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Because I’m an equal opportunity shit-stirrer…

[ 4 ] November 10, 2014 |

I spoke to Chris Kluwe about my earlier interview with Adam Baldwin. This part should amuse some of the folks who commented on the previous post:

Kluwe began by noting that it was strange that Baldwin, a critic of journalistic ethics, requested that the interview be conducted on Twitter, which is not conventional journalistic procedure — but that he understood the desire to work in a format in which ideological opponents would not be able to manipulate your words.

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America’s First Asian Fantasy

[ 34 ] November 10, 2014 |


In 1846, Senator Thomas Hart Benton (D-MO) gave a speech on the Senate floor titled “The Destiny of the Race.” This fundamental articulation of Manifest Destiny and its sibling white supremacy not only justifies American expansion around the world, but reads like the nation’s first Asian sex fantasy. In part:

The van of the Caucasian race now top the Rocky Mountains, and spread down to the shores of the Pacific. In a few years, a great population will grow up there, luminous with the accumulated lights of European and American civilization. Their presence in such a position cannot be without its influence upon eastern Asia….The sun of civilization must shine across the sea; socially and commercially, the van of the Caucasians, and the rear of the Mongolians must intermix. They must talk together, and trade together, and marry together. Commerce is a great civilizer–social intercourse is great–and marriage greater. The White and Yellow races can marry together….Moral and intellectual superiority will do the rest; the White race will take the ascendant.

The van of the Caucasians and the rear of the Mongolians indeed.

Part of what Benton is doing here is basically providing an intellectual justification for the great taboo of American history–interracial sex because he so clearly means white men and Asian women while providing assurance that some sort of mongrel race like the Mexicans (which is how antebellum Americans viewed Mexicans) will not develop for long, thanks to the obvious superiority of Euro-American culture and blood.

I grabbed this speech out of a textbook years ago when I was first writing lectures and came across it again today when reviewing some lecture notes. Some other excerpts from this speech are here, although not the entire thing.

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So, I interviewed Adam Baldwin about GamerGate…

[ 62 ] November 10, 2014 |

…and Animal Mother/Jayne didn’t disappoint.

Though he did want to talk about the Frankfurt School more than I expected.


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And Sometimes Bad News Is Probably Just Bad News

[ 126 ] November 10, 2014 |

It may well have been two whole hours since you’ve read one of my columns.  Fortunately, the suspense is over!  My take on the Supreme Court’s decision to jump the Halbig en banc and decide the ACA troofer case:

This is why the Supreme Court’s decision to step in is so disturbing. If there was still a circuit split, one couldn’t really infer very much about the position of the justices. But the court preempting the en banc hearing of Halbig is another story. “There was no reason to take this case in order to uphold the ACA, given the nearly certain result of the en banc,” Margo Schlanger of the University of Michigan Law School told me. “So that means there are four justices who want to strike it down who think they have five votes to do so.”


It’s very likely, in other words, that John Roberts is on a crusade to slowly poison the ACA to death without issuing a single high-profile ruling holding the ACA unconstitutional. First, he re-wrote the Medicaid expansion in a way that denies health insurance to millions of poor people (while not even meaningfully protecting state sovereignty). And now, Roberts might be ready to join the court’s other Republicans to destroy most of the exchanges based on legal arguments that are even more dubious.

Don’t be fooled. Such a ruling would not reflect any legal principles. Rather, it would reflect the Republican Party’s longstanding offer to people who lack health insurance: nothing.

But read the whole etc. if you want to be angry on a Monday morning.

I should note that some smart observers are more optimistic than I am: see for example Brianne Gorod and Ian Millhiser. The latter makes an interesting argument about how Roberts could use the arguments advanced by 18 states to save the subsides while advancing other reactionary federalist goals. It’s very possible, given his third way in Sebelius. And one might think that a large number of states filing briefs in favor of the federal government’s position, although I would caution that 36 states filing or signing amicus briefs supporting the federal government didn’t stop the Supreme Court from striking down part of the Violence Against Women Act in the name of “states’ rights.”

Let’s also be clear that this a life or death issue: see Beutler, and in a particularly heartbreaking essay, David Tedrow.

Finally, this twitter thread uncovered by Josh Marshall really tells you a great deal about modern Republicans. You have your Michael Cannons who are just straightforwardly giddy about people being stripped of their insurance. But then there are people who just think that it’s unpossible that someone could get their health insurance cancelled and be ineligible for Medicaid under the status quo ante, because Free Market Ponies! What can you say? It’s this moral and political universe in which it is quite likely that five Supreme Court justices will claim they’re enforcing the will of Congress by enforcing a nonsensical interpretation of a statute no member of Congress who voted for the legislation agrees with then or now.

