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Category: General

Greatest Comparison of Obama to Hitler Ever

[ 42 ] October 3, 2011 |

After doing this very thing, or more specifically saying that John Boehner playing golf with Barack Obama was like Benjamin Netanyahu playing golf with Adolf Hitler, ESPN has suspended Hank Williams, Jr. from doing his hideous Monday Night Football “Are You Ready for Some Football” intro bit.

As Hank Hill once said, “Hank Williams was the greatest country singer who ever lived. Hank Williams Jr. destroyed Monday Night Football.” Indeed.

Is it too much to hope for that Faith Hill turns out to be a Satanist or something and NBC kills her awful Sunday Night Football intro? This seems like a very reasonable thing to hope for to me.

Also, is everyone else as excited for Hank Jr.’s upcoming Senate bid from Tennessee?

“It doesn’t make him a hero of the 10th Amendment, it just makes him a mooch.”

[ 7 ] October 3, 2011 |

Rick Perry continues to long for the golden age of Hammer v. Dagenhart.

Amanda Knox

[ 47 ] October 3, 2011 |

...her conviction has been overturned and she has been freed, although if I heard the BBC broadcast correctly she’s being fined for defamation?   More as it comes.    Background into this travesty of justice here.

…ah, there were initial charges of defamation that were upheld.    This is rather bizarre, but on balance obviously good news.

Politics and purity

[ 66 ] October 3, 2011 |

I’ve gotten a bit of criticism from a couple of political allies about a piece I wrote this weekend for Newsweek/DB concerning claims that Chris Christie’s weight should be considered a major negative, or even a disqualification, when evaluating his apparently impending POTUS candidacy. Their argument isn’t that my criticism of these claims is wrong on the merits, but rather that this sort of scrupulousness isn’t something “we” can afford at the moment, especially given that “the other side” has no such scruples when it comes to playing the political game.

I’ve heard similar arguments about Glenn Greenwald’s ongoing crusade condemning the Obama administration’s woeful civil liberties record, which as Glenn points out is quite arguably even worse than George W. Bush’s. Yes yes the argument goes — Obama’s record on these questions is indefensible, but do you really want to help elect [parade of horribles] president next year?

There are both principled and practical problems with these arguments. As a matter of principle, everybody has to choose how dirty they’re willing to get and what lines they’re not willing to cross. After all, certain conservative critics of Obama aren’t willing to exploit racist arguments about birth certificates and the like while others are. It’s possible to respect the former people in a way one can’t respect the latter, and the same holds true for liberals who are or aren’t willing to use sexist arguments against Bachmann and Palin, and who are and aren’t willing to use fat hatred against Christie.

As a practical matter, the problem with lesser of two evils rationalizations is that at some point the difference for which one is willing to sacrifice one’s intellectual integrity is so small that one has ended up making that sacrifice for something that’s no longer worth defending. I’m personally getting quite close to that point when it comes to Obama’s civil liberties/foreign policy record. As much as I prefer his domestic policy to that of his likely opponents, there comes a point when it should become impossible to support someone who is carrying out policies that cross certain lines of basic decency. Again, certain conservatives reached that point with the Bush administration on the issue of torture, and certain progressives are reaching that point with the Obama administration when it comes to things such as unilateral executive branch decisions to assassinate American citizens without any legal oversight.

In the end of course everyone must decide for themselves what sort of things they are willing to lend active support. I may vote for Obama again, but if I do it will be with great reluctance.

Pafko at the Wall

[ 32 ] October 3, 2011 |

Underworld is a very fine novel worth reading in its bulky enterity, but the prologue is just spectacularly good. I’d call it the best writing about baseball ever except that this might faintly damn it through pigeonholing.    And I say this as someone who is very, very sick of Brooklyn Dodger-related nostalgia.

But It’s Our Policy!

[ 34 ] October 3, 2011 |

Looking into the latest case of petty-dictator school administrators ordering an arbitrary strip search of young women [via], I saw from one of the petty dictators in question:

Dan Crozier, the interim superintendent of the Atlantic school district, said the search took place Aug. 21, the third day of school, during a gym class in the last period of the day.

