypes for laughs” — but it doesn’t follow to me that wearing black makeup without mocking black behavior or playing racial stereotypes for laughs should be perceived as offensive. Nonetheless, it is a fact (though one that Shurtz apparently didn’t know) that many people do, rightly or wrongly, view this as offensive. (For more on this, see this post.)

Oh come on. I’m sure that Shurtz had an elaborate rationalization for why her use of blackface was a subtle attack on racism, but 1)the reaction to her use of blackface was entirely predictable and not in the least irrational and 2)it is beyond belief that Shurtz was unaware of the likely reaction. To state the obvious, the students seeing Shurtz in blackface were highly unlikely to be aware of the context of a fairly obscure year-old book and to immediately make the association. They were much more likely to see an affluent white woman wearing blackface, and to be perfectly reasonably offended by this. In an academic setting — and while it was a party at her house, if you’re inviting students from an ongoing class you should be acting as if it’s a classroom — you have to consider your audience and the context from which they’re viewing your actions. Here’s a handy rule: if you’re a white person and wondering whether you should wear blackface, the answer is “you shouldn’t.” And if you’re not wondering you probably should be.

Again, I don’t think Shurtz’s actions were in themselves legal harassment and I think they are therefore protected by the First Amendment and, like George Ciccariello-Maher’s witless and counterproductive tweets, by principles of academic freedom. But if you’re going to defend them on the merits or implicitly criticize the students who were offended, that’s where I get off the bus. A plea to my fellow white academics: if you want to try out your edgy race-related material, there’s probably an open-mic night at a local comedy club. Even if you were the next Richard Pryor, which you almost certainly are not, it’s unlikely to be an effective pedagogical technique, and it undermines the equality and dignity of your students.

This is even more disturbing:

I often hear various speech restrictions defended on the grounds that “harassment” isn’t protected speech. As then-Judge Samuel Alito noted, “There is no categorical ‘harassment exception’ to the First Amendment’s free speech clause.” (Saxe v. State Coll. Area School Dist. (3d Cir. 2001).) But beyond that, it’s important to understand how “harassment” has morphed into basically “any speech that the authorities view as offensive based on race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, and so on.” Bans on “harassment” aren’t just bans on targeted, unwanted one-to-one speech (such as traditional telephone harassment) or even repeated speech about a particular person (though even such speech about people, I think, is constitutionally protected unless it falls into the exceptions for true threats or defamation).

There are very real dangers in over-broad interpretations of anti-harassment law, and I think the University of Orgeon was guilty of that here. But there are also real dangers in excessively narrow interpretations of what constitutes harassment, and I think Volokh is guilty of that here. He would seem to be implying, for example, that no amount of sexual interest shown by a faculty member towards a student could constitute harassment barring something like a direct quid pro quo threat to lower grades if sexual favors are not granted or something similar, and at public universities hitting on students is not conduct but speech protected by the First Amendment barring a direct threat. This is also wrong. There will always be marginal cases and line-drawing is not always easy, but “anything but true threats or defamation is protected” is drawing the line in the wrong place. But one danger of administrative over-reaching is that it gives ammunition to libertarian skepticism about anti-harassment law.

A Primary Target in the War on Reproductive Freedom Speaks

[ 204 ] December 28, 2016 |


Jia Tolentino’s interview with a woman who aborted a non-viable fetus at the 32nd week of pregnancy is amazing:

Did you consider carrying to term despite that?

This is another fun side note. I was already going to have to have a C-section no matter what, because two years ago, I’d had brain surgery. And my doctor checked with the neurosurgeon, who wouldn’t sign off on a natural birth. They were afraid that if I pushed, something might go on in my head, so the delivery had to be a C-section. And so we were considering putting me through major abdominal surgery for a baby that’s not going to make it, or risking that I go into natural labor and something pops in my head and I die, basically.