…Bill Gardner is a fellow pessimist.

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Today, Even Good News Takes the Form of Bad News

[ 50 ] November 10, 2014 |

6CA’s decision to force the Supreme Court’s hand is likely to ultimately have good consequences.  Sutton’s opinion unintentionally reveals why the bans can’t be defended:

Finally, Sutton reverts to the fancy theoretical means conservatives use to justify exclusionary traditions: originalism. One conservative legal blogger argues that Sutton’s claim that “[n]obody in this case…argues that the people who adopted the Fourteenth Amendment understood it to require the States to change the definition of marriage” should “be the beginning and end of the analysis.”

Let’s leave aside the many problems with the originalist approach to constitutional interpretation. The fact is that relying on the particular policy expectations of individual framers isn’t even good originalism. The framers and ratifiers of the Fourteenth Amendment enacted a general principle of equal protection, not the specific policy expectations of individual lawmakers.

Indeed, most framers and ratifiers of the Fourteenth Amendment thought that segregated schools and bans on interracial marriage were consistent with the equal protection of the laws, but this doesn’t make Brown v. Board of Education and Loving v. Virginia wrong. The only question is whether the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection principles are consistent with excluding gays and lesbians from the fundamental right to marry. The answer to that question is “no.”

The most fundamental problem with Sutton’s argument, as Judge Daughtrey eloquently observes, is that “the majority treats both the issues and the litigants here as mere abstractions” while not “recognizing the plaintiffs as persons, suffering actual harm as a result of being denied the right to marry where they reside or the right to have their valid marriages recognized there.”

All of the hand-waving about federalism and judicial rights cannot disguise the fact that this case involved victims of unconstitutional, invidious discrimination that does very real harm to their lives. Hopefully, the Supreme Court will correct this injustice sooner rather than later.



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Position-Taking is Not the Problem

[ 270 ] November 10, 2014 |

Rich Yeselson’s midterm postmortem should be read in its entirety. I’d particularly like to highlight this:

Based on number five, it would seem that Meyerson makes a strong point: Democrats need to act like, at the least, a party of leftist populism in order to galvanize its core constituency of the young, single women, and people of color, increase turnout, and more fully resist the GOP extremists. The problem is that while this is the right thing to do normatively, there is no particular evidence it would be that effective politically. The Democratic senators who got beat ran ahead of Obama’s approval percentage in their states. And a lot of them got killed.

It’s not the 1930s anymore — white people in Kentucky, Louisiana, and Arkansas despise anything that reminds them of the national Democratic party, which they already think is socialist as it is. They don’t want it to move left, they think it’s grotesquely left enough.

It was craven for Alison Grimes to not even say whether she voted for Obama, but there’s no social science or historical evidence that would indicate most Americans are intensely interested — as a matter of voter-motivated preference — in greater union bargaining rights, redistributive public programs, and the taxes that would be needed to pay for them.

This cuts the other way, too — Grimes probably didn’t gain much by running away from Obama and especially the ACA, since she’s tied with both anyway, so you might as well try to make a positive case (especially when many people in your state are benefiting from the Medicaid expansion.) But the idea that voters in most of the states where the Democrats lost are looking for full-throated left-wing populism is dreaming in technicolor. The number of voters in these races who don’t like Obama because they don’t think he’s liberal enough are essentially a rounding error. Enacting populist economic policies could well have substantial political benefits (although as the passage of the most important progressive legislation in nearly five decades shows, maybe not), but politicians talking about them more won’t.

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Sunday Evening Open Music Thread

[ 50 ] November 9, 2014 |

Since it is quiet here tonight, I might as well talk about music.

I had the occasion to have a slightly extended weekend thanks to giving a midterm and thus drove out to the far distant school where my wife teaches. In my world, that means listening to a lot of music. I know there are good podcasts out there. But none of them are as good as a good album. So I don’t listen to them. Instead, I listen to albums. And usually full length albums as opposed to what the kids these days call “playlists” what with their baggy jeans and the like.

