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Category: General

Vanishing Montana

[ 51 ] March 27, 2013 |

A great photo gallery of the vanishing towns of Montana, where just a few people hold on in isolated places. Or sometimes they disappear from the map entirely. The American West is full of these places. Driving around the West, you see isolated homes in the middle of nowhere and you just ask why. Why would someone settle here? There are of course concrete reasons–the Homestead Act, railroad land grants, the wheat boom of World War I. But many of them failed in the face of drought, social isolation, and poverty. The ruins still exist. Sometimes so do the memories.

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El Lay

[ 24 ] March 27, 2013 |

Along with some of the many bloggers on the masthead named “David,” I will be conferencin’ in Hollywood for the next couple days. Given my increasingly wonky laptop, blogging will probably be light. In the meantime, enjoy Monica Potts’s brilliant article about homelessness in suburban Denver.

Digital Sharecropping

[ 217 ] March 27, 2013 |

Jonathan Rees on how MOOCs allow egocentric professors to drive others out of business while producing lower quality education and the corporate profits that drive the whole thing.

In other words, while a few already well-paid superprofessors get their egos stroked conducting experiments that are doomed to fail, “second- and third-tier universities and colleges, and community colleges” risk closing because Coursera and its ilk have sent higher education price expectations through the floor and systematically devalued everybody else’s work. And they get to do all this while dispensing a produuct that they know is inferior! Jay Gould would be proud.

In the meantime, thanks for nothing, superprofessors. I may not work with a bunch of assholes on my campus, but MOOCmania is starting to look like a pretty good test of whether Academia in general has enough assholes in it in order to destroy itself.

Unfortunately, the answer to that question is probably yes. Or put more charitably, that there’s enough professors clueless about how their actions affect others and an overall missing class consciousness among the professor class.

A Rare Victory Against the War On (Some Classes of People Who Use Some) Drugs

[ 33 ] March 27, 2013 |

It obviously won’t get as much attention as yesterday’s oral argument, but as I note at the Prospect there was a major Fourth Amendment ruling yesterday. The fact that it involved marijuana generally makes one fear the worst, but since it involved a property trespass Scalia and Thomas voted to rule that sniffing for drugs on the outside of someone’s house is, in fact, a search.

It was a 5-4 decision, which as some of you have calculated means that the always shaky-on-civil-liberties Breyer joined the dissent. The dissent was, of course, written by Sam “Strip Seach” Alito. As I’ve said before and I’ll say again, on the question of whether Alito is a reasonable moderate liberals should have been grateful for you can believe Althouse and Taylor, or you can believe all of the available evidence.

The Prop 8 Arguments

[ 51 ] March 27, 2013 |

I don’t have much to add to the consensus of Pierce, Denniston, Millhiser, Liptak and Serwer.  On  the merits, the case for upholding Prop 8 looked as stunningly weak as it is.   In terms of the Politburo watching, Kennedy seems unlikely to vote for a national right of same-sex marriage but also unlikely to vote to uphold Prop 8 (“40,000 children“).   If the Court is going to punt, I’d much prefer an “improvidently granted” dismissal to a bad standing ruling.

I’ll probably have more about Scalia’s originialism colloquy later in the week.

On Rand Paul And Diversity

[ 478 ] March 26, 2013 |

I had a couple of points I wanted to make in response to this.

First, with respect to the narrow issue at hand, there’s not a great deal to say because I don’t think there’s any engagement with my argument, and our disagreement is much more narrow than Glenn seems to assume. For the reasons documented by Bijan, I don’t believe that the charge that we “have spent two straight weeks falsely suggesting that the leading supporters of Rand Paul’s anti-drone filibuster are males” is remotely accurate. The last paragraph, meanwhile, is simply non-responsive. I do not, and have never argued, that Democrats should refuse to collaborate with Republicans to advance goals; indeed, the post explicitly makes precisely the opposite point. Nor do I have an issue with praising the stances of Republicans I generally disagree with — I’m more than happy to, say, praise Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas (while criticizing Stephen Breyer) when their actions warrant it. My argument is not that civil libertarians should be skeptical of Rand Paul because he has terrible beliefs on a wide array of other issues. My argument is that civil libertarians should be skeptical of Rand Paul because he has terrible positions on civil liberties. While he did make a couple of gestures towards a more serious questioning of the arbitrary executive, the overwhelming thrust of his lengthy filibuster (and the exclusive subject of his proposed legislation) is on DRONES! rather than extrajuridical killings, and on American citizens on American soil rather than people. I consider this focus profoundly misguided and counterproductive. It ignores real problems to focus on mostly imaginary ones.