To be clear, if the doctors thought there was any way he might make it, I would have taken that chance. I truly would have put myself through anything. What I came to accept was the fact that I would never get to be this little guy’s mother—that if we came to term, he would likely live a very short time until he choked and died, if he even made it that far. This was a no-go for me. I couldn’t put him through that suffering when we had the option to minimize his pain as much as possible.

So you’re going to Colorado.

There are a few doctors in the country—four of them, you interviewed one of them—who will do this. But my doctor had previously referred patients to Dr. Hern, who’s in Boulder. He’s this 78-year-old man who’s been doing this for decades, who developed a lot of the abortion procedures that we know to be the most safe. He’s had 37,000 patients and he’s never lost anyone. And he’s a zealot, but he has to be. There are websites dedicated to offering money to kill him; his practice has four layers of bulletproof glass. They’ve been shot at. He was there during the Roe v. Wade decision. He’s been through it all. And the only other peer he had at his level was Dr. Tiller, who was killed in 2009.

In theory, legal restrictions on post-viability abortions are more defensible than those on pre-viability abortions. But whenever I ask what’s practically wrong with Canada’s regime, which leaves the judgment to a woman and her doctor at every stage of pregnancy, I basically get a series of buzzes and pops in response. The idea that later-term abortions are too easy to obtain in the United States is…not easy to defend. Indeed, anti-abortion terrorism has made obtaining late-term abortions anybody but the most hardcore anti-abortion fanatic would concede are medically justifiable enormously difficult.


[ 71 ] December 28, 2016 |
Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan, left, shakes hands with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, right, after introducing him during a campaign stop at the First Niagara Center, Monday, April 18, 2016, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan, left, shakes hands with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, right, after introducing him during a campaign stop at the First Niagara Center, Monday, April 18, 2016, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

I see the inevitable happened while I was on a plane.

On the question of whether Ryan’s firing was justified, it’s obviously a no-brainer. I don’t actually think one game under .500 is a huge underachievement, overall, with this roster. The problem is that Ryan took over a defense that was among the best of the league and it’s 24th in DVOA this year after being 24th last year. If Ryan’s defense is massively underachieving, there’s not much added value there. His track record as a defensive coach is outstanding, but he’s just done a flat-out bad job in Buffalo, failing to adapt both to his personnel and to changes in the league. Like most old-school rah-rah coaches he’s awful tactically (it’s fitting that his Bills and probably NFL head coaching career ended by deciding to punt 4th-and-2 with 4 minutes left in OT). And if Belichick embodies the Casey Stengel definition of loyalty, Rex hiring his brother the year after Rob presided over one of the worst defenses in NFL history is more the Dean Skelos definition. If you’re going to do something like that it had better work, and predictably it failed miserably. He needed to go.

And yet, as the local reporters have also concluded, I don’t really understand why the buck stops only with Rex. Whalley has assembled a stars-and-scrubs roster that’s pretty light on stars. The problem is especially glaring on offense. Shady is a great player but is extremely expensive for a running back in 2016, Watkins is a great receiver when healthy but not notably greater than the three other receivers the Bills could have had without giving up an extra first rounder, Clay is a decent but massively overpaid TE, and…that’s pretty much it (with Taylor being Ryan’s guy.) If Bills ownership think giving this roster to Anthony Lynn or Tood Haley or Darrell Bevell is going to result in a contender…good luck with that. Rex isn’t the only person in the Bills organization whose philosophy seems to be to look at what Belichick does and do the opposite.

George Michael

[ 243 ] December 27, 2016 |

I won’t claim to have been a huge fan of the prematurely deceased icon, although I admired his craft and enjoyed some of his songs. Maura Johnston makes the case for him as a major artist and interpreter. I do agree that it’s easy for the creators of great pop songs to be underrated because they seem so inevitable once they’ve implanted themselves in your brain, willingly or otherwise:


Obstructionism Works

[ 98 ] December 26, 2016 |


And thanks to Mitch McConnell’s blockade, the neoconfederates are coming:

Donald Trump is set to inherit an uncommon number of vacancies in the federal courts in addition to the open Supreme Court seat, giving the president-elect a monumental opportunity to reshape the judiciary after taking office.