So, on the way out there, I listened to the following:

Wooley/Rempis/Niggenkemper/Corsano, From Wolves to Whales
Rilo Kiley, Under the Blacklight
Akira Sakata & Chikamorachi, Friendly Pants
L7, Bricks Are Heavy
Wussy, Attica
V/A, Festival in the Desert (a collection of live recordings from the annual festival in Timbuktu, although I don’t know if it still going on with the whole violence and all)
Roky Erickson, The Evil One
Bob Dylan, Bringing It All Back Home
Merle Haggard, Down Every Road, Disc 3
Bill Callahan, Woke on a Whaleheart
Bruce Cockburn, High Winds White Sky
Bonnie Prince Billy, Ease Down the Road
Sonny Rollins, Live at the Village Vanguard, Volume 2

And driving back today, here was my playlist:

Ralph Stanley, Classic Stanley Disc 1
Osborne Brothers, From Rocky Top to Muddy Bottom
Curtis Mayfield, Superfly
Herbie Hancock, Live September 1973 (some radio show recording a friend gave me years ago. As I attempt to reconstruct my music collection following the theft, I am really glad I burned this on a CD at some point)
Bill Callahan, Apocalypse
Pavement, Slanted and Enchanted
White Stripes, Elephant
Mates of State, Mountaintops
Flying Burrito Brothers, Farther Along: The Best of the Flying Burrito Brothers
Bill Frisell, The Intercontinentals
Townes Van Zandt, Townes Van Zandt
Irving Fields, Bagels and Bongos

Overall, a reasonable facsimile of my normal listening patterns.

Talk about whatever music you want.

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I Am Pretty Sure That Lynch Ordered the Hit on Vince Foster, Though

[ 56 ] November 9, 2014 |


New York federal prosecutor Loretta Lynch, the new nominee for attorney general, has a career filled with high profile cases — and she was a member of Bill Clinton’s defense team during the 1992 Whitewater corruption probe.

As he made his announcement Saturday afternoon, Obama called the two-time U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York a “tough, fair and independent” lawyer.

“It’s pretty hard to be more qualified for this job than Loretta Lynch,” Obama said.

Indeed, the prosecutor has a long career built of some high profile cases but there is one case Lynch was involved in that few are talking about. Lynch was a part of Bill Clinton’s Whitewater probe defense team in 1992.

Let us pretend to be hackish enough to pretend that a young U.S. Attorney involved in drug prosecutions was, for some reason, part of Clinton’s Whitewater defense team. What remains unclear is precisely what this revelation is supposed to be telling us. So Lynch 1)served as a part of the Clintons’ defense team 2)during a non-scandal in which the Clintons did nothing wrong. What does this have to do with the price of poutine in Quebec City? It’s amazing that at this late date merely saying “Whitewater” is supposed to signify some kind of major scandal when there’s less than nothing there. (In fairness, you can also do this kind of thing in a Harper‘s cover story.)

You can probably see the punchline coming:

Correction: The Loretta Lynch identified earlier as the Whitewater attorney was, in fact, a different attorney.

In fairness, if you had told me a winger outlet had made this mistake my money would have been on Tucker Carlson.

…hopefully, Vanity Fair will append a similar correction to this headline soon.

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There is privilege, then there is privilege

[ 92 ] November 9, 2014 |

…and then there’s whatever this is.

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[ 36 ] November 9, 2014 |

This was insane.

All night, the telecast used a weird, flat angle that made it hard to follow the action on the field. That angle contributed to the confusion here; some guy’s head is in the way when Clay drops the ball, so neither the TV audiences nor (apparently) the announcers could understand the problem. I don’t know if this was an editorial decision, if there was a technical problem, or if it’s a feature of Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Kudos to the Ducks D for paying attention, though.

… Clay displays a lot of class, as do Utah fans. Thank goodness he doesn’t play for Alabama.

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The Paper of the 1%

[ 61 ] November 9, 2014 |

Kind of surprising to see the Times so openly admit is the newspaper for the 1%.

Anyone who looks at the style, food, real estate, or travel sections has long known this, but still.

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Book Review, Christopher Morris, The Big Muddy: An Environmental History of the Mississippi and Its Peoples from Hernando de Soto to Hurricane Katrina

[ 14 ] November 9, 2014 |

Now that one book is in the can and the other is under review, I have time to read again. So I will review the recent books I get through here on the blog, as I used to do.

Christopher Morris’ environmental history of the lower Mississippi Valley takes readers from the sixteenth century to the present. His central point is that Europeans entered a landscape where wet and dry coexisted, with an ecological balance that supported Native American civilizations, and strove to separate the wet from dry with ever greater technological inputs. In doing so, the French and then the Americans not only rapidly changed the lower Mississippi ecosystem, but also ended up severely degrading one of the most fertile and rich parts of the world.

For both the French and Americans, living in a wet land seemed uncivilized. The constant, if usually low-level, flooding, was akin to savagery and in order to maintain Frenchness or Americanness, separation from nature was required. This led, very quickly, to the building of levees and concerted attempts to dry out the land behind them. For the French, rice culture worked to tame this land and while the Americans continued growing rice, cotton became the economic basis for the ever more vigilance protection of the fields from the river.