It is true that I think that, in some cases, seeing things in Paul that aren’t there reflects the same kind of contrarianism that compels writers prominent enough to write for Salon to farcically assert that Romney might be more liberal than Obama or that Romney’s judicial appointments might be similar to Dwight Eisenhower’s. There is a certain segment of the nominal hard left that is far more charitable to conservative Republicans than to moderately liberal Democrats, and this segment is the almost exclusive province of the privileged. But there are certainly other reasons for what I consider excessive optimism about the Paul filibuster, and I hope the optimists are right about it!

On the more serious question of our currently all-male masthead, I have a response here. The shorter version is that I agree entirely that underrepresentation of women in political journalism is a serious problem, and if we offered anything like jobs in journalism the fact that we don’t currently have any women in our regular rotation would be unacceptable. But we don’t — this is essentially still that increasingly rare thing, a personal blog. The trickle of advertising revenue means that someone writing several posts a week would make less in a month than she would selling a single 800-word article to Alternet. Very few people are willing to blog regularly for a blog that isn’t theirs for a de minimis income, and frankly someone writing for “exposure” has plenty of established magazines more than happy to publish people for nothing or next to nothing to choose from. So who joins is essentially serendipity. We’ve asked many more women than men to join the blog since bean left; it’s just that with one exception they haven’t been able or willing to join. We’re obviously hoping this will change sooner rather than later. Obviously, should this blog ever get institutional backing or the inevitable big check from Soros, greater diversity would be a necessity, but the problem would instantly become much easier to solve.

It’s as if millions of debate coaches suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced

[ 172 ] March 26, 2013 |

I’m just a teacher of argument, not a lawyer, so I’m only going to address the merits of these arguments on their merits, not their legal standing. To begin:

JUSTICE KAGAN: Mr. Cooper, could I just understand your argument. In reading the briefs, it seems as though your principal argument is that same-sex and opposite—opposite-sex couples are not similarly situated because opposite-sex couples can procreate, same-sex couples cannot, and the State’s principal interest in marriage is in regulating procreation. Is that basically correct?

MR. COOPER: I—Your Honor, that’s the essential thrust of our—our position, yes.

JUSTICE KAGAN: Is—is there—so you have sort of a reason for not including same-sex couples. Is there any reason that you have for excluding them? In other words, you’re saying, well, if we allow same-sex couples to marry, it doesn’t serve the State’s interest. But do you go further and say that it harms any State interest?

MR. COOPER: Your Honor, we—we go further in—in the sense that it is reasonable to be very concerned that redefining marriage to—as a genderless institution could well lead over time to harms to that institution and to the interests that society has always—has—has always used that institution to address. But, Your Honor, I—

JUSTICE KAGAN: Well, could you explain that a little bit to me, just because I did not pick this up in your briefs. What harm you see happening and when and how and—what—what harm to the institution of marriage or to opposite-sex couples, how does this cause and effect work?

MR. COOPER: Once again, I—I would reiterate that we don’t believe that’s the correct legal question before the Court, and that the correct question is whether or not redefining marriage to include same-sex couples would advance the interests of marriage as a—

JUSTICE KENNEDY: Well, then are—are you conceding the point that there is no harm or denigration to traditional opposite-sex marriage couples? So you’re conceding that.

MR. COOPER: No, Your Honor, no. I’m not conceding that.

JUSTICE KENNEDY: Well, but, then it—then it seems to me that you should have to address Justice Kagan’s question.

MR. COOPER: Thank you, Justice Kennedy. I have two points to make on them. The first one is this: The Plaintiffs’ expert acknowledged that redefining marriage will have real-world consequences, and that it is impossible for anyone to foresee the future accurately enough to know exactly what those real-world consequences would be. And among those real-world consequences, Your Honor, we would suggest are adverse consequences.

Cooper argues, not in essence, but is actually forwarding the argument that redefining marriage will have real-world consequences that are impossible for anyone to predict, but which include the adverse ones he knows will happen. Cooper fails freshmen composition. But what are his real concerns?