Crozier said faculty members denied it was a strip-search. “According to our board policy, it was an allowable search,” he said.

Well, if it’s policy, who cares about the Fourth Amendment or basic human dignity anyway? But wait:

State education officials said the law is clear — school officials cannot force students to disrobe to search for contraband.

“There’s an absolute prohibition on strip-searches in Iowa,” said Carol Greta, legal counsel for the Iowa Department of Education, who was speaking in general and not referring to the Atlantic case. “It’s an absolute no-no.”

Statute, shmatute — it was our policy! I guess the argument here — which you may remember from Michael Hawkins’s disgraceful 9CA dissent in the Redding case — involves quibbles over whether requiring students to only mostly disrobe constitutes a “strip search.” Anyway, the settlement would seem to indicate that the districts lawyers didn’t think this nonsense would fly, which is a good thing.   But if administrators are willing to do this stuff even in a state where state law clearly prohibits it, one can only imagine what happens in states where it isn’t.    Redding was a good first step, but as a narrow opinion focused on an extreme set of facts it didn’t go nearly far enough.

Supervising Pleas

[ 3 ] October 3, 2011 |

Adam Liptak’s roundup of a the forthcoming Supreme Court term — one that could produce the most landmark rulings of any in quite some time — is of course useful. What is likely to be the biggest case is well-known. This is one less prominent case I’ll be keeping an eye on:

In a pair of cases to be argued on Oct. 31 — Lafler v. Cooper, No. 10-209, and Missouri v. Frye, No. 10-444 — the justices will consider whether defendants who were not told of favorable plea deals or were advised to reject them may pursue claims for ineffective assistance of counsel. A great majority of prosecutions are resolved with guilty pleas, and more vigorous judicial supervision of how the pleas are reached would have a broad practical impact.

Given that over 90% of cases plead out, rulings about trial procedure are relevant to most accused persons only indirectly, to the extent that they provide more bargaining leverage to the defense or prosecution. It’s important that the Supreme Court engage in some supervision of the plea bargaining process, where inadequate counsel may be less visible but is nonetheless a serious problem.

In light of the Davis execution, this case will get more attention:

The court will also consider the use of eyewitness evidence, in Perry v. New Hampshire, No. 10-8974. Such evidence, as the New Jersey Supreme Court found in a major decision in August, is often unreliable and has been the cause of many wrongful convictions. The justices will consider whether trial courts must be particularly wary of allowing such evidence to be presented when it has been tainted by suggestive circumstances not created by the authorities.

I would like to think that the Supreme Court would follow the lead of the New Jersey court, but as of now I’m betting the other way.

Some Critical Links

[ 31 ] October 2, 2011 |
  • As if to prove the thesis of Tad Friend’s depressing account of Hollywood sexism, the subsequent Anna Faris film is one of those sexist romantic comedies where to summarize the plot is to condemn the film.    More from Glenn Kenny.  The lesson I always infer from this is that there are many more good actors than good scripts (or producers willing to greenlight good scripts, at least.)
  • MZS announces the inductees in the overacting Hall of Fame.
  • I’m marginally more positive, but Emily Nussbaum’s analysis of Boardwalk Empire‘s strengths and weaknesses is fundamentally sound.
  • Read Kahlenberg and Ravitch on Stephen Brill’s credulous embrace of education “reformers.”
  • Speaking of Man of the Year, browsing through the list I found that the great Nathan Rabin covered it in his Year of Flops series.  He’s right about everything, especially about the fact that the film — apparently because it couldn’t actually use a laugh track — has more reaction shots per minute than the most hackneyed three-camera sitcom.

Shorter Rick Perry: I Will Model My Foreign Policy in Mexico after Jack Pershing’s Campaign against Villa”

[ 48 ] October 1, 2011 |

It’s really tough to see how this could go wrong:

Gov. Rick Perry of Texas said on Saturday that as president, he would consider sending American troops into Mexico to help defeat drug cartels and improve border security. He indicated that any such action would be done “in concert” with the Mexican government.