But what Europeans found was that water cannot be fully controlled. Damming it, diverting it, channeling it–all of this provided short-term solutions to the water problem, but a force with the power of the Mississippi River strikes back. And when it does, if the pressure is built up because its natural release is taken away by the levees, the damage can be amazing. The most famous flood was in 1927, but the Mississippi has shown Europeans’ efforts to control it futile time and time again. But from the 17th century forward, Europeans sought to engineer the river so that its people could live on dry land without even thinking about the water. This normalized Louisiana and the Mississippi delta as dry land, making floods seem unnatural.

Morris spends most of the book describing these processes. The Mississippi is a young river, having only flowed in its present path for several hundred years. In that time, the river was the home of a tremendous amount of flora and fauna. He details how Native Americans survived in this marshy world, building enormous mounds that remind us of their presence today and thriving off the region’s rich natural resources. They shaped the landscape as well, but lacked the technological ability or capitalist culture to see the river as something that needed taming. After early Spanish and French failures to establish themselves on the lower Mississippi, the French finally succeeded when New Orleans was established in 1718 by Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville landed at Biloxi and walked east rather than get lost in the Mississippi delta as his predecessors had done. The French slowly began changing the valley, a process continued by the Spanish during their brief occupation of the area after 1763.

The real changes came with the Americans. The expansion of cotton meant turning as much of the South as possible to its production. This came at a widespread environmental cost throughout the region, with erosion, gullying, and exhausted soils clear problems by the time of the Civil War. On the Mississippi River, floods could replenish that soil, but the ever-more intensive growth of the levee system determined to keep that land dry meant that replenishing rarely occurred, only when flood events broke through the technologies built up to protect the cotton.

This landscape was of course highly racialized, both before and after the Civil War. Morris discusses how slaves lived on the margins of this wet and dry world. For slaves, the marshes provided some level of relative freedom and independence; the ability to hunt for food gave some slaves a bit of control over their own lives. Some slaves hunted full time for their masters, others killed raccoons, opossums, and birds for their own dinners. But those declining marshes meant disappearing wildlife too. Morris closes one chapter by discussing Theodore Roosevelt’s 1902 bear hunt in southern Louisiana, which led to the capture of a single scraggly bear attacked by dogs that did little more than disgust Roosevelt. That story, the basis for Faulkner’s “The Bear,” says much about the degraded nature of the lower Mississippi by the early twentieth century.

For general readers, Morris’ last three chapters will be of the greatest interest. Here, he rapidly moves into the twentieth century and what he calls a “pathological landscape.” Three centuries of trying to separate wet and dry had created a landscape where tremendous inputs of pesticides and fertilizers were necessary in one of the most fertile spaces on the planet. Mosquito-borne illnesses became worse through this regime, not better, as standing water made malaria and yellow fever plagues common in Louisiana through the 19th century. Chemicals like DDT and 2,4D became crutches for policy makers to avoid the environmental consequences of centuries of river policy. Coastal erosion became a problem before 1900 as the Mississippi River was channeled to the sea, and as the people of New Orleans discovered during Katrina, this can have devastating consequences.

Yet unlike many environmental histories, there is a bit of hope here. Morris steadfastly believes that humans can live along the Mississippi in a relatively sustainable way. Looking at crawfish farming as an ecologically sustainable way forward, Morris shows how it mimics the river’s natural processes, which means more marshes and more wildlife, as opposed to catfish farming or cotton that have caused great problems within the ecosystem. The crawfish farmers also grow rice in this wet landscape, which builds connections between land and water. Rice fields and catfish farms can become water storage areas that help the region manage the floods in a more ecologically sound and sustainable way than higher levees.

Morris also compares New Orleans to Venice, St. Petersburg, and Rotterdam to note that cities and water can coexist if people see the water as natural and plan for it, rather than view it as an enemy to tame. But New Orleans has not moved significantly in this direction since Hurricane Katrina, nor has the federal government. In a state as devoted to capitalism as the U.S., the short-term economic and political gains of levees means that remains the answer to the threat of water. Yet even in New Orleans, new homes on stilts are coming up, a recognition that this landscape can and flood. Even recognizing that is a positive step toward a more sustainable relationship with the river.

But outside of New Orleans, a somewhat different equation exists because declining populations along the delta has reduced the region’s political power and led to real victories for a more ecologically healthy management regime that has included some natural flooding and rejection of some water technology projects. People are beginning to realize the water is necessary and positive steps have begun to happen. Again, the region’s depopulation has played a role; even in post-Katrina New Orleans, nature is taking back parts of the city, with snakes and alligators in brush replacing people and parking lots.

I suppose some readers might want more on the modern Mississippi, focusing on the oil industry and canals that have received a great deal attention in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. But this history provides a deep background on one of the nation’s most important land management and urban planning problems today. Overall, this is an excellent environmental history with important things to say about modern policy choices.

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