From the monthly archives:

June 2013

Can The Republicans Be The White Party And Win?

by John Holbo on June 30, 2013

Following up my Shelby post: Dave Weigel has a post, “Do Republicans Really Need Hispanic Votes? Nope!” He links to part two of a three-part analysis by Sean Trende (part 1, part 3). Trende proposes that even if Dems get 90% black, Hispanic and Asian, this is likely to depress the Dem share of the white vote to the point where Reps remain competitive for decades. He suggests that, electorally, the ‘Arizona model’ – i.e. apparently go out of your way to piss off Hispanics (he doesn’t put it that way) – is about as likely to work as the ‘Full Rubio’.

I have no opinion about Sean Trende and I don’t usually rely on “Real Clear Politics” for my wonky analysis, to say the least. But, whatever the merits or demerits of his specific deployments of data, this does strike me as noteworthy. It’s the first time I’ve seen a ‘wonky’ Republican suggest maybe extreme racial polarization should be on the table as a strategic option. It’s so obvious it would be a bad thing for the whole country that I find it dismaying.

Unintended Consequences of Shelby?

by John Holbo on June 28, 2013

I’m not a big believer in ‘heighten the contradictions’. Too Lenin-meets-slatepitch. But I wonder to what extent the Shelby decision will prove disadvantageous for Republicans because the party will now pursue measures that are inconsistent with making any credible attempt to not be a regional, ethnocentric party. Because they have to at least try this new stuff, as a solution to the problem that demographics are shifting. But surely everyone is going to notice them doing that.

Maybe it will backfire, as voter discouragement measures seem to have backfired in 2012. Or maybe it will work, at least in the near term. Minorities will vote in smaller numbers. That will help Republicans. But it seems like doom for Republican moderates, hence death for tender green shoots of Republican moderation (were one to believe such a delicate blossom could ever compete with that hardiest of conservative perennials – the extremist spasm.) No Republican is allowed to call a fellow Republican a racist, obviously. That’s beyond the pale (no pun intended!) But that means no moderate Republican will be able to talk, critically, about what their fellow Republicans are going to be up to, thanks to Shelby. Because anything the least bit negative they say about anything Shelby has made possible will be construed as a charge of ‘racism!’ by other Republians. So the most ethnocentric elements of the party will loudly drag the rest quietly along for the rightward ride. But no one along for that ride is going to look moderate in the least. The overall optics are going to be terrible.

Read this column by Matt Lewis. It’s about immigration, not Shelby. But the dynamics are the same. Just apply Lewis’ discovery that dog-bites-man – yep, it happens – to the Shelby case. The Supreme Court has made it legal to do stuff you couldn’t do before. Hence there is a practical point to Republicans talking about doing that stuff. But the talk is going to get ugly. But no one on the right is allowed to notice it getting ugly. No one who aspires to office, anyway – even though this is precisely the same lot who most appreciate that you need to keep the ugly talk to a minimum. Lewis is a Rubio fan, and I can see him worrying: in 12 years, is it going to be possible to have a figure like Rubio in the party? Or will he have died the death of a thousand cuts from both sides. He will look to minority voters like a profile in putting up with increasing amounts of crap. (At best, it will be largely symbolic stuff, intended to signal to whites that Republicans think they’re still tops. At worst, it may be much worse than that. We’ll see.) Rubio-types will look to white Republicans like a liability waiting to happen. When is he finally going to call us racists, which will have the Times all over us in a New York minute, costing us more than all the good he ever did for us, in terms of minority outreach.

You might say this only affects Republicans in the regions affected by Shelby. But other Republicans will have to comment on it, and ‘it’s not my district’ isn’t going to sound very moderate to ticked off minority voters.

Going back to my first point: it’s too clever by half to argue that vote suppression measures will surely backfire, having the opposite of the intended effect. So let’s just ask: to what extent will Shelby discourage the Republican Party from mending its ways (by liberal lights, of course)?

One huge step forward

by Ingrid Robeyns on June 26, 2013

This one is for our American friends.


The City of Utrecht, where I live, recently decided to make this Rainbow Crossing in order to make explicit that it wants to be a city where gays are equally welcome as straight people. I took this picture a week ago and wanted to post it next Saturday when Utrecht celebrates Pink Saturday. But I think today is more appropriate. Congratulations to all American Gay activists for this huge step forward in their struggle for genuine equal rights, respect and recognition.