The estimated 103 judicial vacancies that President Obama is expected to hand over to Trump in the Jan. 20 transition of power is nearly double the 54 openings Obama found eight years ago following George W. Bush’s presidency.

Confirmation of Obama’s judicial nominees slowed to a crawl after Republicans took control of the Senate in 2015. Obama White House officials blame Senate Republicans for what they characterize as an unprecedented level of obstruction in blocking the Democratic president’s court picks.

The result is a multitude of openings throughout the federal circuit and district courts that will allow the new Republican president to quickly make a wide array of lifetime appointments.

State gun control laws, abortion restrictions, voter laws, anti-discrimination measures and immigrant issues are all matters that are increasingly heard by federal judges and will be influenced by the new composition of the courts. Trump has vowed to choose ideologues in the mold of the late Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative icon — a prospect that has activists on the right giddy.

If I didn’t know better, I’d think that which of our nearly interchangeable neoliberal parties wins presidential and congressional elections has far-reaching consequences.

NFL Open Thread, Turtle-Racing Edition

[ 110 ] December 24, 2016 |


Driving down the Pacific Coast Highway the other day, we saw Brennan’s, which proclaimed itself “Home of  Turtle Racing Since 1972,” complete with a flashing neon turtle line. Some internet research established that it is not only still the home to weekly turtle racing but is also the preeminent Broncos bar in Marina Del Ray. [Insert joke about Broncos offense since Peyton Manning became “Peyton Manning” and/or joke about AFC South divisional race here.] Still, unless you’re a Browns fan remember than your offense could always be worse.

Meanwhile, a couple of commenters have noted that Magary’s least influential list is out. Alas, he’s not really able to cite one of the most obvious candidates, “Most of Deadspin’s male editors” — it seems safe to say that both “C+ Econ 101 justifications for not bothering to vote will really stick it to neoliberalism” and “elaborate, ostentatious nose-holding before only with the very greatest reluctance voting for the very, very slightly less neoliberal of America’s two interchangeable neoliberal parties in a completely safe Democratic state like Pennsylvania” are genres that have not worn well. But it’s an entertaining list. Particularly recommended:

Billy Bush
This guy got $10 million to fuck off from Access Hollywood forever. We’re now living in a world where Billy Bush is worth $10 million to someone. How is that possible? I could replace Billy Bush with a fern and get the exact same ratings. At least the fern wouldn’t ask movie stars asinine questions about what it was like to work with Mandy Moore. And yet, consider the outcome for the two men involved in that pussy-grabbing video: Bush got $10 million, and Trump got elected president. We are so, so fucked.

Cameron Crowe
He was on this list last year for Aloha, but did you know he made a TV show this year? You probably forgot all about Roadies, but I didn’t. Perhaps you thought Vinyl was the nadir of shitty boomer music porn in 2016? Wrong! Look at this poster. Does ANYONE on that poster resemble an actual roadie to you? The average roadie weighs three bills and will spit on you if you get in the way of his rolling bass cabinet. Cameron Crowe should be banned for life from making any movie or TV show with a music theme. This is for his own good.

Can I interject here that while it’s at least watchable — thank you, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, R.I.P. — unlike Jerry McGuire or anything Crowe has done since, Almost Famous is hugely overrated?

Peyton Manning
With that defense, the Denver Broncos could have put in a Duralog at quarterback and won the Super Bowl. In fact, the Northwestern scrub they dug up to replace Manning currently has better numbers than he did last year. So excuse me if my cockles are not warmed by the idea of The Sheriff (what a terrible nickname) getting a proper sendoff after 18 years of hawking pizza and flapping his arms at the line of scrimmage while shouting “OMAHA” and having every TV announcer lovingly cradle his surgically-fused balls.

