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Category: General

The tragi-comedy of the commons

[ 87 ] February 10, 2016 |


Jon Chait points out that the looming Trump Tower casting its shadow over the Babylon of the GOP nomination struggle is a product of a classic collective action problem: it’s in the interest of the Republican establishment as a whole to unify to stop Trump (and Cruz), but doing so isn’t in the interest of individual establishment candidates, unless and until they become the Anointed:

Before New Hampshire, National Review’s Tim Alberta reported that, if Bush finished ahead of Rubio, it might “prove crippling” to the younger Floridian. That proved prophetic. After Rubio’s debate choke, Bush can claim vindication that Rubio is not up to the challenge of a presidential campaign, let alone the presidency. Yet Bush is nowhere close to consolidating Establishment support. He carries the fatal burden of a last name that is a general-election branding disaster, while also being a massive liability within his own party (a shockingly high percentage of Republican voters disapprove of Bush — perhaps as a reaction against his brother, and perhaps as an expression of contempt for his status as a regular victim of Trump bullying). John Kasich has neither the money, the organization, nor the message to plausibly unite his party.

That leaves Bush and Rubio in a death struggle to be the sole alternative acceptable to a party Establishment that loathes both Trump and the candidate who has given Trump his strongest competition, Ted Cruz. The Texas senator may have finished third, but he enjoyed a strategic victory greater than his outright win in Iowa. Cruz saw the crippling of the strongest competition for a candidate of the conservative movement, Rubio. If he finds himself ultimately matched up against either Bush or Trump, Cruz will enjoy something close to unified conservative-movement support.

Trump has performed better than any of his critics (myself included) imagined possible when he first seized control of the race last summer. If he has a ceiling, it’s no lower than that of any of his competitors. His internal opposition has declined. He has gotten better at politics. But he has also benefited from a hapless Republican Establishment that now faces the prospect of a takeover by an outsider it cannot control, and that richly deserves its predicament.

The problem here is not merely game theoretical but ideological: Since the contemporary GOP got a gentleman’s C- in Econ 101 and never took any of the advanced courses, it doesn’t believe in collective action problems, because such concepts suggest that a blessedly unregulated Market might not always be a source of omniscient beneficence for rich people society as a whole.

Anyway the odds of Trump being the next president of the United States are now 24.763% (approximately).


What Happens When You @ a Reason Writer

[ 109 ] February 10, 2016 |

Last night I made the mistake of @ting Reason Writer and enthusiastic Gamergate supporter, Cathy Young. She retweeted my innocuous tweet, sicking her followers on me. I ended up with a bunch of Reason readers/Gaters blowing up my mentions.  Ms. Young never said anything particularly vile or rude to me. (She did refer to me as fauxgressive. I guess because I don’t think alt-right-sympathetic boys have a right to social media platforms so they can dogpile and harrass.) But I do think when you have a much bigger platform than the person your @ting and RTing, you have to use care. She didn’t and I have a feeling she knew she wasn’t using care. So while I won’t count that as harassment, I definitely count it as shitty. I will say, in the interest of being honest and fair, no one in my timeline was particularly abusive or rude. Just obnoxious and obtuse. But, honestly, I’m glad the little dust-up happened because it gave me a chance to organize some more thoughts on the vileness that is Gamergate.

Why I Care More About the General Election than the Primary

[ 210 ] February 10, 2016 |


People don’t understand why I am not FeelingtheBern as much as others. I’m a socialist after all, right? I am actually feeling it to some degree, but between having a cautious nature and being very much a historian, I don’t really do full-throttled cheerleading for anyone. But part of it is also that the general election is about 100 times more important than the primary and that’s what I am gearing up for. This is why it’s more important:

A divided Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to halt enforcement of President Barack Obama’s sweeping plan to address climate change until after legal challenges are resolved.

The surprising move is a blow to the administration and a victory for the coalition of 27 mostly Republican-led states and industry opponents that call the regulations “an unprecedented power grab.”

By temporarily freezing the rule the high court’s order signals that opponents have made a strong argument against the plan. A federal appeals court last month refused to put it on hold.

The court’s four liberal justices said they would have denied the request.