Another Day, Another Billion

by Henry Farrell on June 26, 2013

I’m surprised that there hasn’t been more discussion outside Europe about the Anglo-Irish tapes. A summary from a “review”: I did a few years ago of Fintan O’Toole’s book on the Irish collapse.

bq. Anglo Irish Bank —Ireland’s third-largest bank and the most spectacular exemplar of the Celtic Tiger’s flameout— bet its future on loans to well-connected property developers. O’Toole suggests that “[i]t may be an exaggeration to call Anglo Irish a private bank for Fianna Fáil’s more flamboyant friends—but only a small one.” Not only did Anglo Irish itself invest heavily in the property market, but it lent more than 100 million euros to its chairman (as well as smaller sums to other directors) to speculate in property on his own account, and then hid the loan on its balance sheet through sleight of hand. The Central Bank–based regulator charged with regulating financial services knew about both the loans and the cover-up but declined to act. To borrow University College Dublin economist Morgan Kelly’s term, Anglo Irish was “too connected to fail”—no serious regulatory response was possible.

bq. When Anglo Irish began to get into trouble, a “golden circle” of ten investors borrowed money from the bank itself to invest in its own shares and hence keep the share price from tanking. Seventy-five percent of the loans were backed by the shares themselves. Six members of the golden circle are known; most of them have strong Fianna Fáil connections. Anglo Irish executives and board members were also allegedly given loans to buy shares to help “counter negative publicity.”

After the failure of Lehmann, Anglo Irish found itself in very serious trouble. The Irish state stepped in first to guarantee the debts of Anglo Irish Bank and other banks, and then to nationalize Anglo Irish. Over the last couple of days, the Irish Independent has been releasing extracts from recorded phone conversations between senior Anglo Irish executives in the lead-up, and they … say interesting things … about the attitude of bailed out bankers. Some of the extracts:

[the problem, as stated to the Irish Central Bank]

bq. To cut a long story short we sort of said. ‘Look, what we need is seven billion euros… what we’re going to give you is our loan collateral so we’re not giving you ECB, we’re giving you the loan clause.

[how the regulator was quoted as responding when he he heard the proposed figure]

bq. Jesus that’s a lot of dosh … Jesus fucking hell and God … well do you know the Central Bank only has €14 billion of total investments so that would be going up 20 … Jesus you’re kind of asking us to play ducks and drakes with the regulations.

[where the 7 billion figure came from]

bq. Just, as Drummer [CEO David Drumm] would say, ‘I picked it out of my arse’.

[why the figure was quoted, even though senior management knew it was inadequate]

bq. That number is seven but the reality is we need more than that. But you know, the strategy here is you pull them [the Central Bank] in, you get them to write a big cheque and they have to keep, they have to support their money, you know.


bq. They’ve got skin in the game and that’s the key.

[response to the response]

bq. If they saw the enormity of it up front, they might decide they have a choice. You know what I mean? They might say the cost to the taxpayer is too high…if it doesn’t look too big at the outset…if it doesn’t look big, big enough to be important, but not too big that it kind of spoils everything, then, then I think you can have a chance. So I think it can creep up.

bq. So, so … [the €7 billion] is bridged until we can pay you back … which is never. [Loud laughter]”

[when the executives heard that the proposed bailout was causing diplomatic problems with other European states]

bq. So fuckin’ what. Just take it anyway . . . stick the fingers up.”

Also, loud laughter when one executive starts singing “Deutschland Uber Alles” in response to the worry that the saga was causing a rift between Ireland and Germany. As you might imagine, that’s going down a storm with German media.

My Things To Come post got a modest response. Let’s try for more, considering ‘How Things Have Changed Dramatically’.

Kevin Drum’s nickel summary works for me, comparing and contrasting the new decision, in Shelby County v. Holder with Crawford v. Marion County Election Board (PDF).

So here’s your nickel summary. If a law is passed on a party-line vote, has no justification in the historical record, and is highly likely to harm black voting, that’s OK as long as the legislature in question can whomp up some kind of neutral-sounding justification. Judicial restraint is the order of the day. But if a law is passed by unanimous vote, is based on a power given to Congress with no strings attached, and is likely to protect black voting, that’s prohibited unless the Supreme Court can be persuaded that Congress’s approach is one they approve of. Judicial restraint is out the window. Welcome to the 21st century.

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If Reagan Were Pinochet…Sigh

by Corey Robin on June 26, 2013

While I have your attention, I want to highlight two dimensions of that 1981 Mont Pelerin Society (MPS) meeting in Pinochet’s Chile that Hayek helped organize. You can read about the whole affair here: I encourage you to do so; the devil, ahem, really is in the details. [click to continue…]

In my last post, I responded to three objections to my article “Nietzsche’s Marginal Children.” In this post I respond to a fourth regarding the connection between Friedrich von Hayek and Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Though my comments on that connection took up a mere three sentences in my article, they’ve consumed an extraordinary amount of bandwidth among my libertarian critics. [click to continue…]

My article “Nietzsche’s Marginal Children” has provoked much criticism, some of it quite hostile. (Here’s a complete list of the responses I’ve received.)

The criticism focuses on four issues: the connection between Nietzsche and Austrian economists such as Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich von Hayek; the question of Hayek’s elitism; the relationship between economic and non-economic value; and the relationship between Hayek and Pinochet.

I address three of these criticisms here—a separate post on Hayek and Pinochet follows—but first let me restate the argument of the piece and explain why I wrote it. [click to continue…]

Hope and climate change

by John Q on June 24, 2013

According to various reports, Obama is making a speech today (Tuesday) in which he will announce limits on carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. These limits can be imposed by regulation, and are justified by court decisions requiring the Environmental Protection Authority to control greenhouse gas emissions.