Jonathan Safran-Foer
I’m gonna put aside the mixed (at best) reviews that Safran-Foer and get right to the emails. Remember the rumor that Safran-Foer left his wife in 2015 because he was madly in love with actress Natalie Portman—only he forgot to tell Portman this BEFORE ending his marriage and discovering the feeling wasn’t mutual? Well! This year, in a very literary PR stunt for the New York Times Magazine, Safran-Foer and Portman made public a bunch of the emails from their exchange, and they are a treasure trove of reciprocal, 21st century navel-gazing. They also somehow avoid mentioning any of the juicy stuff. Instead, we get a lot of this:

“Freedom might not be a prerequisite for the expression of passion—it helps, sometimes, not to be able to follow your instincts—but they are strongly intertwined. How do you think about freedom? When do you most strongly wish you had more of it? When do you most strongly wish you had less?”

God, he must have been so hard-up. I’ve seen Trump make more effective come-ons.

I certainly don’t claim to have read the latest JSF, but since it’s apparently a cross between Jonah Lehrer’s book about love and an Aaron Sorkin script about Middle Eastern politics, I’m willing to live with that.

Happy football/holidays!

The Party of Trump

[ 170 ] December 23, 2016 |


Here’s Donald Trump’s New York co-chair and former Republican candidate for governor for the state of New York:

Artvoice: What would you most like to happen in 2017?

Carl Paladino: Obama catches mad cow disease after being caught having relations with a Herford. He dies before his trial and is buried in a cow pasture next to Valerie Jarret, who died weeks prior, after being convicted of sedition and treason, when a Jihady cell mate mistook her for being a nice person and decapitated her.

Artvoice: What would you most like to see go in 2017?

Carl Paladino: Michelle Obama. I’d like her to return to being a male and let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe where she lives comfortably in a cave with Maxie, the gorilla.

Remember: Democrats practice identity politics, Republicans are bracingly POLITICALLY INCORRECT.

Don’t Blame Loretta Lynch For James Comey’s Subversion of Democracy

[ 66 ] December 23, 2016 |


Sari Horowitz has a good deep dive into the crisis that James Comey’s announcement that he intended to subvert a presidential election because he wanted to send a letter based on no information about a trivial pseudo-scandal created. First, for the “let’s just move on and focus on how someone who will never be a presidential candidate again sucks” crowd:

Into that vacuum stepped Comey, an FBI director who prides himself on having a finely tuned moral compass that allows him to rise above politics. [LOLLOLLOLLOL — ed.] Weeks before the letter, Comey had advised against the Obama administration public statement admonishing Russia for the Democratic Party hacks, arguing it would make the administration appear partisan too close to the election. But to him, the Clinton email investigation was different.

Battered by Republican lawmakers during a hearing that summer, Comey feared he would come under further attack if word leaked about the Clinton case picking up again. He was surprised by the intensity of the reaction to his letter, according to people familiar with Comey’s thinking. His reputation fell further after the FBI acknowledged three days before the election that the emails amounted to nothing.

Working the refs works. The idea that we should just let Comey throwing the election go — even though outrage is eminently justified on the merits! — is insane.

Since Comey’s selective unwillingness to intervene in the election leaves absolutely no doubt about his egregious misconduct and partisan hackery, his allies have no choice but to find people to shift the blame to:

Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard Law School professor and senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, said that the controversy shines a light on Lynch’s compromised position and failed leadership as attorney general.

“If she thought [the letter] violated department policy or was otherwise a bad idea, she could have ordered him not to send the letter,” said Goldsmith, who noted that soon after the letter was released, Justice officials proceeded to criticize Comey when Lynch had the power all along to stop him. “It was an astonishing failure of leadership and eschewal of responsibility, especially if Lynch really thought what Comey did was wrong.”