The plan aims to stave off the worst predicted impacts of climate change by reducing carbon dioxide emissions at existing power plants by about one-third by 2030.

This basically means that the climate requirements are going to be overturned based on the constitutional principle of 5 old conservative men hating hippies. Given my belief that a Sanders presidency isn’t going to be able to do anything close to what he is claiming (and honestly, the recent prison promise seems impossible), to me, the general is just far, far more important and where the real choice is to be made. That doesn’t mean people shouldn’t care about the primary. But this is what is shaping my preferring not to write about it too much.

New Hampshire

[ 283 ] February 9, 2016 |


On the GOP side, this was the best possible result for Trump: a blowout win, combined with a continued fracturing of the Not-Trump/Not-Cruz vote. Kasich is polling at around negative two percent in South Carolina and Florida, but it’s not completely unreasonable for him to hope that somehow he’ll now emerge as the establishment darling. Jeb! did just not-horribly enough to trudge on. The night was a total disaster for Rubio, but since he was the favorite to win the nomination until about 17 minutes ago among the very large contingent of pundits etc. who continue to assume that Trump certainly can’t win and Cruz probably can’t, he’s not going anywhere soon. Christie may well stay in it for a couple of more weeks just so he can steal Rubio’s milk money a couple more times.

This is probably the end of the line for both Fiorina and Dr. Carson’s Traveling Medicine Show and 24/7 Griftathon, but they have been total non-factors for weeks now, so their departure affects nothing.

Trump has got to be the solid favorite at this point, as bizarre and terrifying as that prospect is.

As for the Democrats . . . I’m not sure what to think. Yes New Hampshire is a much better state for Sanders than almost all the others going forward, but Clinton did beat Obama here, and she got destroyed tonight. My guess is that this is going to be a real battle now.

New Hampshire Open Thread

[ 297 ] February 9, 2016 |

I’m inclined to stay out of the predictions racket tonight — if the Maple Leafs can dump Dion Phaneuf’s contract and somehow get a second round draft pick back surely anything is possible. Some links:

  • Greg Sargent has a good deep dive into the issue of Clinton and bankruptcy. I think he’s right on both counts. On the narrow issue, I agree that if a (superfluous) yes vote on one version of a bill was necessary to get an amendment that made it better inserted, it’s a worthwhile tradeoff.  But the fact that such an egregiously anti-consumer statute was ultimately able to pass is about as good an example of Sanders’s structural critique of the American political process as you could wish for.
  • What’s much worse than the Donald using a sexist vulgarity is that his strong endorsement of torture was wildly received.
  • Which certainly isn’t to say that Trump’s sexism isn’t also meaningful.
  • Kilgore is good on what happens if the Rubiobot falls back in with the Governors.
  • The Rubiobot also malfunctions on same-sex marriage. (The fact that Rubio went with the “ask your legislators to change the law rather than the DICTATORS in BLACK ROBES” talking point in a state where the legislature in fact legalized same-sex marriage is extra awesome. Admittedly, this shell game is hardly Rubio’s alone.)
  • Ted Cruz wants Supreme Court justices who are human manifestations of the most recent platform of the Texas Republican Party.  The Alitobot rather than the Robertsbot, in other words, as the latter has been programmed to retain a shred of legal principle in a few high-profile cases.

Brown As An Anti-Integration Weapon

[ 31 ] February 9, 2016 |
Mrs. Nettie Hunt, sitting on steps of Supreme Court, holding newspaper, explaining to her daughter Nikie the meaning of the Supreme Court's decision banning school segregation.  Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division LC-USZ62-127042

Mrs. Nettie Hunt, sitting on steps of Supreme Court, holding newspaper, explaining to her daughter Nikie the meaning of the Supreme Court’s decision banning school segregation. Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division LC-USZ62-127042

My colleague Ryane McAuliffe Straus and I have a new paper out, “The Two Browns: Policy Implementation and the Retrenchment of Brown v. Board of Education.” As many of you know, de facto segregation of American schools is on the rise. Part of the reason for this is some crucial Supreme Court decisions, beginning in the early 70s with key votes provided by the 4 justices nominated by the Last Liberal President (TM) Richard Nixon, that essentially provided states with a roadmap for how they could maintain segregated schools with the approval of federal courts. This culminated with John Roberts’s famous Parents Involved tautology, “[t]he way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” In practice, this means that the Supreme Court is now more likely to use Brown to thwart integration than to require it.

