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Category: General

A bspencer Post that DOES NOT Reference Something 30-Years-Old

[ 26 ] July 26, 2014 |

Some of you may know that there is a new hashtag/tumblr site featuring women who are “against feminism.” But most of you probably didn’t know about Confused Cats Against Feminism. It’s as awesome as it sounds. Sadly, my cat is against feminism too. “Feminism” means my arm, right?

The True Meaning of Tragedy

[ 340 ] July 26, 2014 |

The real tragedy going on in Israel-Palestine is not the hundreds of dead or the kids the Israelis are killing by bombing Gaza’s schools, or the fact that Israel is the moral equivalent of apartheid-era South Africa (increasingly so too given the attack on public debate and the left within Israel). Although all of those things are true, the real tragedy is how the events are affecting rich expats partying in Tel Aviv:

For the 20,000 or so young internationals who call Tel Aviv home, the city’s world-renowned nightlife is a key draw. But many, like Fruchter, are simply not in the mood to party with the sounds of sirens wailing in the background and the death toll rising by the hour in Israel’s latest war in Gaza.

Athena Karp, a 28-year-old former Philadelphian who runs her own startup in the city, says her usually very active social life has slowed down in recent weeks, but especially since the Israeli ground incursion, when it began affecting her friends, colleagues and employees more directly. “We were supposed to have a going away party for a friend who was leaving the country, and we decided to cancel it,” reports Karp, who moved to Tel Aviv two years ago. “A few of my friends also had birthdays, but we didn’t throw any parties for them. We just felt this wasn’t a time for celebrations.”

So. Very. Sad.

A Thing Somebody Actually Wrote

[ 75 ] July 26, 2014 |

Hey dude, if you’re going to go all leftier-than-though with me on the subject of sex work, you might wanna ease up on the word “whore.” 

The Chamber

[ 11 ] July 26, 2014 |

Did the Chamber of Commerce create an anti-business wingnut Congress by becoming a hard-core Republican partisan group? I don’t know, but perhaps it is in the Chamber’s interest to support some Democrats. I am less convinced it in the interest of working people for the Chamber to support Democrats since Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown are going to do much more for everyday people than Mary Landrieu and the Democratic Party is much better off not having Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson in it.

The Mexican League

[ 28 ] July 26, 2014 |


My wife is a historian of Oaxaca, a state in southern Mexico. So that means that I spend some time here when she is doing her work. Such is now. It’s not exactly a vacation, as I am finishing the edits on one book and the manuscript on another, but the work is interspersed with an amazing lunch every day, the likes of which you would be jealous of if you understood how awesome the food is in Oaxaca. Seriously, just put Oaxacan food in Google Images.

Anyway, Oaxaca is home to a Mexican League team, the Guerreros. And over the last two summers, I have had the great enjoyment of attending some games. The Mexican League is considered AAA level. I’d say this is a bit generous. There are decent number of ex-major leaguers in it. There are also some serious out of shape players and poor fundamentals at times. It’s probably more akin to AA except without the future stars that often play there. But it is quality baseball overall. A lot of pitchers throwing in the mid to high 80s with some hard throwing relievers who have too many control problems to stick in the majors.

Like in AAA games, one of the joys of seeing a Mexican League game is recognizing the ex-major leaguers. The Tijuana team for instance has a great collection of washed up major leaguers holding on, including Russell Branyan, Miguel Olivo (no word if he has bitten off the ear of any players yet), Jose Contreras, and Ramon Ortiz. That’s pretty sweet. The Guerreros are led by former Orioles catcher and Oaxaca native Geronimo Gil, who is now in his late 30s, really slow, but still has some pop. This team also has Eliezer Alfonso, who played a few years, mostly for the Giants and Padres and evidently with the Mariners but I don’t remember it. Last night, they were playing the Quintana Roo Tigres, a team noted for having the very tough home town to play in of Cancun. They were led by Karim Garcia plus 30 pounds since he last played in the majors a decade ago.

