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Category: General

Is the Roberts Court Becoming Liberal (SPOILER: No.)

[ 156 ] June 29, 2015 |

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Today’s atrocious death penalty and EPA opinions — more on those shortly — should end this meme quickly, but while last week was a good one we really shouldn’t overstate the extent to which last week was a liberal triumph:

On same-sex marriage, then, no qualification is necessary. It’s a flat-out liberal win, comparable to the great landmarks of the Warren Court. With respect to the two other big cases of the week, however, the questions are more complicated.

In King v. Burwell, the Supreme Court turned away the latest ad hoc legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act, with both Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy joining the court’s four Democratic nominees to produce a 6-3 majority. The court determined that tax credits would be available on health care exchanges established by the federal government, rejecting the bizarre argument that Congress went to the trouble of setting up a federal backstop that was designed to fail. It’s hard to overstate the importance of this opinion, which will save millions of people from being denied health insurance and thousands of people from unnecessary death.

But, in another sense, this case isn’t really much of a liberal “win.” The case was premised on bad statutory construction that was used to concoct an utterly preposterous theory of what the ACA meant. In a sense, the fact that conservatives got the court to take the case and three justices to buy the argument shows just how conservative the court is. Had liberal activists, say, gotten three votes at the Supreme Court for a theory that the Bush tax cuts violated the Equal Protection Clause, that really wouldn’t be a sign that conservative thought was ascendant at the Supreme Court.

More at the etc. I will add that you probably want to do a blood pressure test before reading Scalia’s EPA opinion if you’ve read the King dissent.

More on the Obergefell Dissents

[ 85 ] June 29, 2015 |

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A few commenters suggested that I focused too much on the flaws in Kennedy’s historic opinion for the Court Friday and not enough on the infinitely worse dissents. And…they have a point. Part of this is that I never had any doubt about how the case would come out. I didn’t bother to point out Roberts’s endorsement of stop-hitting-yourself theory because the outcome of the case was much less certain and as long as he arrived at that outcome how he did it was far less important (and, in addition, apart from that lapse the opinion was a home run.) It was easier to quibble with Kennedy because I knew he’d do the right thing in his vote, which isn’t entirely fair. Certainly, some fuzziness and rhetorical overreaching seem relatively trivial when compared with Scalia’s SCORCHING HOT TAKES.

Fortunately, many smart people have produced excellent commentary on the bankrupt dissents. Judge Posner:

Related to the preceding point, the chief justice’s dissent is heartless. There is of course a long history of persecution of gay people, a history punctuated by such names as Oscar Wilde, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and Alan Turing. Until quite recently, many American gays and lesbians took great pains to conceal their homosexuality in order to avoid discrimination. They value marriage just as straight people do. They want their adopted children to have the psychological and financial advantages of legitimacy. They are hurt by the discrimination that the dissenting justices condone. Prohibiting gay marriage is discrimination.

Justice Samuel Alito’s dissent, to which I turn briefly, ascribes to the states that want to forbid same-sex marriage the desire “to encourage potentially procreative conduct to take place within a lasting unit that has long been thought to provide the best atmosphere for raising children. They thus argue that there are reasonable secular grounds for restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples.” That can’t be right. States that forbid same-sex marriage do not do so in an effort to encourage gays and lesbians to marry people of the opposite sex and thereby procreate. The nation is not suffering from a shortage of children. Sterile people are not forbidden to marry, though by definition they do not procreate. There is no greater reason to forbid gay marriage, which is actually good for children by making the children adopted by gay couples (and there are a great many such children), better off emotionally and fiscally.

Alito says that states that want to prohibit same-sex marriage “worry that by officially abandoning the older understanding, they may contribute to marriage’s further decay.” This doesn’t make sense. Why would straight people marry less and procreate less just because gay people also marry and raise adopted children, who, but for adoption, would languish in foster homes?