One way of describing this is to say that Milliken and its progeny effectively overruled Brown v. Board. The argument we advance here is a little more complicated. One problem with Brown has always been that the Court never actually made clear what states had to do, a problem that was exacerbated by the paradoxical “all deliberate speed” standard of Brown II. In a sense, the Warren Court’s integrationist interpretation of Brown and the Roberts Court’s anti-intergerationist reading of Brown are both consistent with the letter of the original decision, even if the former is much closer to its spirit. One lesson here is that you can’t just look at whether precedents have been formally overruled when determining how much Supreme Court doctrine has changed. No Supreme Court justice has ever suggested that Brown should be overruled, but how the Supreme Court has interpreted Brown has radically changed since 1968. Conservative justices have no need to overrule Brown when they can actually use it as an anti-civil rights weapon.

The Most Offensive Thing Donald Trump Has Ever Done

[ 163 ] February 9, 2016 |


That’s it, Donald Trump is simply not qualified to be president:

Although, as always, given the constituencies he’s appealing to it’s pretty shrewd…

The Rubiobot Is No Poet And They Don’t Know It

[ 156 ] February 9, 2016 |


In light of the latest malfunction of the Rubiobot, some desperate hacks have come up with the idea that the Rubiobot is in fact engaged in a subtle literary technique. This is laughable on its face — the fact that he catches himself during the second “throat” should probably be the tipoff that this wasn’t a deliberate stylistic choice — but nothing is too laughable to make its way to a favorite Republican puke funnel:

He’s a poet like Shelley or Byron!

Dan McLaughlin provides the more hilarious version:

Yes, MLK repeating the same five-word phrase followed by different content each time for effect is exactly like Rubio repeating the same dumb 25-second point three times while being mocked by his debate opponent for robotically repeating his talking points, or for repeating the same talking point during a speech and recognizing your mistake halfway through. Rubio is truly an oratorical and literary genius:

That is not anaphora, because it is not the repetition of the first part of the sentence. This important difference explains why Dickens did not write, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” and why Churchill did not say, “We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, and we shall fight in … France.”

Nor is it part of some poetic device that makes sense if you watch the context of the speech, which I did, and which is just Rubio cycling through his standard stump lines rather than repeating them for some kind of literary effect.

And this is why Rubio visibly hesitates when he is about to say “throats” for the second time. It is the horrified panic of a candidate who realizes he has just done the one thing he desperately needs at this moment not to do.

It will be very meta to see desperate Republicans defend Rubio’s robotic reptition of dumb talking points with the robotic repetition of an even dumber talking point.

India’s Air Pollution

[ 28 ] February 9, 2016 |

The India Gate monument in New Delhi, India, enveloped by a blanket of smog

While all the dialogue on horrible air pollution in the world focuses on China, it’s really awful in India as well. Josh Busby muses on his recent experience with the air of New Dehli and Mumbai to wonder what improvements India might make in pollution and how it might deal with climate change:

We often talk about climate change policy producing co-benefits for other areas and concerns, as if climate is the primary driver of policy. However, as Sarang Shidore and I argue in a piece we wrote last year on China for the Paulson Institute, that logic has it backwards: dirty air creates demand for policies that potentially produce co-benefits for the climate.

In India, Delhi’s air quality has created a political opening for the local government to enact a 15 day experiment of an odd-even driving scheme, limiting drivers to certain days of the week based on the numbers on their license plates.

As Arunabha Ghosh’s institute has documented, it’s unclear if the policy is working. The sources of air pollution of particulate matter (so-called pm2.5) include many other sources, some of which may be more important than commuter vehicle exhaust, including commercial diesel truck emissions, dust from building construction, power plant emissions, and burning of agricultural waste.