Obama has been a disappointment in all sorts of ways, but effective action on climate change would be sufficient, for me, to redeem his presidency. None of the other things we are fighting about will matter unless there is a livable planet on which to fight.

Going from realistic hope to wishful thinking, a sufficiently positive reaction on this might give him the nerve to block the Keystone pipeline. But strong action on power plants would be enough for me – it’s really up to Canadians to stop the oil sands menace.

One of the more tiresome points being made in relation to the revelations from Edward Snowden is that there is nothing really new here. And, of course, it’s true that, if you’ve been paying careful attention to all the news on this topic, disregarding both official assurances and the wilder conspiracy theories, and thinking through the implications, the material leaked by Snowden is more confirmation than revelation. But, sad to say, that’s not the case for most of us. I think I’ve been paying more attention than most, and I still learned a lot from the latest news.

That’s all a preamble for a repost of a piece I wrote in 2004, in relation to an earlier revelation along similar lines, with a link to an even earlier piece from 2001, making the general case that secret intelligence is useless.
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I’ve posted about this before – here and here and here and here. What film is that? The H. G. Wells-scripted/William Cameron Menzies-directed Things To Come (1936), of course. Everyone should have a hobby.


The Criterion Collection just released a new, restored version on Blu-Ray. Oh joy!

Here are some stills – all crisp and clear for the first time! [click to continue…]

Monsters University: the Aftermath

by Kieran Healy on June 23, 2013

[Monsters University](, the prequel to [Monsters, Inc](, opened this weekend. I brought the kids to see it. As a faculty member at what is generally thought of as America’s most [monstrous university](, I was naturally interested in seeing how higher education worked in Monstropolis. What sort of pedagogical techniques are in vogue there? Is the flipped classroom all the rage? What’s the structure of the curriculum? These are natural questions to ask of a children’s movie about imaginary creatures. Do I have to say there will be spoilers? Of course there will be spoilers. (But really, if you are the sort of person who would be genuinely upset by having someone reveal a few plot points in *Monsters University*, I am not sure I have any sympathy for you at all.) As it turned out, while my initial reactions focused on aspects of everyday campus life at MU, my considered reaction is that, as an institution, Monsters University is doomed.

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by John Holbo on June 21, 2013

So, in case you are curious, this is what the sun looks like, above the trees, in Singapore, when the haze index hits 401.



So I walked around the neighborhood collecting shots of ghastly tree sillouettes. They have a kind of beauty, so long as you don’t have to breathe it.

I, for one …

by John Q on June 21, 2013

… welcome the knowledge that, as a US non-person, the NSA is charged with monitoring all my emails, phone calls and other activities, without all those pesky 4th Amendment limitations applicable to people who are (on the balance of probabilities) located in the US.

I don’t have the time and energy to monitor all my emails for potential security threats. Just the other day, for example, I received an email from an Abdul Hameed, offering “Deep Cycle Maintenance Free Batteries Directly for Importer”. Abdul sounds genuine enough, but he seems to be located in Pakistan, which is a bit dubious. And who knows what can be done with batteries? Then there are the regular emails I get from genuine ladies seeking relationships. Perhaps these are the kind of “honey traps” I read about in spy novels.

The debate about PRISM has confused me as to whether these emails are being properly monitored. So, instead of waiting for NSA to go through cumbersome FISA court procedures, I’m going to set my email preferences to forward all such emails (and, when I get around to it, all my emails) automatically to the NSA “Acquisition Resource Center” at Hopefully, they will sort through them to determine which are genuine, and which need further investigation by professionals. If we all do likewise, the world will be a much safer place. Perhaps readers could suggest other addresses that should be copied in.

Journal of Practical Ethics: a new open-access journal

by Ingrid Robeyns on June 20, 2013

So this looks interesting – the Oxford Uehiro Center for Ethics has launched a new open access journal called Journal of Practical Ethics, with as subtitle: A Journal of Philosophy, Applied to the Real World. Roger Crisp and Julian Savulescu have written a brief introduction in which they explain how they will run their journal and why they believe there is a need for such a journal. They argue, rightly in my view:

We believe that the ideas and arguments of many moral and political philosophers are of significant relevance to problems in contemporary life. Not only are these arguments of interest to the general public, but they are of relevance to political and social leaders, legislators and civil servants. However, there is less than optimal penetration of this philosophical work beyond the confines of academe.

I think this is great news – we need more of these ‘bridges’ between academic philosophy and the wider public that are initiated by academics, since academics have the best access to/information about the latest philosophical research that deserves to be ‘translated’ to a wider audience, and academics can also make sure that no unacceptable simplifications are made (I can’t speak for the UK, but some of what is being published under the heading ‘popular philosophy’ in my country makes me want to cry. Translation for a wider audience shouldn’t mean having no standards at all, apart from the standards of the market for popular philosophy. This, incidentally, is the topic of a blogpost I have been wanting to write for a while and which I promise you for sometime in the next two weeks).