He adds: “Today’s decision usurps the constitutional right of the people to decide whether to keep or alter the traditional understanding of marriage.” But why should the people who control a state have the right to deny the right of some of their fellow citizens to marry, without a reason? Alito has no answer.

Michael Dorf:

None of the points made by the dissenters withstands critical scrutiny – not least the claim that because marriage originated as an institution to address accidental procreation by heterosexuals, a state has a rational (much less compelling) interest in forbidding gay and lesbian couples from participating in the modern institution of marriage.

Still less persuasive is the dissenters’ repeated insistence that this case differs from prior marriage cases because those cases did not involve the definition of marriage. To quote Justice Antonin Scalia’s acerbic dissent, “Huh?” Would the eight Justices who signed onto the fundamental rights portion of Loving v. Virginia have reached a different conclusion if the Virginia statute defined marriage as an institution between a man and a woman of the same race?

Chief Justice John Roberts, in the principal dissent, sets forth the most elaborate argument, but fundamentally he makes three points: (1) there is a difference between support for same-sex marriage as a policy matter and as a constitutional matter; (2) premature constitutionalization of a right that cannot yet be said to be deeply rooted in the nation’s history and traditions risks undermining long-term support for the right because defeat of the anti-same-sex-marriage position in the democratic process would be more acceptable; and (3) the majority’s logic opens the door to claims such as a right to polygamy. Beyond that, his dissent repeatedly compares the ruling to Lochner v. New York, citing the case a whopping sixteen times.

Nearly all of what the Chief Justice says would work equally well as an argument against all unenumerated rights, indeed, against all judicial decisions that draw inferences from vague language contained in enumerated rights as well. The other dissents do not fare better.

[…]

Justice Scalia replies: “If, even as the price to be paid for a fifth vote, I ever joined an opinion for the Court that began” in this way, “I would hide my head in a bag.” This from a Justice who – just in cases that are centrally relevant to the issue in Obergefell – once began a dissent by accusing the Court of mistaking “a Kulturkampf for a fit of spite” (as though Prussian anti-Catholic policies were an appropriate model for Colorado’s treatment of its gay and lesbian minority), in another dissent compared same-sex intimacy to bestiality, and in a futile effort to read Loving as having nothing to do with evolving values, invented his very own inaccurate text of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Forget about the bag. Justice Scalia should not appear in public except in a full burka.

Both are worth reading in their entirety.

Book Review: Alex Gourevitch: From Slavery to the Cooperative Commonwealth: Labor and Republican Liberty in the Nineteenth Century

[ 22 ] June 29, 2015 |

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I don’t read much, or really any, political theory at this point in my life. It’s an important field but I have little background in it and the start-up cost of time and energy to read difficult texts is high. But political theorists can often add a great deal of context to the ideological framework of political movements. And so I was quite interested in reading Alex Gourevitch’s From Slavery to Cooperative Commonwealth, which is an exploration of how the Knights of Labor and other workers’ movements of the 19th century reframed ideas of republicanism in order to demand Independence from exploitative captialism.

Because of my lack of a background in political theory, I am writing this review in the context of how the book is useful for the U.S. historian. Framing his story with the biracial organizing of the Knights of Labor in Louisiana, which led to the Thibodaux Massacre, Gourevitch argues that the Knights created a rhetoric of freedom that could appeal to African-Americans because it was about not having masters of any kind. This brought together African-Americans’ lived experiences and memories of slavery with working people of all races who had new demands for emancipation from their employers. Ideally, the Knights hoped workers could create cooperative institutions that would allow them to be truly independent and avoid the tyranny of capital altogether.

This master-slave language was a significant transition in the history of republican thought. The two key points for Gourevitch is a) republicanism had largely been an elite language in the past and b) slavery was a real live thing in the United States and when it was gone, workers could then use that language to serve their own purposes. On the first, 19th century workers appropriated this elite language around independence and virtue to describe the world of labor relations. Slavery and elite republicanism had been tied together from the Greeks and Romans to the Founding Fathers in Virginia. Life in the United States challenged this in a number of ways, creating not only working class definitions of it, but most prominently, abolitionists who tried to disconnect the need for chattel slavery from American republican thought. Abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison completely rejected workers’ claims to be slaves, often in vociferous terms, because workers were not unfree like slaves and therefore the comparison were not apt. Economic dependence was not unfreedom.