MR. COOPER: Yes, Your Honor. The concern is that redefining marriage as a genderless institution will sever its abiding connection to its historic traditional procreative purposes, and it will refocus, refocus the purpose of marriage and the definition of marriage away from the raising of children and to the emotional needs and desires of adults, of adult couples.

People might seek to meet the “emotional needs and desires of adults, of adult couples”? Why would the gays want the emotional needs and desires of all adult couples to be met? What did they ever do to them? Who really matters here anyway?

JUSTICE KAGAN: Well, suppose a State said, Mr. Cooper, suppose a State said that, Because we think that the focus of marriage really should be on procreation, we are not going to give marriage licenses anymore to any couple where both people are over the age of 55. Would that be constitutional?

MR. COOPER: No, Your Honor, it would not be constitutional.

JUSTICE KAGAN: Because that’s the same State interest, I would think, you know. If you are over the age of 55, you don’t help us serve the Government’s interest in regulating procreation through marriage. So why is that different?

MR. COOPER: Your Honor, even with respect to couples over the age of 55, it is very rare that both couples—both parties to the couple are infertile, and the traditional—

(Laughter.)

The men. Of course. The men matter here, because they’re the ones who can continue to be fertile in perpetuity. So the emotional needs and desires of couples are less important to Cooper than the government’s commitment to protect the inalienable rights of viable sperm. But I’m sure there’s no precedent about marriage and its effect on children that might be relevant here.

GENERAL VERRILLI: Well, they might try to make a different record about the effects on children. But there isn’t a record to that effect here. And the fourth point I would make, and I do think this is significant, is that the principal argument in 1967 with respect to Loving and that the commonwealth of Virginia advanced was: Well, the social science is still uncertain about how biracial children will fare in this world, and so you ought to apply rational basis scrutiny and wait. And I think the Court recognized that there is a cost to waiting and that that has got to be part of the equal protection calculus. And so—so I do think that’s quite fundamental.

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Can I ask you a problem about—it seems to me that your position that you are supporting is somewhat internally inconsistent. We see the argument made that there is no problem with extending marriage to same-sex couples because children raised by same-sex couples are doing just fine and there is no evidence that they are being harmed. And the other argument is Proposition 8 harms children by not allowing same-sex couples to marriage. Which is it?

I wonder why Roberts didn’t want to address the argument that biracial children can fare well in the world? I can’t think of any reason why he’d want to avoid that issue. I’m sure he didn’t change the subject to avoid talking about the fact that the sitting President might be relevant to the argument?

I don’t read a lot of Supreme Court transcripts, but I do teach argument and did do forensics in high school, so I know both what the former entails and what the latter occasionally requires, i.e. having to take the AFF or NEG of a case based on a draw instead of a deeply held belief. You have to argue the case you have to argue, I get that, but honestly? Cooper couldn’t have made a more unsympathetic case about an issue which, though it will be decided on other grounds, needed an argument based on something more sophisticated than bigotry in order to acquire more popular support. It’s not just a freshmen composition course he failed today.

National Monuments

[ 67 ] March 26, 2013 |

I am very happy to see that President Obama named five new national monuments yesterday. Two are dedicated to preserving public lands–the San Juan Islands in Washington and the Rio Grande Del Norte in New Mexico. Obama’s public lands policy has not been very good. His ratio of protecting versus developing the public lands is far lower than the average president since World War II. Frankly, Obama doesn’t care much about these issues. Where he does have a stronger environmental agenda is around climate. That’s fine because it’s more important. It’s also really hard to get anything concrete done on that issue. So hopefully he will seek to create a stronger environmental legacy in areas he can control.

There are also three new historical parks. One is the First State National Monument in Delaware, which is largely Joe Biden’s move to establish the first national park site in Delaware, which was the last state without one. Perhaps more significantly are two new parks that highlight African-American history, the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument in Maryland and the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument in Ohio. The National Park Service has done a fantastic job of creating new sites around African-American history and including African-American history in existing parks. I look forward to visiting all of these places someday.

It used to be that historical parks were designated as a National Historic Site. But that takes an congressional bill. With Republicans opposed to adding anything to the park system, Obama has to use his power under the Antiquities Act to create new parks. This gives him the power to create as many new parks as he wants and hopefully he will use that power in his second administration more than he did in the first.

