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Category: General

Everett Lilly, RIP

[ 15 ] May 16, 2012 |

There’s been way too many great musicians dying lately. I’m sick of writing these posts.

Today in Right-Wing Identity Politics

[ 81 ] May 16, 2012 |

Ah, Virginia Republicans, the party that decided after George Allen proved his racism beyond all doubt that they’d like him to run again. Now, they refuse to confirm judges based on their sexual orientation:

Shortly after 1 o’clock this morning, the Virginia House of Delegates proved that it can indeed be as mean-spirited and parochial as its detractors at Comedy Central have come to expect. By a slim margin, the House voted to kill the judicial nomination of an openly gay Richmond prosecutor who had bipartisan support going into the vote. A last-minute lobbying effort by the very same social conservatives who pushed unsuccessfully to mandate “medically unnecessary trans-vaginal ultrasounds” this past spring, successfully killed Tracy Thorne-Begland’s bid for a judgeship, based on claims that his 20 years of “activism” on gay rights issues made him unfit to sit on the bench.

Thorne-Begland won only 33 votes of the 51 he needed to win the judgeship. Thirty-one delegates voted against him, and many abstained. He was the only candidate voted down. The only issues on which Thorne-Begland was challenged were his same-sex partner and his gay rights activism. There wasn’t even a claim that he was unfit for any reason other than who he is and what he has fought for.

Next: the legislature will vote to make “Massive Resistance” the state motto.

To Reiterate

[ 70 ] May 15, 2012 |

I remain baffled by the number of people who are convinced that the superficially moderate Romney who was governor of Massachuetts is the “real” one who’s just pretending to be a wingnut to get the Republican nomination. If you look at the less visible parts of his record in context, I think it’s much more likely that he’s substantially more intrinsically conservative on social issues than any Republican nominee in decades. It doesn’t matter since he’ll govern as a wingnut no matter what he “really” believes, but I suspect he’s more Santorum than Nelson Rockefeller.

Ideas With No Non-Pundit Constituency Fail to Find Supporters

[ 63 ] May 15, 2012 |

Nobody could have predicted!

And the center not only did not hold, it couldn’t seem to get any attention whatsoever. Americans Elect, a lavishly funded “centrist” group that was supposed to provide an alternative to traditional political parties, has been a ridiculous flop. Basically, about seven people were actually excited about the venture — all of them political pundits. Actual voters couldn’t care less.


So why Americans Elect? Because there exists in America a small class of professional centrists, whose stock in trade is denouncing the extremists in both parties and calling for a middle ground. And this class cannot, as a professional matter, admit that there already is a centrist party in America, the Democrats — that the extremism they decry is all coming from one side of the political fence. Because if they admitted that, they’d just be moderate Democrats, with no holier-than-thou pedestal to stand on.

Americans Elect was created to appeal to this class of professional centrists — which meant that it was doomed to go nowhere.

But without a third party, who will sit Jim DeMint and Sherrod Brown down and tell them to cut the bullshit?


Assuming AE is unlikely to just call the whole thing off, I’d suggest they cut to the chase and nominate their most prominent backer, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, as the nominee. Under AE’s elaborate rules, he’d presumably have to disclose a party affiliation and then choose a running-mate from a different party. But he could certainly self-identify as a member of the Friedman Party, and then choose a running-mate from the Party of Richard Cohen or the Party of Robert Samuelson or the Party of David Brooks. It would be a Very Serious Ticket.

I dunno, I can’t see a movement taking off without a true electoral powerhouse like Erskine Bowles.

And while you’d like to think that nobody paid to write about politics for a living could possibly have taken thus seriously, you’d be wrong.

Money for nothing

[ 22 ] May 15, 2012 |

debtors prison

I have a piece in Salon on the law school side of the student debt fiasco.

Supreme Power And FDR’s Court-Packing

[ 49 ] May 15, 2012 |

I had a request in comments to discuss how new historical findings have complicated the traditional story about FDR’s Court-packing plan and the “Switch in Time That Saved Nine.” Since this also gives me a chance to do something I’ve been meaning to do for a while — discuss and fulsomely praise Jeff Shesol’s recent book Supreme Power — I thought I’d take the request.

As most of you know, as the culmination of a long, if erratic, series of reactionary opinions by holdovers from the McKinleynomics regime on the Supreme Court, in 1936 the Supreme Court two issued widely and justifiably ridiculed opinions 1)striking down New York’s minimum wage law based on an implied “liberty of contract” that envisioned impoverished workers and their employers as being on equal footing as bargaining partners and 2)holding that a coal mining concern that sent more than 95% of its product out of state was not engaged in interstate commerce and hence its labor relations were beyond the reach of the federal government. In 1937, the Court reversed itself, upholding a state minimum wage law and the National Labor Relations Act in cases that, for all intents and purposes, rested on facts that were materially indistinguishable from the 1936 cases. Since the key intervening event was FDR’s proposal of a Court-packing plan , the classic civics textbook history is that while the plan stalled in the Senate it fundamentally succeeded by causing the Court to back down.