But the defeat of slavery then solved the abolitionist objection to worker use of this language, or at least made that appropriation less of a threat to their political project. With one form of slavery undone, workers sought to use republicanism to undo what was becoming a new and increasingly powerful form of unfreedom: the employer-employee relationship of the Gilded Age. The issue of independence was at the core of labor’s critique of this new system. The changes in American work developing before the Civil War began to create widespread changes to workers’ independence and freedom. If they labored for 12 hours but only made enough money to buy goods that took 4 hours to produce, that was 8 hours a day being stolen from them by their employer. And even if contracts were enforced fairly, the conditions of control had become so bad after the Civil War that workers were still oppressed. They didn’t make enough money to withhold their labor from employers, so the system was already unequal. Then the contract ceded total control of the workplace to the employer. Ultimately, only cooperative workers organizations could allow workers to escape this system of capitalism and regain their independence. A cooperative republic would challenge the dominant system of production and give workers control over their lives again.

This book gets at another key issue in American history, which is how a Republican Party that ended slavery and sought rights for free blacks during Reconstruction could then turn around and not only crush workers movements, but talk about unions in apocalyptic terms. But these two things were not contradictory in the mindset of Republicans. Garrison himself could celebrate black freedom in terms of “independent laborers by voluntary contract.” But what did “voluntary” mean? For mainstream Republicans, it was the conditions an employee agreed to when he (most likely) agreed to take a job. This construction of freedom did not have any room for other forms of compulsion like the need to eat or put a roof over your head. Freedom did not have to extend any farther than compulsory labor at the point of a lash. The Supreme Court itself roundly rejected the idea of alternative forms of tyranny in the Slaughterhouse Cases of 1873 when white New Orleans butchers said a new law forcing them to work at a single private institution violated the 14th Amendment by violating their economic independence and placing them in servitude. From there through Lochner, Gourevitch takes readers through how the courts routinely found that freedom of contract was true freedom, ignoring the increasingly unequal realities of Gilded Age society that led to the rise of the Knights in the 1870s and 1880s as a response.

Gourevitch also helps us understand the Knights’ unfortunate position toward immigrants, especially the Chinese and eastern Europeans. Labor republicans held themselves and other workers to very high standards because they believed the cooperative republic would have to rest on the morality of its members. These standards could easily not be fulfilled. They would them blame workers for their own failings. Given the racial milieu of the late 19th century, blaming workers for their own problems could easily morph into racial characterization. However, Gourevitch doesn’t really get into how the Knights managed to include African-Americans into this system when the Chinese and eastern Europeans could not be. That’s a weakness of the book, but you can read Joseph Gerteis’ Class and the Color Line for an understanding of that. Unfortunately, that book is not cited in Gourevitch’s bibliography, even though it was published in 2007. Interestingly, the two books use the same image for their cover.

Gourevitch does not shy away from the modern implications of his study in the New Gilded Age, noting that “who is subject to whose will” is a key question today. (177) Like in the 19th century, employers are using unnecessary power against workers to hurt their lives, such as cracking down on bathroom breaks to use Gourevitch’s example. He suggests the positives of using labor republicanism rhetoric and moving toward cooperative enterprises today. Personally, I’m really skeptical that cooperative enterprises can succeed on any large scale. But as I have argued before, one of the similarities between the two Gilded Ages is that in both cases, working people were smacked in the face by a radically transforming capitalism that left them figuring out just what the heck happened to their lives searching for any alternative to that system. So any alternative should be on the table today.

Ultimately, Gourevitch wrote a book that goes a long way to explaining some of the trickier and most often misunderstood intellectual trends in American history.