In a more rational country, the federal government could step in and create interesting historical sites within the park system. Take for instance, the Northern Dispensary in Greenwich Village. Due to complex legal issues, this 1831 building has sat vacant on incredibly valuable property for 20 years. What would be great is if the government bought the building and turned it into a national park on the history of medicine and 19th century New York. The building seems large enough to do this (there are smaller buildings in the system for sure. See the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial in Philadelphia. Or the JFK birth home. It’d be a great addition, it’s a historic building, and could tell some fantastic stories.

Alas, we do not live in a rational country.

Those Contradictions Won’t Heighten Themselves, Ladies!

[ 166 ] March 26, 2013 |

There is a bad argument for the proposition that Roe was secretly bad for abortion rights that runs something like this: abortion was going to be quickly legalized almost everywhere anyway, so by jumping the gun the Supreme Court created intense opposition for no real benefit. This is a bad argument because it’s ignorant of the actual state of abortion politics in 1973. Particularly after a few of the most sympathetic states had been picked off, getting legislatures to repeal abortion statutes that were selectively enforced and hence didn’t really affect the most affluent women in the state was enormously difficult, and the legalization drive had almost entirely stalled by 1971. Contrary to myth, anti-abortion forces became very well-organized and very effective at the state level following the initial wave of successes in the late 60s. Absent Roe, abortion would have almost certainly continued to remain illegal in a majority of states for a long time, a problem that would get even worse as southern states became ever more Republican-dominated (which was going to happen no matter how Roe was decided.)

There is, however, an even worse nominally pro-choice argument against Roe. Which brings us to Bloix, who yesterday reminded us of his unfortunate response to Michael Berube’s classic decimation of David Brooks. After gesturing towards the first bad argument, Bloix makes a different kind of bad argument:

An argument that Brooks does not make, but one that I believe, is that Roe killed feminism’s opportunity to become a majority movement. Far and away the most radicalizing event for a young woman before Roe was the need to deal with an unwanted pregnancy. After Roe, pregnancy became an issue of “privacy” between a woman and her doctor, a personal “choice,” with no political implications at all. The entire premise of feminism as a movement– “the personal is political”— vanished for the generation after Roe.

This was a terrible loss for progressives in America. Instead of a mass movement organizing around the right to an abortion, we have seen a mass movement to prohibit that right, while those who should be out in front politically — women and their partners who have made use of their right to an abortion — are embarrassed to discuss it in public.

There are some rather obvious problems with this argument on its face. First of all, abortion is (to put it mildly) not the only feminist issue out there. As Michael notes, the failure of the ERA didn’t cause the right to back down or notably increase feminist mobilization. There’s also an additional assumption that feminists were weaker than groups that were less successful or relied less on litigation which doesn’t actually withstand scrutiny. Labor, which has been getting routed and doesn’t have a viable path through the courts in most cases, has continued to get routed. Abortion, conversely, was the one issue that Bill Clinton wouldn’t sell out on. The ban on D&X abortion is a classic New Democrat kind of compromise — terrible, irrational legislation, but popular and not affecting that many women. But Clinton refused to sign it twice. What does that tell you?

But leaving aside its empirical failures, on a logical level this argument is a Pacific Ocean of fail. While the first bad argument says Roe was bad because it was superfluous, Bloix’s bad argument says Roe is bad because it worked too well. The radicalizing effect of having to seek black market abortions, of course, can only happen as long as abortion is criminalized, and vanishes as soon as bans on abortion are defeated. The argument is just an argument against winning, which isn’t any less irrational than it appears. To quote myself:

Arguments about the political benefits of overturning Roe ultimately prove too much. By the same logic, one can argue that allowing Social Security to be privatized would create tensions in the conservative coalition and a backlash that might help Democrats politically. This is hardly good reason to hope that it happens. The fact that commentators making the political case for abandoning Roe never apply the same logic to other issues reflects a general tendency to take women’s rights less seriously. That same unseriousness is revealed by the fact that pundits searching for issues on which Democrats can appeal to social conservatives are more likely to cite abortion than, say, church-and-state issues, where the liberal position is far more unpopular and compromises would have far less direct impact on people’s lives. Ultimately, to call these contrarian arguments “pro-choice” is a non sequitur. They’re only compelling if the value of protecting a woman’s right to choose is accorded almost no weight.