“It may require our military in Mexico working in concert with them to kill these drug cartels and to keep them off of our border and to destroy their network,” Mr. Perry said during a campaign appearance here.

Yes, I’m sure the Mexican government will be ecstatic to see American troops on its soil. Moreover, I’m even more sure that decapitated American troops dumped on the side of a Mexican road will find a great deal of support among the American public.

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The “Conservative Leftist” responds

[ 52 ] October 1, 2011 |

Peter Frase takes a long look at this “DJW” character, and is deeply dismayed by what he sees.

On my claim about our inability to universally and definitely classify jobs:

DJW totally effaces the real nature of work in a capitalist society. To pretend that the existence of many people who work as supermarket checkers reflects their “ability to determine what they value about their lives on their own terms” is to ignore the reality that for the worker without independent wealth, the only “choice” is between obtaining the wage they need to get by, or starving in the streets. You don’t see a lot of trust-fund kids or lottery winners working as supermarket checkers.

Moreover, there’s no principled rationale here. If the menial jobs we have are good, then why wouldn’t more would be better? we could solve the jobs deficit through a campaign against technology throughout the economy. This would also have the effect of lowering our material standard of living, but to this way of thinking that’s presumably a good thing.

This badly misses the point I was making, which is quite modest: any time we have a discussion that involves putting jobs into broad categories of ‘menial/non-menial’ or something, and presuming one category to be beneath human dignity, we’re having what is essentially an impossible conversation. Any such judgments are inevitably ad hoc, and hopelessly bound up in our own class, taste, preferences, and experiences. If “people with so much money don’t seem to take these jobs” is the standard, then 95% or more of the jobs available are in that category. Now, I have some sympathy for that point of view, but that’s precisely the kind of utopian thinking I don’t find particularly helpful.

And in the present circumstance, with massive unemployment looking to be the new status quo, I’m going to go ahead and say, yes, some sort of technological rollback that lead to lots of new ‘menial’ jobs to replace that technology would be a good thing. This says nothing about my views about the essential value or disvalue of technology, or the jobs themselves or whatever. It’s a response to actual circumstances, namely: (a) massive widespread unemployment, particularly high for those without college degrees, (b) an staggeringly unfortunate combination of political and economic circumstances that make it extremely unlikely that (a) will change for the better to any significant degree in the short and medium term. My views here aren’t based, as Frase seems to think, on the intrinsic value of jobs such as these, but rather as a response to a particular set of circumstances. In rejecting our ability to universally classify these jobs in a certain way, as the commenters I was responding to and Frase wish to do, I am not actually suggesting we go the other way, and protect them because they have some intrinsic value. I’m suggesting that under the present circumstances, the value they have do have is greater than the value to society that whatever value is likely to be produced via ‘productivity gains’ their elimination might produce.

The general principle being expressed here isn’t unreasonable or irrational: sometimes it’s better to help a few workers here and now than to run off after utopian pie in the sky, and we should be wary of the slippery logic that it’s OK to impose hardship on a few workers for the sake of the greater good. This is the same thinking that’s at work in defenses of licensing cartels that protect some workers at the expense of consumers and excluded laborers, and in attacks on investments in urban infrastructure that may have the effect of pricing some people out of their neighborhoods. These aren’t silly things to be worried about–if you can’t achieve anything positive, you should at least do no harm. And as the left has gotten weaker and weaker, such arguments have gotten more and more plausible. But we’ve reached a point where some people seem to be opposed to any policy at all that imposes a burden on any group of workers.

I was nodding along here, thinking perhaps we’re not so far apart in our thinking, until that last sentence, which strikes me as a complete non-sequitur. Perhaps such people, indeed, exist; I’m certainly not one of them. I support many policies that might result in people losing jobs they badly need to keep, even in this environment, because politics is about assessing tradeoffs. (In fact, this was never about policy at all—I’d probably oppose a law that banned self-service checkouts.) But even insofar as those people exist, even if I were one of them, they’re clearly badly outnumbered by people who don’t give a shit about people who lose their jobs. The ‘point we seem to reaching’ as a society is one in which a political party that openly advocates cutting off unemployment benefits during a massive and sustained run of high unemployment can win a nationwide election. Perhaps someday I’ll be concerned that the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction, but we can cross that bridge when we come to it.

