From the category archives:

US Politics

Attention conservation notice: TOO LONG. But I wanted to rewrite my last post to my own satisfaction. So I did it different, but same.

People of the internet, I have long been openly opposed to loose dispensing of the blue pill.

“You take the blue pill — the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe.”

No, the story doesn’t end there. That’s tomorrow-never-comes thinking. Read the warning label! You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want? What a way to run the railroad. Morpheus is giving this stuff out like candy to any slacker bro who looks the least bit likely. Is he out of his mind?

Because, seriously: what is it you are sure to want to believe? You will want to believe you took the red pill – and we are off to the races! You will believe, falsely, you’re Neo. Past which point you will be no good to yourself or others. At best.

Most folks will be too tempted by the lazy beguilements of blue pill lifestyle, so we are soon up to our collective armpits in mass fantasies of red pill-popping pop-paranoid philosophy of politics. Gets so you can’t throw a rock without hitting ‘the One’ in some Spartacus line-up of ‘Ones’. (#METOO, but for Ones.)

Virgil poetized of the gates of horn and ivory. Even he never conceived of a gate of pizza. And now Kavanaugh (although he isn’t a gate yet, though I can’t imagine why not.) It is never going to end until someone figures out a way to stop Morpheus, a.k.a. Dr. Feelgood.

So I thought to myself: what will be the sign that BK has busted us through the basement, driving the right crazier? I designated a canary: if Dreher takes the blue pill, in a Kavanaugh-related manner, that will mean the right has found a way to delve deeper into crazy. That is, if Rod Dreher says he takes the red pill, that will be a sign he’s taken the blue pill. That will mean things are worse. And sure enough.

Why Rod Dreher, as my dead canary designate down a conservative coal mine? [click to continue…]

What Are The Odds?

by John Holbo on September 26, 2018

Kavanaugh. Suppose – just suppose – we wanted to estimate the likelihood that BK was guilty of sexual assault in his bad old “what happens at Georgetown Prep stays at Georgetown Prep” days. Given that Ford (and Ramirez) have accused him, what is the likelihood he is guilty? [click to continue…]

So How Serious Is This?

by John Holbo on August 22, 2018

Manafort and, especially, Cohen.

I honestly can’t tell. Ever since Lester Holt and ‘nothing matters anymore’ I really can’t tell what matters anymore. I mean: obviously any other President would be toast. But Trump? I’m reading Lawfare. But it seems to me the question is: can Congress ignore it? Signs point to: yes. At least until January. Obviously if Congress can ignore, they will.

In the meantime, I would just like to remind you that Jesus colluded with the sinners.

Do The Nordic Codetermination Moonwalk

by John Holbo on August 18, 2018

I am amused.


Thus, Kevin D. Williamson:

Senator Warren’s proposal entails the wholesale expropriation of private enterprise in the United States, and nothing less. It is unconstitutional, unethical, immoral, irresponsible, and — not to put too fine a point on it — utterly bonkers.

Yglesias points out that this is obviously false.

Williamson responds to Yglesias (while being careful not to link to Yglesias): “property rights would be diminished by the adoption of Warren’s plan.” That is, there would be wealth redistribution.

How could Yglesias not see that saying the first thing was just saying the second thing?

“It isn’t a difficult thing to understand, unless you have an investment in failing to understand it.”

How did The Atlantic fail to snap this prize up when they had the chance?

Decoding the Deep State

by Henry on August 17, 2018

Robert Litt has a piece in Lawfare, which probably deserves some further attention, if only because smart people seem to be misinterpreting it:

[click to continue…]

Someone on Westminster Hour this week, discussing the idea of a people’s vote, mentioned the poor British voter who won’t be grateful to be drawn back to the polls for yet another vote. Brenda from Bristol was cited.
[UPDATE: in the first comment below Russell Arben Fox points us to this much better piece by the late Anthony King which says the same things and much more…]

Well, they should try living here. I voted this week in the primaries. I voted in only three of the races — Governor, State Assembly, and (because my wife was hovering over me and pressed the button herself), Lieutenant Governor (whatever that is — and I should add that I spelled it wrong 7 different ways before finally looking it up). But there were plenty more races, some uncontested (I don’t vote in uncontested races, unless I feel strongly negative about the candidate, in which case I write in the name of my most distinguished former colleague). Here’s a list of the other races:

Attorney General
Secretary of State
State Treasurer
US Senator
US Congress
County Sheriff
County Clark of Circuit Court

I have to vote again in November in the general election.