While you’d think the food at a Mexican League game would be great, especially in Oaxaca, you’d be wrong. Mostly it’s even worse versions of American ballpark food than you’d get in the U.S. Bad nachos, revolting looking hot dogs and the like. There are some standard empanadas you can get covered in onions that are OK. On the other hand, you can sit right behind home plate for 50 pesos (about $4) and buy a tallboy of Victoria for 30 pesos. So that ain’t bad.

And then there’s Tato and the cheerleaders. Tato is the mascot you see above. He is like a character The Simpsons would have created back when it was good in the 90s. He’s the mascot with big-time attitude. At one game last year, he was out between innings doing his thing. He pulled out a chair and sat on it. A female mascot that looked the same but with long hair came out. She then proceeded to give him a lap dance. This was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen at a ball game. At another game, he put a can of silly string up to his crotch and sprayed it toward the fans behind home plate. The cheerleaders are a whole other deal. 6 or 7 young women wearing very skimpy costumes, doing dance routines a couple of times a game between innings, and getting their picture taken with young Mexican boys whose fathers are training them in heteronormativity. Or with the occasional American frat bros who show at the game and who make me want to be Canadian.

The game was pretty good. Despite the Quintana Roo pitcher having no control, he managed to go 5 innings and give up 1 run thanks to two of the worst baserunning mistakes I’ve ever seen live. The Tigres went up 4-1, but a 5 run 8th brought Oaxaca back. This was great because the crowd was going crazy. They have organized chants. A guy was playing a cowbell with a screwdriver handle (last year there was a very old man banging a drum the entire game. He wasn’t there this year, which worries me). They also started doing the Tomahawk Chop to stereotypical “Indian” music from westerns like they play at Braves and Florida St. games. Now this is interesting because here you have people engaging in Indian “savage” stereotypes which I hate–except that nearly everyone in that stadium was at least part is not full blooded indigenous. I don’t think they had any ethnic identity with North American Indians. It’s just what you did. Life is complicated.

Anyway, the Guerreros closer came in for the top of the 9th to Hells Bells. Not original but still effective. He got the 1st batter out easily and then the control went away big time. By the time there are 2 outs, Quintana Roo has scored a run and there are men on 2nd and 3rd. Karim Garcia is up. He hits a groundball to the first basemen. Slight bobble which means he can’t run it to 1st himself. The pitcher is slightly late getting to the bag. Bang-bang play but because Garcia can’t run anymore because he’s kind of out of shape, he’s out after sliding headfirst into the bag. Game over. Oaxaca wins 5-4.

Good times if you are ever in Mexico.

Today In Republican Minority Outreach

[ 34 ] July 25, 2014 |

In case you were wondering, parody is still dead.

Expropriation is a Good Answer to This Problem

[ 41 ] July 25, 2014 |

Coal billionaires are the best people:

Coal mines owned by billionaire James Justice II have been cited for more than 250 environmental violations in five states with unpaid penalties worth about $2 million, according to sources and records obtained by Greenwire.

Violation notices — including many cessation orders — from the federal Office of Surface Mining (OSM) and state regulators have been issued for Justice mines in Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia, records show.

Justice, a coal baron whose net worth is estimated by Forbes at $1.6 billion, also owns West Virginia’s storied Greenbrier Resort. He sold many of his mines in 2009 to Russian steel and mining giant Mechel OAO. “The coal business is terrible,” Justice told the Associated Press last year. “It’s just terrible, and we’re doing everything in our power to stay open.”

I’m sure that even if the government can get the $2 million out of Justice’s blood-stained hands, it will really stop him from committing more violations, given that the equivalent is for the government to fine me a penny for something. Justice lights more money than that on fire for the hell of it.

But this is just great:

He’s not without support in Appalachia.

“Sure, he’s had some help from the state with tax credits and partnerships. Sure, some have raised questions about some of Justice’s companies’ practices, late payments, regulatory fines and the like,” said an editorial in the Charleston Daily Mail.