But, as Johannes Urpelainen notes, it may not be as important just yet if the policy works. Rather, the local government has put down a marker that this is an area for policy, and public expectations will likely drive further innovation in this space. While New Delhi as the country’s seat of government provides a special sort of pressure for action in the same way that Beijing does, other cities in India are also polluted and may face similar demand for action. Together, the demand for cleaner urban air could lead to a variety of policies that produce climate co-benefits.

Not all policies intended to reduce air pollution will produce co-benefits for climate (relocating coal burning power plants further away from major cities for one wouldn’t). Still, concerns about air pollution may be a far more potent driver of policy innovation to support renewables, fuel efficiency, and mass transit than climate ever would be on its own.

I’ve long been pretty skeptical that India will be able to manage its environmental problems to become a long-term world power. The messiness of its democracy means that change happens very slowly, while those environmental problems are enormous and growing. I think China has a better chance to change because of its command economy, although that’s obviously not easy either. But we need to hope India moves ahead here, both for the good of its own people and for the rest of us.

Bernie Hos*

[ 164 ] February 9, 2016 |

First off the bat I want to say that I have as much interest in the Hillary vs. Bernie war as I did in the Hillary vs. Obama war, in that I have none. If you searched my heart, you’d probably find that I’m excited about the idea of having our first woman president. That being said, I will happily and enthusiastically pull the lever for Sanders should he be the nominee. But to reiterate I have no dog in this fight. None. Not even in a teeny, tiny adorable dog of indeterminate species.

However, I wanted to weigh in Gloria Steinem’s recent comment about millennial women going “where the boys are.” I don’t know exactly how she meant that. I don’t know why she said that. Whatever her intention, I thought the comments were clumsy and hamfisted and came across as condescending and…bad. That being said, I’m still a huge Steinem fan, I’m happy she has since walked back the comment and I really really like Jill Filipovic’s take on what’s going on with Bernie vs. Hillary and the coolness factor. I think it’s an incredibly insightful.

*I don’t think young women who vote for Bernie are hos. I think they’re bright and well-meaning and entitled to vote for their candidate of choice without being condescended to. BUT COME ON I HAD TO MAKE THAT  JOKE.

The AFL-CIO, Black Lives Matter, and Police Unions

[ 53 ] February 9, 2016 |


This is a good piece on how the AFL-CIO is trying to thread the needle between supporting the rights of police unions to collectively bargain and be part of the labor movement and support the millions of people of color in this country, many of whom are also union members, who rightfully fear the violence of those police union members. My position remains the same–that we all need to support police unionism while shunning the police unions from any other form of support. All workers need the right to collective bargaining and there is absolutely zero evidence that busting their unions would do anything at all to address the concerns of Black Lives Matter activists. That said, the police unions are terrible on all political and racial questions and show no solidarity ever with any other unions. But yes, they do deserve collective bargaining rights. Whether that is in the AFL-CIO or not, that’s another question. I don’t think the AFL-CIO has to provide much support for them and I think the future of unionism is far more with workers of color in service industries than in the older police unions. But some of the building trades unions, which are very powerful within the larger federation because of the decline of the industrial unions and soon to be decline of public sector unions in the wake of Friedrichs, are politically much closer to the police unions than BLM activists. So it’s a tricky situation for Richard Trumka and the AFL-CIO. I am glad Trumka is taking a lead on creating dialogue and participating in what are not always friendly meetings with activists to try and build bridges. That’s the hard work.

This Man Will Almost Certainly Win the New Hampshire Republican Primary

[ 121 ] February 9, 2016 |

Not a dime’s worth of etc.

Surely reasonable, moderate, thinking-person’s conservative Marco Rubio will save the party! Let’s see some reviews from his latest series of words next to each other:

Whatever frantic hackathon Marco Rubio’s programmers conducted after Chris Christie demagnetized their creation on Saturday night seems only to have made the existing problems worse, as the junior senator from Florida stumbled through his stump speech on Monday. Maybe try turning it off and turning it back on again?

Then again, when the words coming out of one’s vocabulator speech/sound system are so utterly meaningless, it would be difficult for all but the most advanced artificial intelligence to recall what even the most recent were.

And let’s dispel once and for all with this fiction that Hollywood is not trying to ram stuff down our throats.

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