However, historical evidence complicates this claim. We know, thanks to the work of Bruce Ackerman and other historians, that swing vote Owen Roberts had already voted in conference to sustain the Washington minimum wage law three months before the Court packing plan was announced. And he shifted his vote although, as Shesol shows, FDR went out of his way not to make the Court a campaign issue in 1936 although he had been highly critical in the past. (Chief Justice Huges also switched of half-switched his vote in some case, although he was never a decisive vote in these cases and apparently he was being largely strategic when he joined Roberts and the Four Horsemen.) The Court did hear oral arguments in Laughlin Steel right after the announcement of the plan, so it’s possible that the pressure affected Roberts’s vote in that case, although since he had already switched once it’s hard to say.

So if it wasn’t the Court-packing plan, or at least just the Court-packing plan, what was it? Roberts always maintained that he was perfectly consistent, but essentially nobody believes him.  Not only are the votes transparently inconsistent, but as Shesol points out Roberts’s rationale directly contradicts the facts. Roberts says that he voted against the New York minimum wage bill in Tipaldo because New York refused to ask for Adkins to be overruled, but since Washington explicitly asked for the controlling precedent to be reconsidered he switched his vote in Parrish. But, actually, the reverse is true: New York, while arguing that its carefully drafted bill could be distinguished, also asked for Adkins to be overruled while Washington didn’t. So Roberts certainly did change his mind for reasons that had nothing to do with case facts.

If it wasn’t the Court-packing plan directly, I certainly don’t doubt that political pressure of various kinds affected Roberts. Roberts was a Republican corporate lawyer who also liked to think of himself as enlightened and moderate, and he also had presidential aspirations that his 1936 Supreme Court votes permanently ended. He had authored a key opinion undermining the “liberty of contract” doctrine before rejoining the reactionary faction of the Court. So it’s likely that the reaction against the extremist 1936 opinions affected him. As Shesol demonstrates, the reaction to Tipaldo in particular was fierce and bipartisan — “out of the 344 editorials…only 10 supported it.” The vain and insecure Roberts may have also been affected by a Stone dissent in another 1936 case that was unusually cutting for the era and completely shredded Robert’s opinion. (One of the many thing Supreme Power documents well is the extent to which the cavalcade of reactionary nonsense pushed Stone to the end of his rope. After one particularly silly Sutherland opinion gutting the SEC’s investigatory powers, Stone wrote Felix Frankfurter that the opinion “was written for morons…When our Court sets at naught a plain command of Congress, without the invocation of any identifiable prohibition of the Constitution, and supports it only by platitudinous irrelevancies, it is a matter of transcendent importance.”   Alas, the quality of conservative jurisprudence hasn’t necessarily improved much.)

So while the Court-packing plan itself may not have influenced Roberts, political pressure more generally (including FDR’s previous willingness to play constitutional hardball) almost certainly did. And the 1936 opinions were so extreme and untenable — collectively producing a situation in which neither level of government had the ability to pass fundamental regulations, based on strained or entirely judicially invented readings of the Constitution — that it was a matter of time in any case.

More thoughts on the student loan mess

[ 73 ] May 15, 2012 |

Scott has already noted that one causal factor in the spiraling amount of student loan debt cataloged in the current NYT series on the subject has been the eagerness of state governments to stop subsidizing higher education. Andrew Hacker points out that it’s important not to let the schools themselves, public and private, off the hook.

In his new book Failing Law Schools Brian Tamanaha makes the perceptive observation that to argue law schools have raised their tuition so drastically because of skyrocketing operating costs is getting, to a significant extent, the causality backwards: law schools have skyrocketing operating costs because they’ve raised tuition drastically. And they’ve raised tuition drastically because, as Tamanaha puts it, “they could.” I’m not familiar enough with the financial structure of higher education in general to venture an opinion on the extent to which this phenomenon applies to it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it did.

In any case, over the past generation higher education in this country has been swept up in the ideology of the supposedly free market, which posits that if you charge $48,000 per year to attend Ohio Northern University and students and their families pay (or to an increasing extent borrow from the federal government) that amount this constitutes an economically rational transaction by definition. It turns out that postulate depends on a whole lot of highly questionable assumptions.

Another symptom of the same sort of ideological distortion is Gordon Gee’s salary of two million dollars per year. Gee has now been the president of five different universities, and has left something of a mess everywhere he’s been. His career illustrates that upward failure is a principle that doesn’t apply just to corporate CEOs.