“Yet, while many talk of diversifying the state’s economy in the face of market and regulatory setbacks for the coal industry, Jim Justice and company are doing something about it. They are bringing investments and tourism dollars that are rarely, if ever, seen at that level in southern West Virginia.”

So someone tell me–what precisely is this tourist money the coal industry is bringing to West Virginia. The state does bring in plenty of tourists–to play in the beautiful mountains. I don’t recall the mountaintop removal operations replacing those mountains as a real generator of outdoor activity or fun. I guess there could be a new game called “Who Can Drink the Most Cadmium Tainted Water” the kids are playing these days.

Sure, he’s shortening people’s lives. Sure, he’s polluting the land and serving as a geologic agent reshaping the region. Sure, he’s the son of Satan. But he has money so the Charleston Daily Mail is going to support him to the bitter end.

If I Can Squint I Can See One Cherry In This Cornfield — It Must Be A Cherry Tree!

[ 33 ] July 25, 2014 |

Nicholas Bagley is excellent on the egregious cherrypicking by supporters of the latest ad hoc legal challenge to the ACA:

But if you think what Gruber said is some evidence about what the ACA means, you can’t ignore other, similar evidence. That’s cherry-picking. So go ask John McDonough, who was intimately involved in drafting the ACA and is as straight a shooter as there is: “There is not a scintilla of evidence that the Democratic lawmakers who designed the law intended to deny subsidies to any state, regardless of exchange status.” Or ask Senator Max Baucus’s chief health adviser, Liz Fowler. She says the same thing. Or ask Doug Elmendorf, the current CBO Director: “To the best of our recollection, the possibility that those subsidies would only be available in states that created their own exchanges did not arise during the discussions CBO staff had with a wide range of Congressional staff when the legislation was being considered.” Or ask Peter Orszag, then-OMB Director: “[A]s someone who was there, [there is] zero chance this was the intent (as opposed to typo/poor drafting).”

Or ask Jonathan Cohn or Ezra Klein, both of whom followed the deliberations over the ACA closely. Neither heard a whisper about any supposed threat. Or ask Abbe Gluck, a law professor at Yale who details how “a basic understanding of the ACA’s legislative process makes clear that Congress intended for the subsidies to be available on the federal exchanges.” Or ask Aaron, who wonders, if this threat was so clear, why TIE never mentioned it. “Do you think we would have ignored this? We wouldn’t have been concerned?”

Better still, ask the states, which were on the receiving end of the supposed threat. According to a report from the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute, there’s no contemporaneous evidence that the states feared that declining to set up an exchange might lead to a loss of tax credits. How can it be that Congress unambiguously threatened the states with the possible loss of tax credits if the states never understood that threat?

This argument is unanswerable.

Conservatives are fond of quoting Scalia’s quotation of Harold Leventhal, describing the judicial use of legislative history as “as the equivalent of entering a crowded cocktail party and looking over the heads of the guests for one’s friends.”  (The problem with this argument isn’t so much that it’s wrong as that it applies to any source of evidence that judges might use to determine the meaning of an ambiguous statutory phrase, originalism and textualism most certainly included.)   Any conservative who 1)opposes the use of legislative history on these grounds and 2)cites Gruber 2012 (but not Gruber 2010 or Gruber 2014!) as definitive evidence for the intent of the ACA should be responded to solely with hails of derisive laughter.

…Also:  “The opponents of Obamacare have from the beginning found themselves driven by the logic of their position to make arguments that are increasingly morally repulsive.”

…And, yes, the Halbig argument also requires the assumption that Congress was emulating Alexi de Sadesky.

Is It Official ESPN Policy to Allow Employees to Blame Women for the Domestic Violence Athletes Commit Against Them?

[ 95 ] July 25, 2014 |

Color me shocked that a conversation between Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith on ESPN’s loathsome First Take would lead Smith to blame women for domestic violence.