Arguing that women should consider to suffer under abortion bans because of hypothetical political benefits make about as much sense as arguments in favor of using third parties as a vehicle for progressive change because 1. Throw elections to Republicans 2. ??? 3. ??? 4. ??? 5. President Avakian and Speaker of the House Chomsky! It’s not a coincidence that such arguments have comparatively little appeal to people upon whom the contradictions will be most heightened.

Antonin Scalia, the Last Honest Judge

[ 64 ] March 26, 2013 |

Antonin Scalia, as Antonin Scalia will be the first person to tell you, does not let his social conservatism affect his jurisprudence. It’s just that the equal protection 14th Amendment concerns only racial discrimination, with particular attention to “discrimination” against white people, which is why the Freedman’s Bureau was considered unconstitutional by the framers of the 14th Amendment. It is just objectively true that the 14th Amendment doesn’t forbid invidious discrimination on the basis of gender or sexual orientation. This objective truth remains true although the 14th Amendment says nothing about race. And the subsequent amendment shows that the framers could have limited the equal protection clause to racial discrimination if they choose to. And Scalia is supposed to be a “textualist.” Where was I?

Oh, yes, Scalia’s reading a “race, especially racial classifications that aren’t related to maintaining a caste system, only” qualification into the 14th Amendment does not in any way reflect his reactionary political views. Which is why he would never fill the United States Reports with specious and offensive analogies about gays and lesbians.

And, actually, Millhiser is being too charitable to Scalia. Scalia didn’t actually say in his Lawrence dissent that he had “nothing against homosexuals.” Here’s the full quote:

Let me be clear that I have nothing against homosexuals, or any other group, promoting their agenda through normal democratic means.

He’s not saying that he has nothing against homosexuals; he’s generously allowing that he has nothing against homosexuals participating in the political process.* And note for the second time in his dissent he alludes to the “homosexual…agenda,” which as everyone but Ann Althouse understands in itself ends any question about whether Scalia is a homophobe, since nobody who supports gay and lesbian rights uses the phrase “homosexual agenda.” Have you ever seen Scalia refer to the “evangelical Christian agenda” in his Establishment Clause opinions? And of course this affects his jurisprudence.

*Great point by Joe in comments: Scalia does, in fact, have something against homosexuals participating in the political process, given his support for constitutional amendments prohibiting homosexuals from participating in the political process and all.

…Adam has more.

Coal Companies Destroying Workers’ Healthcare and Lives

[ 34 ] March 26, 2013 |

Mike Elk has a very disturbing story about Patriot Coal, a spinoff of industry giant Peabody Coal, going to bankruptcy court to divest itself of the pension and healthcare obligations guaranteed to workers in contracts Peabody signed with the United Mine Workers of America.

There’s exactly one reason for Patriot to do this–to maximize profit on the backs of the poor. Peabody created Patriot in order to manufacture a bankruptcy crisis; by giving the new company more retirees than active workers, it set the stage for bankruptcy relief of contractual obligations.

But in the UMWA’s eyes, Peabody is the real villain. According to union estimates, 90 percent of Patriot’s retirees are former Peabody miners who “never worked a day in their life” for Patriot. The UMWA charges that Peabody created Patriot as a vehicle to shed its retiree obligations. As evidence, the union cites the fact that when Peabody spun off Patriot Coal in 2007, it handed Patriot three times as many retirees as active workers and $557 million in retiree healthcare obligations. Within five years, Patriot had filed for bankruptcy.

We’ve already seen a disturbing decline in pensions around the country in the public sector. Eliminating hard-fought pension gains in the private sector, not even for the future but for already retired workers, will push working-class retirees into poverty. Slashing healthcare is an even bigger deal in the mining industry. The specter of black-lung disease haunts underground miners, including those working today. What are these people supposed to do?

On a related note, read Dave Jamieson’s piece on how the Senate’s kneecapping of the National Labor Relations Board has hurt the lives of workers. Once again focusing on the coal industry (coal companies really are the worst), Jamieson shows how the lack of a functioning NLRB allows companies to do almost anything they want to workers with no realistic legal recourse that will be resolved in less than a decade. Once again, what are these workers supposed to do?

Tonight in Animated Soviet Propaganda

[ 19 ] March 25, 2013 |

“Plus Electrification” from 1972

Awesome stuff. On the other hand, propaganda about electrification was relevant in the Soviet Union in 1972.

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