LePage

[ 72 ] June 29, 2015 |

Maine Governor

Paul LePage is a very special person. I have to wonder whether in the entire annals of American politics, an executive has been such an asshole to have united both political parties against him to the point of the legislature unanimously overriding vetoes. If so, I certainly don’t know about it. And yet this man managed to be elected by the voters of Maine not once, but twice!

Of course, we can certainly blame Eliot Cutler, the pointless third party vanity candidate for this to a certain extent. Nader ’16: Third parties in American politics never lead to horrible outcomes!

Scorsese

[ 56 ] June 28, 2015 |

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National treasure Martin Scorsese on The Third Man

About four months ago, I screened a beautiful 35mm print of the picture for my daughter and her friends. “Why do we keep watching this?” I suppose it’s [Joseph] Cotten and [Alida] Valli – that’s the emotional core of the picture. For instance, the scene where Holly Martins (Cotten) finally goes to her apartment. He’s a little drunk, and he tells her he loves her and he knows he doesn’t have a chance. That’s when she says, “The cat only liked Harry.” So that leads right into the great revelation of Harry Lime in the doorway with the cat – which is iconic. But it’s more than that – it’s one of the great epiphanies in movies: the cat turning the corner and nestling itself on those wing-tip shoes, and then Harry Lime being revealed when the light is turned on in the doorway and it shines in his face.

Remember Walker Percy’s great novel The Moviegoer? He refers to that moment in such a beautiful, special way. It became a moment internationally, a shared experience for a vast audience seeing that film. It’s not just a dramatic revelation – there’s something about Orson Welles’ smile at that point that shifts everything to another level, and it sustains no matter how many times you see it. Welles comes into the picture about halfway through. That’s the first time you actually see him, after you’ve spent so much time picturing him in your mind because everyone has been talking about him and thinking about him. So that might be the best revelation – or the best reveal, as they say – in all of cinema.

The Third Man is of course amazing, but I’ll leave discussing it to Scorsese. What makes Scorsese so great is two things. First of course are his films. It would be nice if he stopped making pointless projects to the late era Stones because when he sets his mind to a story, he still almost always makes a good film. But at this point can do what he wants. Second is his effusion about film, a joy that is truly contagious. Part of this is his natural manic energy but much of it is his pure love for film that has influenced his whole career, yet not turned him into Brian DePalma, ripping off scenes from his favorite movies and sticking them into his own. That might be fine once such as with the famous Battleship Potemkin into The Untouchables baby carriage, but this has turned into a schtick. Anyway, Scorsese isn’t going to be around forever and when he’s gone, there is no possible replacement.

Grace, Amazing

[ 253 ] June 28, 2015 |

I’m a tough sell when it comes to both the rhetoric of politicians and religious rhetoric, but Obama’s eulogy on Friday really was quite extraordinary:

Transcript here, although I agree with Fallows that it demands to be seen. Full video can be found here.

Removing the flag from this state’s capitol would not be an act of political correctness; it would not be an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers. It would simply be an acknowledgment that the cause for which they fought — the cause of slavery — was wrong — (applause) — the imposition of Jim Crow after the Civil War, the resistance to civil rights for all people was wrong. (Applause.) It would be one step in an honest accounting of America’s history; a modest but meaningful balm for so many unhealed wounds. It would be an expression of the amazing changes that have transformed this state and this country for the better, because of the work of so many people of goodwill, people of all races striving to form a more perfect union. By taking down that flag, we express God’s grace. (Applause.)

But I don’t think God wants us to stop there. (Applause.) For too long, we’ve been blind to the way past injustices continue to shape the present. Perhaps we see that now. Perhaps this tragedy causes us to ask some tough questions about how we can permit so many of our children to languish in poverty, or attend dilapidated schools, or grow up without prospects for a job or for a career. (Applause.)