First Take panelists Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless continued to discuss the Ray Rice suspension on this morning’s episode, and Smith seized on the opportunity to say some deeply stupid things about the responsibility women have to not provoke men into violently attacking them.

This is just a train wreck, and Stephen A. doesn’t seem to realize just how dumb his monologue is until it’s way too late. His central point here, to which he keeps returning after throwing out caveats about how domestic violence is not OK, is that if you are a woman who doesn’t want to be beaten by men, you should make sure to do your part by not giving them a reason to do so.

“We also have to make sure that we learn as much as we can,” Smith says, “about elements of provocation.”

The context of course is the NFL’s depressingly small 2 game suspension for Baltimore Ravens star running back Ray Rice knocking out his girlfriend (now wife) in the elevator of an Atlantic City casino. For comparison, a third offense for smoking marijuana is a 4 game suspension.

At least someone can see the employment opportunities here for people of a certain point of view:

Of course the entire NFL is a joke when it comes to domestic violence. The Onion doesn’t even have to try here.

Stephen A. Smith is now very angry that people are mad at him and in defending himself basically makes the same argument he made on the show.

Obviously Smith should be fired. So should Bayless, but that’s more for his whole awful career than anything that happened today per se. But it won’t happen because people are talking about First Take, which is all ESPN cares about.

The Type of Government Action that Could be Used Against Capital Mobility

[ 46 ] July 25, 2014 |

It’s no secret that I see unrestrained capital mobility as a global plague creating a New Gilded Age that makes it nearly impossible for workers to build dignified lives against the constant geographical shift of employment every time they organize. For Americans, the disaster of globalized capitalism has been the fleeing of stable work abroad, a situation I believe has contributed to crises ranging from the decline of unions and weakening environmental movement to the fear of “unemployable majors” in higher education and long-term unemployment.

It’s not that the U.S. could do nothing about this phenomena. It’s not a natural law. Globalization is not gravity. It’s that the politicians, under tremendous pressure from corporations, choose to do nothing except encourage more American jobs to be shipped overseas, soon potentially through the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Obama supports much to the demerits side of his presidential evaluation.

I was reminded of this when Obama yesterday called for a relatively minor but important reform:

President Obama on Thursday will call for Congress to end a tax loophole that allows big corporations to designate a foreign country as their official address, avoiding American taxes while maintaining their presence in the United States.

“The president will make clear that these companies are essentially renouncing their American citizenship so that they can ship their profits overseas to avoid paying taxes — even as they benefit from all the advantages of being here in America,” a White House official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe the president’s remarks in advance.

This is a good policy but of course it could be extended much further. It is American tax law, or the lack thereof, that helps give corporations incentive to exploit labor in Bangladesh, Honduras, and Sri Lanka. We could change those laws to both incentivize American owned companies employing Americans and to ensure that when American companies choose to move operations overseas, the workers are treated with dignity and the ecosystems respected. That we don’t is a political problem, not an inevitable result of a globalized world.

“Well, Conjecture, Tendentious Misreadings, and Cherry Picking Are Kinds of Evidence.”

[ 74 ] July 25, 2014 |

Neil Seigel summarizes the problems with the hackwork of the 2 (of 8) federal judges who accepted the latest and possibly very weakest ad hoc challenge to the ACA perfectly:

Halbig and King (plus the Indiana and Oklahoma cases) are different. I can accept as reasonable, even if ultimately unpersuasive, the argument that the relevant provisions of the ACA are ambiguous. What I cannot accept as reasonable or responsible, however, is the argument—accepted by the D.C. Circuit panel majority in Halbig—that the ACA Congress clearly and unambiguously accomplished what no Member of Congress, no one in the Congressional Budget Office, none of the four dissenting Justices in NFIB v. Sebelius, and no state official realized that Congress had accomplished when it passed the ACA: self-destructively limit the tax subsidies that make health insurance affordable for millions of Americans to those who have the good fortune of happening to reside in states that set up their own health insurance exchanges.