That isn’t to say that I’m always opposed to defensive struggles–sometimes that’s the best you can do, and sometimes winning a small human-scale victory is worth compromising our broader vision a bit. But the LGM authors go a good deal farther than this: Erik Loomis’s original post didn’t say that de-automation was a good second best outcome, he said that he was “very glad” to see the self-checkout machines disappear, because they are “a calculated plan by grocery stores to employ less people.” DJW, meanwhile, straightforwardly embraces Luddism. I’m taken aback by a worldview that would make such defensiveness and conservatism central to its ideology. That’s not what the left has been about at its best–and as Corey Robin explains, it’s not even what right-wing “conservatism” was ever about.

Readers will recall that my straightforward embracing of Luddism came with a creative and controversial expansion of what counts as Luddism. I included any and all bottom up ‘managing’ of new workplace technologies that often reduce productivity, in the service of protecting jobs, or merely managing the experience of working. Some sensible commenters noted that this stretches the meaning of the term considerably, perhaps too far, and I’m inclined to think they may have a pretty good point. My attempted reconceptualization of Luddism aside, what I didn’t endorse was a widespread battle against automation on all fronts. While Frase may not be able to imagine such a thing, it remains possible to fail to cheer the failure of particularly pointless exercise in automation in one case without an ideological commitment to do so in all cases.

Left out of consideration in these anti-technology arguments is any conception that increased productivity could be used to benefit the masses rather than the elite. The decoupling of rising productivity from rising fortunes for workers is, after all, only a phenomenon of the past 30 years. In the period prior to that, rising productivity went with rising wages: this was the heart of the postwar Keynesian social compact. And in the period prior to that, rising productivity went along with a shortening of the working day, through a long series of bitter struggles.

Indeed. 30 years is a long time, though, and the sorts of changes that might once again tie productivity growth to the fate of workers don’t exactly appear to be on the horizon.  My position is driven as a reaction to a particular set of circumstances, rather than what I think those circumstance should or could be.

It’s odd, and a bit sad, to see the LGM bloggers ahistorically naturalizing the left’s weakness, especially given that at least one of the authors I’m discussing is a college professor. I thought it was the professors who were supposed remind us of history, and to cling to impractical utopianism.

Jeebus. Insofar as I’m cynical and pessimistic, it’s because my considered judgment about the nature of our times is that pessimism and cynicism is warranted, and I’m not going to pretend otherwise in order to fit some naïve stereotype of my profession. (Not to mention that ‘reminding us of history’ and ‘clinging to impractical utopianism’ might just be at odds with each other in some fairly significant ways).  But Frase’s larger point is based on a odd proposition; namely that if I embrace a defensive position regarding jobs in certain sectors during particularly bad times, this is all my politics is or ever could contain.

Let’s recap: my position on automated supermarket checkout and the employment of checkers involves the following components: 1. Waiting in line to check out with a human checker when I go to the grocery store. 2. Having a positive reaction to the news that some grocery stores are moving away from the use of automated checkout. That’s it. There’s virtually no politics here at all, beyond a trivial act of solidarity. This in no way impedes my ability to ‘imagine alternatives to neoliberalism’ or otherwise engage in political activity that isn’t rooted in a ‘defensive crouch’, as he puts it. Frase’s argument here seems rooted in a conviction that the political equivalent of chewing gum and walking at the same time is, to borrow a phrase, “literally unthinkable”.