I trust the problem with this argument is obvious. Had Lynch ordered Comey not to send the letter to Congress, word would have nearly-instantaneously leaked out of the Federal Sieve of Investigation. Hence, the final days of the campaign still would have been dominated by coverage of Hillary Clinton’s EMAILS!, only with Lynch being cast in the John Mitchell role of trying to cover up the wrongdoing apparently uncovered by straight-shooting, nonpartisan, FIERCELY INDEPENDENT FBI director James Comey. This strikes me as as bad or worse than what did happen. Given how close Comey’s actions were to the election, he held all the cards. If he was determined to egregiously violate department rules and norms and insert baseless but highly prejudicial innuendoes about Hillary Clinton into the campaign, Lynch couldn’t stop him; she could at best affect the form in which the information came out. And, of course, “I can’t be blamed for my grossly unethical conduct because my supervisor should have stopped me!” isn’t much of a defense in the first place.

Horowitz has a second, marginally more plausible candidate to share the blame:

At first, the staffers could not tell who it was. But then, as the man got close to the airplane steps, one of the staffers said with surprise, “Is that Bill Clinton?”

It was. Clinton had just wrapped up a fundraiser for his wife and arrived at the tarmac to fly out of Phoenix. His Secret Service detail tipped him off that Lynch was there, too, and he sent word that he wanted to say hello.

Lynch felt she could not say no to the former president, who 17 years ago promoted her to U.S. attorney. Once inside the plane, Lynch said that she, Clinton and her husband discussed their travels, Clinton’s grandchildren, golfing and Brexit.

But as the visit dragged on, Lynch became anxious. The Justice Department was still conducting an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email practices during her tenure as secretary of state. Lynch had just wanted to say a quick hello to Bill Clinton, and now they had been talking for close to half an hour.

Clinton’s decision to meet with Lynch was a dumb, tone-deaf decision by someone who pretty clearly has lost quite a bit off his political fastball. But it didn’t materially alter the fundamental dynamic. It was a further disincentive against Lynch intervening and telling Comey to keep his yap shut, but the ability of Comey and his allies to leak his intention to inform Congress was in itself sufficient to give Comey all the leverage.

Lynch’s decision to try to persuade Comey to do the right thing was almost certainly her best option under impossible political circumstances. Comey’s decision to violate norms and rules to intervene in the election although he had no information about a gnat fart of a scandal, a decision that led to Donald Trump becoming president contrary to the will of the electorate, is his and his alone.

Anything Could Be Finer

[ 62 ] December 22, 2016 |


When it comes to subverting election results and racist vote suppression the efficiency of the North Carolina legislative machine is unsurpassed. When it comes to trying to eliminate bigotry that’s hurting the state economically, not so much. Jesse Helms may be dead, but politically it’s still his state.

BREAKING! Republicans Don’t Care About Deficits

[ 292 ] December 22, 2016 |


Here’s another key takeaway from the story about the Freedom [sic] Caucus I referenced earlier:

Republicans in the House Freedom Caucus may be shifting their uncompromising, tough budget stance under President-elect Donald Trump, according to a report in the National Review.

According to the piece, there is discussion underway to accept that just 50 percent of Trump’s infrastructure bill would have to be offset with spending cuts elsewhere– a precedent that they never would have accepted under President Barack Obama.

After Trump was first elected, members of the House Freedom Caucus were vocal about their opposition to some of Trump’s costly legislative priorities like a $1 trillion infrastructure bill.

Needless to say, by “50%” they mean “0%.”

Republicans are going to massively cut upper-class taxes, and they will dole out some more gooodies to business. They will cut social programs, perhaps quite drastically, but not by nearly enough to pay for the tax cuts. And they just don’t care.

To dream in technicolor for a minute, perhaps the next time (if any) Democrats take over the federal government again, they will remember this. Under the current partisan configuration, caring about deficits makes you a massive sucker. All that cost trimming done to make the ACA fiscally responsible? All gone. Even if some elements of the program survive, the tax hikes are gone. And if the subsidies had been more generous, the better parts would be more likely to survive. It was bad politics and accomplished less than nothing substantively in the end. When Dems get power, they should pass what programs they think need passing, raise whatever taxes can be raised, but don’t worry about deficits. Republicans don’t care, and more importantly whatever voters think in the abstract they don’t care in practice either.

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