[…]

None of us can or should expect a transformation in race relations overnight. Every time something like this happens, somebody says we have to have a conversation about race. We talk a lot about race. There’s no shortcut. And we don’t need more talk. (Applause.) None of us should believe that a handful of gun safety measures will prevent every tragedy. It will not. People of goodwill will continue to debate the merits of various policies, as our democracy requires — this is a big, raucous place, America is. And there are good people on both sides of these debates. Whatever solutions we find will necessarily be incomplete.

But it would be a betrayal of everything Reverend Pinckney stood for, I believe, if we allowed ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again.

Why Are SSM Rights Doing Better Than Reproductive Rights

[ 223 ] June 28, 2015 |

Chris Neal/KANSAN

I don’t think Erik and I actually disagree, but since I’ve seen a variant of this argument going around I think it’s worth clarifying an important point. As of now, the right to same-sex marriage is secure in all 50 states; reproductive rights are not, and the trend in some states is getting worse. This might, on the surface, seem to be a reflection on the strategies applied by activists.

But it’s really not. Here’s the thing: in the states most aggressively restricting reproductive rights, there was zero chance Republican-controlled statehouses were going to legalize same-sex marriage rights. And despite the gains that LBGT activists have made in changing public opinion, these states aren’t about to provide civil rights protections to gays and lesbians either. Here are the reasons why same-sex marriage is more secure in red states than reproductive rights:

  • Anthony Kennedy is much more sympathetic to gay and lesbian rights than to reproductive rights
  • That’s it.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that supporters for reproductive freedom shouldn’t fight for everything they can. But the brutal truth is that until there’s a median vote of the Supreme Court nominated by a Democratic president things are going to continue to get worse no matter what activists do.

The Single Stupidest Conservative Talking Point

[ 43 ] June 28, 2015 |

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With a blog post title like this, I confess that there are lots of stupid conservative talking points. But the winner is “derp, modern Democrats are the real racists because Jefferson Davis and Robert Byrd were racists, derp.” This is in fact the single stupidest conservative talking point. Of course the National Review, noted magazine of segregationists and apartheid supporters, is happy to float that argument out in reference to the Confederate flag. Nikki Haley of course is the real civil rights hero.

I also appreciate how such arguments completely leave out the active support of Republican presidential candidates for the flag. When you are this hackish, might as well go all the way.

July 2015: Probably a Very Bad Month for Abortion Rights

[ 92 ] June 28, 2015 |

Been feeling good about the nation in the last few days? Well, that’s fine and all. It’s the weekend. Now get back to fighting to preserve basic reproductive rights for women that are under severe attack from your Confederate-flag waving, gay marriage hating states.

If the Supreme Court doesn’t step in by the end of June, almost every abortion clinic in Texas will stop providing terminations, leaving only eight clinics in six cities to offer services to the 27 million people in its borders. That scenario is devastating. It also might not be the worst thing we see happening as July unfolds. July 1 is also the implementation date of a number of laws that were passed this legislative session, and depending on certain judicial decisions the state of abortion access may be dramatically changing starting in just a few more days.

A last-minute temporary injunction of Kansas’s new ban on D&E abortions will keep that state from losing the ability to offer abortion services past the first trimester, a situation that would have occurred otherwise as of July 1. District Court Judge Larry Hendricks announced on Thursday that the ban will be put on hold for now while litigation surrounding the law continues. Without the injunction, abortion clinics must either induce labor to end a pregnancy that has proceeded past 14 weeks gestation, or simply tell the patient to carry her pregnancy to term.

Meanwhile, July 1 is also the start date of a new 48-hour, face-to-face waiting period the Tennessee legislature passed earlier this spring. That waiting period, as well as a law requiring all abortion clinics meet much more stringent, medically unnecessary “ambulatory surgical center” regulations, was signed by the Governor in May and also will be enforced at the first of the month. A request for an injunction was filed late on June 25, and it is unclear yet if a judge will block it.