[ 81 ] May 15, 2012 |

So today I am attending a game at Fenway for the first time, as I will again watch my Mariners lose on the road. Whenever I see Seattle play on the road, terrible things happen. They get swept in a double header. They get shut out. Felix Hernandez has atypically bad starts. In 2010, when Felix won the Cy Young, I saw him twice. He got absolutely bombed in Texas, the worst start of the season. Then in Cleveland, he pitched great for 6 innings, but in the 7th, a 2 out error was followed by 6 unearned runs. I almost countered this bad luck by remembering that I was at the game in New York when Felix hit the grand slam off Johan Santana, but I also remember that he hurt his ankle covering home 2 innings later and ended up on the DL. Even in the minors, I saw Felix pitch in Albuquerque until the 2nd inning when he caught a liner off his foot and left the game.

Last year, I tried to see the Mariners play on the road twice. DJW and I went to 2 games in Cleveland. In the first, Brandon League gave up a 3-run HR in the bottom of the 9th, which was just awful to witness. Maybe the worst Mariners game I’ve ever sat through. The second game was rained out after we sat through it for 2 hours. The rain out was far less painful.

Today, the legendary Blake Beavan faces Josh Beckett. I am interested to see if Sox fans boo Beckett in his first home start (I think) since he was busted for golfing the day after he missed a start. But I’m sure Seattle will lose in some heartbreaking fashion. Or this game will be rained out too, which is a possibility.

Anyway, since it’s my first trip to Fenway, any advice on where to park, what to eat inside the park (if anything is actually worth it), where to dine or have a drink after the game, or other tips are greatly appreciated.

The Myth That Won’t Die

[ 102 ] May 14, 2012 |

Glad to see the Chicago Sun-Times is giving noted moron Jenny McCarthy a forum to spread her anti-vaccination idiocy.

NHL Very Quick Picks

[ 11 ] May 14, 2012 |

Having improved all the way to .500 in the last round,I’ll try to at least match that last time. In the West, it’s the Kings (a pick I tweeted last night so you won’t think I’m cheating!) I continue to think that LA’s performance in the playoffs is more indicative of the talent of their roster than their regular season record, so I think they’ll beat the game but overmatched-in-talent Coyotes in, let’s say, 5. One argument I made in comments last time I’ll reiterate is that while his reputation seems to suffer from the more dubious coaching performances of his brothers, Darryl Sutter is an excellent coach. His first Chicago team improved by 16 points; his San Jose teams defied the Plexiglass Principle 4 years in a row, rare in any pro sport; and he took a Calgary team that was basically 2 elite players (one of whom Sutter acquired for a 2nd round draft pick) fronting a real good AHL team to within a goal of the Stanley Cup, 103 points the next year. Like a lot of defensive hardass types he doesn’t necessarily have a long shelf life but he was a great hire for an underachieving Kings team.

In the East, I’ll stick with the Rangers on the threadbare reasoning that in a series that figures to have a lot of close games I’ll take the team with the superior goaltending, and being in the camp that thinks he was a little overrated at his peak I don’t believe in the 40-year-old Brodeur. Plus, I think Berube will be able to will the spirit of Stephane Matteau in a Game 7. But I was impressed and evidently surprised by how easily Jersey handled the Flyers, so I won’t be surprised if they win.

Labor Notes

[ 14 ] May 14, 2012 |

1. Chipotle is supposed to be the “good” fast food company. You know, the capitalists that we can look to and say, “Hey, the system can work!” But Chipotle also won’t sign the Fair Food Agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the tomato picker union that has waged a long struggle to bring Florida farmworkers out of their near-slavery conditions. Other fast food companies have done so. If you aren’t familiar with the CIW, see here.

2. Last week, John Stossel decided to pull a James O’Keefe. He’s been going around to union offices claiming he’s interested in filming “beautiful buildings.” Um, yeah I’m sure. What he’s actually up to is almost certainly exposing the supposedly lavish offices of unions. I don’t know what kind of an office Richard Trumka has, but I’ve been in my share of union offices and they ain’t luxurious.

Also, John Stossel is both an idiot and a giant douche. As Laura Clawson says in the linked article, you can’t be James O’Keefe if everyone knows who you are.

3. Nice Josh Eidelson piece on some Republican lawmakers getting cold feet over attacking unions in their states. Josh notes that they are all watching Wisconsin. If Walker wins, the game is back on. If Walker loses, this retrenchment might hold. Another reason why the DNC needs to contribute its share.

4. Outstanding Mariya Strauss piece on the Department of Labor failing to update safety rules for child labor on farms. I’ve talked about this before, but Strauss gives you the information you need to know.

On the other hand, after seeing this image of a black hole destroying a star, what’s the point of living?

Reid v. the Filibuster

[ 18 ] May 14, 2012 |

While it won’t do much in the short term for the war to get rid of the indefensible, Harry Reid saying that it was wrong not to restrict the use of the filibuster is a good sign. My guess is that it will require a Republican majority to do it, but eventually things might get bad enough that more senators will start valuing the ability to get some kind of agenda passed over the preservation of their individual prerogatives.

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