The rest of his post describes a deal struck by longshoremen years ago that involved automation; I don’t know the history there but as he describes it it sounds like it was a pretty good deal, and re-iterates his support for universal basic income and principle for decoupling income from employment, ala Marx’s renegade son-in-law. The former strikes me as a pragmatic compromise based on a particular set of circumstances. The latter is utopian theorizing of the sort I described in the previous post. It may have a place in politics, but it’s crucial to not let it crowd out existing politics, let alone interfere with the kind of solidarity that will be a necessary but not sufficient condition of any future significant transformation. Frase is not entirely wrong to say “the demand to compensate workers for technological change now has to be fought out politically and electorally, at the level of the state, rather than in the individual workplace.” But there’s no reason it has to be an either/or proposition; certainly to the extent that I’ve advocated measures that constitute the latter, they do nothing to crowd out the former. But that political fight is losing badly, and shows no signs of improving any time soon.  I can’t climb on board with abandoning less than ideal strategies regardless of whether the ideal strategy is currently viable.

Playoff Picks, Part Deux

[ 24 ] October 1, 2011 |

Rangers v. Devil Rays: I missed the opening game in this series,which would be a problem if I was planning on picking Tampa Bay, because who would believe me? But since my pick is the Rangers, it’s not an issue. It’s hard not to be impressed by the Rays and their spectacularly good organization. But it’s hard to overlook the fact that the Rangers have been about 80 runs better and are good on both sides of the diamond while the Rays were outscored by the Royals. The series is not as much of a mismatch as the run differential indicates, as the Rays play in by far the best division in baseball and the Rangers play in a division where the other three teams have approximately no good hitters between them. Still, the first game notwithstanding, the Rays just don’t have enough offense for me to pick them. RANGERS IN 5.

St. Louis v. Philadelphia. Now this looks like a mismatch, a 102-win team with a historic rotation against scraped into the playoffs on the last day during a historic choke by the competing team. Amaro has done a terrific job keeping the Phils in top, recognizing the team’s narrow window and getting top-shelf talent without paying a huge price. The fact that Tony LaRussa does a lot of irritating stuff has lead to a common pundit’s fallacy in which people want to deny that he’s a great manager, but he and Duncan’s tape and baling wire rotations tend not to hold up so well in a short series against an outstanding offense. And yet, as Rany Jazayleri notes in his contrarian analysis, the Phillies offense is in fact mediocre — lest you think that’s an exaggeration, they were outscored by the Mets in neutral parks by 50 runs. And while I was aware of that I didn’t know that the Cards’ offense was the best in the league by a fair margin. Combined with the fact that great rotation teams (not just the Cox Braves but the Weaver Orioles, Beane A’s, ’54 Indians) haven’t necessarily fared well in postseason play, and the contrarian case becomes rather compelling. Still, I’m not ready to go there. The fact that the small handful of comparable teams lost some series in which they were favored doesn’t really prove anything, and I’m inclined to believe that front-line pitching is a pretty good strategy for post-season success (cf. the 2010 Giants, who make the Phils offense look like the ’95 Indians.) If Holliday was healthy and the Phillies hadn’t acquired Pence I would pick the Cards — but as is, I think the Phillies win a somewhat closer-than-expected series. PHILLIES IN 4.

Denny Rehberg: Class Act

[ 82 ] October 1, 2011 |

Very possibly, your next senator from the state of Montana:

This time around, Rehberg set his sights a little lower down the educational ladder. On a tour of a Montana elementary school (where his sister is principal), Rehberg wanted to know quite a bit about how the school policies its government-subsidized lunch program. From the Billings Gazette:

Rehberg asked [his sister and school district official Brenda Koch] pointed questions about fraud and whether families ever dupe the free and reduced-price meal system.

Koch explained that each year, a random sample of families who sign up and qualify are audited by the district to make sure they meet the income guidelines.

On top of that, she said, the district is audited by the state every year on how its Title I dollars are spent.

“I’d like to punish those systems that rip the taxpayers off,” Rehberg said during the visit, according to the Gazette.

The next frontier in Republicans’ long-term goal of sending us back to the Gilded Age–making sure our children are hungry! Now, if we could only keep them home making artificial flowers at miniscule piecework wages for 14 hours a day! No doubt, Republicans will be openly advocating this by 2013.

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