One never knows what Anthony Kennedy will actually do so maybe the Court does step in here. I remain skeptical. The gay rights movement has had a lot more victories in recent years than the women’s movement and one can argue that gay men now have more rights than women of any sexual orientation. The fight for freedom must include the right to accessible abortion. That’s in real trouble for large swaths of the nation.

Book Review: Jacob Darwin Hamblin, Arming Mother Nature: The Birth of Catastrophic Environmentalism

[ 15 ] June 28, 2015 |

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When teaching about postwar America, I always tell my students that just about anything that happened in this nation during the Cold War has its roots in Cold War politics or fed back into Cold War issues. Jacob Hamblin’s 2013 book Arming Mother Nature demonstrates how this is true for what he calls “catastrophic environmentalism,” or the idea that human activities will transform the world in shocking and horrible ways. Hamblin shows how this thinking comes straight out of the military-industrial complex that was researching how total war of the quite possible World War III would also be an environmental war. By using biological weapons and detonating hydrogen bombs, the death of millions of people could bring a nation to its knees. But in planning for these future wars, the military also needed to understand just how turning the environment into a catastrophe would affect humans. Thus the same scientists that were developing these weapons were also providing early ecological understanding of how humans impacted the planet. The apocalyptic language of people like Paul Ehrlich and Rachel Carson makes a great deal of sense in this context, when much of our early environmentalism used Cold War language as a response to the threat of technological development to the planet. After all, those researching and promulgating Cold War doctrine used the exact same language to describe their own plans.

American scientists expected to arm nature in war against the USSR. World War II scientists had already explored this sort of warfare and the Japanese had gone forward with it. To briefly quote Hamblin “scientists in the decades after World War II worked on radiological contamination, biological weapons, weather control and several other projects that united scientific knowledge of the natural environment with the strategic goal of killing large numbers of people”(4). This could be everything from experiments with bull semen and seed storage to help Americans survive such an attack to destroying regional food supplies to starve nations into submission or launching disease bombs to spread deadly illness. In all of these plans, scientists wanted to deploy nature itself as a weapon.

But wouldn’t such warfare kill millions of Americans as well? Sure, but these scientists held two strong beliefs that made them optimistic about long-term recovery. First, they largely did not believe humans could really control nature in the long term. Thus, they might make short-term alternations that could win a war but in the long term nature held all the cards and the old natural balance would eventually be restored. Second, they believed Americans had a better capacity to rebuild their society than the Soviets because they felt the American free market economy would recover more quickly than socialist state planning. Pure ideology at play here.

The Soviets, North Koreans, and eastern Europeans did accuse the Americans of actually deploying these plans, such as the Czechs blaming the expansion of the Colorado potato bug across their nation on American biological warfare. But mercifully, actual deployment remained largely theoretical, even if Al Gore Sr. suggested dumping all of our nuclear waste on the border between North Korea and South Korea to stop any further communist incursions. But far too much of this program did become active in Vietnam where the U.S. engaged in significant environmental warfare through the use of napalm and other herbicides. Students at Penn discovered in 1966 that one of its chemistry professors was researching a government project to create diseases in rice that could be used in Vietnam. This not only led to campus protests in the country but a rethinking of ethical relationships between scientists and the government, leading to pressure for academic scientists to break ties with its military sponsors working on biological warfare.

Interestingly, the overwhelming public and international reaction to American environmental warfare led Richard Nixon to harness the growing popular movement of environmentalism to his own international agenda. Nixon decided to sacrifice the most far-fetched parts of the American environmental warfare program such as weather control and biological weapons through international treaties in order to save what mattered to him–the nuclear program. He tapped into not only the rhetoric of ecocide coming out of the anti-Vietnam movement but broader environmentalism to make him seem like a strong leader on the issue, but always within a Cold War context. First, he forced NATO to create a committee on environmental issues for collective security around the issue. Then he tried to make the U.S. the international leader on the environment, leading to the Stockholm conference of 1972 and the UN Environment Programme. Nixon had shed the U.S. of programs that now seemed more trouble than they were worth, made himself look like a global environmental leader, and ensured that the core mission of U.S. military research remain untouched. Smart politics if typically cynical.