As we’ve discussed before, the bolded fact is critical — we’re being asked to believe that Congress “clearly and unambiguously” did something that both makes no sense on its face and that neither federal officials nor state officials (some who certainly would have established exchanges had they thought their citizens wouldn’t be eligible for the tax credits) thought it did.

Trying to get around this problem, some conservertarians who are gleeful over the prospect tens of millions of people being denied medical care and hence determined to stop the legislation from working believe they have a smoking gun: a youTube video featuring ACA “architect” Jonathan Gruber seeming to claim that subsidies would not be available on federally established state exchanges. Well, I happen to have Jonathan Gruber right here, and:

Among those who say they are surprised by the statement is Gruber himself, whom I was able to reach by phone. “I honestly don’t remember why I said that,” he said, attempting to reconstruct what he might have been thinking at the time. “I was speaking off-the-cuff. It was just a mistake.” As evidence that it was not indicative of his beliefs, he noted that his projections of the law’s impact have always assumed that all eligible people would get subsides, even though, he said, he did not assume all states would choose to run their own marketplaces.


[Gruber:] But there was never any intention to literally withhold money, to withhold tax credits, from the states that didn’t take that step. That’s clear in the intent of the law and if you talk to anybody who worked on the law. My subsequent statement was just a speak-o—you know, like a typo.

There are few people who worked as closely with Obama administration and Congress as I did, and at no point was it ever even implied that there’d be differential tax credits based on whether the states set up their own exchange. And that was the basis of all the modeling I did, and that was the basis of any sensible analysis of this law that’s been done by any expert, left and right.

I didn’t assume every state would set up its own exchanges but I assumed that subsidies would be available in every state. It was never contemplated by anybody who modeled or worked on this law that availability of subsides would be conditional of who ran the exchanges.

So much for that. Gruber seems to gave been suggesting that states that didn’t set up their own exchanges might have their citizens temporarily denied the tax credits depending on the progress of the federal backstop, not that any such denial would be permanent.

But let’s assume for the sake of argument that Gruber, not only when asked to clarify his remarks but in his contemporaneous cost projections, was mistaken and the interpretation of some of Gruber’s extemporaneous remarks most favorable to the arguments of those who hate the ACA is correct. The argument is still roughly 99 parts water to 1 part tea.  We still have essentially everyone responsible for drafting, voting on and/or implementing the legislation at the federal and state levels (not to mention the Sebelius conservative joint opinion) assuming that the federally established exchanges were intended to work, and a consultant making a bare assertion with no explanation that the federally established exchanges weren’t intended to work. It’s pretty obvious which is more significant, particularly since the next decent explanation for why Congress would bother to create a federal backstop that couldn’t actually function would be the first.  Picking a single cherry out of a massive vat of nectarines is exceptionally weak evidence that we’re looking at a vat of cherries.

And, again, let’s return to Seigel’s first point. The challengers don’t just have to show that their interpretation is plausible; they have to show that it’s the only possible reasonable interpretation. Even if we assume that Gruber in a a single ambiguous YouTube video trumps everything Gruber has said before or since, a single ACA supporter agreeing with the silly interpretation of the law created after the fact by some of its most fanatical enemies is of little help in climbing Mount Chevron.  Congress didn’t establish a federal backstop that was designed to fail; they established a federal backstop because they knew some states wouldn’t establish health care exchanges and they wanted to substantially reduce the number of people without health insurance.  Unless you insist on projecting your own hostility to the federal government acting to expand coverage onto members of Congress who rejected it, this is entirely obvious.

Is There Anything We Can Learn From the Russian Revolution?

[ 200 ] July 25, 2014 |

I guess I’m pretty skeptical to the above question except that this essay reinforces my belief that radical groups (and maybe everyone I guess) mostly create ideology to justify their current positions rather than allow their actions to be shaped by ideology.

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