My one critique of the book is that when discussing the rise of environmentalism, Hamblin does not really engage with how it was a truly a popular movement and how such catastrophic ideas affected the grassroots either before or after people like Barry Commoner, Carson, and Ehrlich wrote their famous books. Particularly frustrating is how he defines Nixon in this environmentalism, noting “many of the key pro-environment national developments came during his presidency, including the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.” (190) I have said many times on this blog, this says almost nothing about Nixon and much about the overwhelming congressional majorities responding to popular pressure that passed these bills. In the bigger picture of the book, this is pretty minor and I realize that Hamblin is not a bottom-up historian of the environmental movement, but I don’t see how reinforcing myths about Nixon the environmentalist is useful.

Finally, the question of whether catastrophic environmentalism is effective in dealing climate change remains a bit unclear. Hamblin does not come down strongly on this issue, but he’s a bit skeptical. He notes that the major problem with such claims is that they are fairly easily debunked and notes how Bjorn Lomberg has taken up that mantle on climate change. Yet it’s unclear to what extent Lomborg has really made much difference in these debates and I think far more effective is what Hamblin notes earlier–the embrace of free-market economics and use of patriotism to attack environmentalism as well as the belief that humans can’t really truly control the natural world that finds its way into right-wing talking points around the earth naturally warming or extinction or other parts of the “debate.” The end of the Cold War ended the threat of catastrophic warfare but not the language or culture that rose up around it, attitudes that still influence both environmentalism and those who oppose the environmental movement.

In truth, this complex and fascinating book has a lot more going on than I can say here. You should read it.

Happy Hour

[ 90 ] June 27, 2015 |

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This debate over whether happy hours should be banned, as they currently are in Illinois, has a clear answer: no. I have lived in states with happy hour. I currently live in a state that does not have them. I don’t see a discernible difference in people’s behavior after work. What happens here is food-based happy hours or evenings like $1 oysters that effectively do the same thing to get people in the door. The real issue here is with driving after going to happy hour. And that’s an important problem. But it’s also a manageable issue. First, a lot of people going to happy hour are going to be responsible citizens. Second, a lot of those people in a city like Chicago are already taking public transportation because driving into the heart of the city to go to work is unpleasant. Third, bartenders can be strict about how much they serve. Fourth, we know from a lot of experience that prohibitionist policies don’t work. We’ve all seen plenty of people at bars who are completely irresponsible no matter what the prices of drinks are. Offering a slightly lower drink price for a couple of hours is not going to radically change the number of people who are doing so.

I suppose in an ideal world, either nobody would need to drink at all or we would not have cars and free public transportation should shuttle us rapidly from place to place so that drunk driving would never be an issue. Neither of these things will ever happen. So given that, the question is how to manage it. Ultimately, if people want to get loaded, they are going to do so no matter what the state says about it. Promoting responsible drinking, training servers and bartenders to watch out for customers who are drinking too much, encouraging taxis and public transportation, and offering low-priced food to go along with the drinks are all policies that will encourage a positive result while also offering bars and restaurants a new line of business. I thought the opinion that suggested happy hours would help bars offset the likelihood of higher minimum wages was sensible and reinforces how we can create a policy that helps everyone here.

Again, none of this is dismissing the severe problem of drunk driving. But not allowing Illinois residents to go to a happy hour is not going to solve that problem.

Big Win in the Fight for $15

[ 1 ] June 27, 2015 |

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Big victory for home health care workers in Massachusetts. The workers and their union, SEIU, came to an agreement with the state government to raise their minimum wage to $15 by July 2018. That’s still pretty far off given that they already make at least $13.30. But it’s also the first statewide agreement in SEIU’s Fight for $15 campaigns and that’s well worth noting and celebrating.

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