Every year we have one or two school board elections — primary, and general (in the spring — there are 4 elections per year in even years, and two a year in odd years).

Here’s a selection of other positions for which there is a primary, and a general, election (some are in the spring, others in the fall):
[click to continue…]

The Man with the Two-Storey Brain

by Henry on July 25, 2018

By Source, Fair use, Link

Since Holbo is encroaching on my territory by writing about Dark Web Intellectualism, turnabout is fair play. Paul Krugman’s knowledge of science fiction is vast and impressive. Still, I can’t imagine that when he tweeted this:

he knew that he was invoking one of the great (if sadly little known in this Age of Bronze) recurring characters from 2000AD’s Tharg’s Future Shocks. Alan Moore’s Abelard Snazz was the Man with the Two-Story Brain, or, as we’d say today, a Very Stable Genius, who specialized in handling “complex problems with even more complicated solutions.” For example – Snazz’s More Robots Less Crime approach, as described by Wikipedia:

On the planet Twopp, crime is so rampant that even the Prime Minister, Chancellor, and Commissioner are robbed down to their underwear on their way to visit double-brained, four-eyed “Mutant Supermind” Abelard Snazz, President of Think, Inc. The officials of Twopp ask Snazz for a solution to the planet’s crime problem. Snazz’s answer is to create a race of giant police robots, heavily armed and programmed to make unlimited arrests. Snazz is hailed as a genius by his sycophantic robot assistant, Edwin. Unfortunately, the police robots are so efficient that they arrest all of the criminals on the planet, and continue to fill out their arrest quotient by arresting citizens for minor offences, such as breaking the laws of etiquette, good taste, and grammar. With everybody getting arrested, the officials return to Snazz for help. Snazz creates a race of giant criminal robots to keep the robot police busy, thus saving innocent people from being arrested. However, the perfectly matched conflict between the robot police and robot criminals creates an all-out war which kills scores of innocent bystanders. After another visit from the officials, Snazz’s latest solution is to create a race of little robot innocent bystanders to suffer in the humans’ stead. This saves the people from harm, but it also leaves the planet Twopp overcrowded with robots. The humans abandon the planet, and when Snazz announces his idea of building a giant robot planet for them, the enraged officials have had enough and eject Snazz and Edwin into outer space.

Wikipedia fails to mention the arrests of children for removing the “do not remove” tags from mattresses, which particularly impressed me as a child. Still, the proposal for building a giant robot planet is pretty good.

Would be/Wouldn’t be

by Henry on July 18, 2018

The Death of Stalin and the Trump administration have plenty in common.

Negative Dialectics

by John Holbo on July 17, 2018

“The sentence should have been ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia,’ sort of a double negative,” “So you can put that in and I think that probably clarifies things pretty good by itself.”

That’s not even a double-negative.

In other news, scholars have decided Wittgenstein meant that whereof he could not speak, thereof he would not be silent. Hamlet meant that is not the question. Heidegger wants you to know that nothing does not nothing. (Repeat: does not nothing.) Also, it turns out there is a typo in Nietzsche’s The Gay Science:

341. The heaviest weight. – What if some day or night a demon weren’t to steal into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it you will have to live once again and innumerable times again; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unspeakably small or great in your life must return to you, all in the same succession and sequence – even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned over again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!’ Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: ‘You are a god, and never have I heard anything more divine. ‘ If this thought gained power over you, as you are it would transform and possibly crush you; the question in each and every thing, ‘Do you want this again and innumerable times again?’ would lie on your actions as the heaviest weight! Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to long for no thing more fervently than for this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?

That clarifies Nietzsche on Eternal Return pretty good. Any questions?

Kennedy, The Magic 8-Ball Justice

by John Holbo on July 1, 2018

Some readers are failing to appreciate the aptness of my Kennedy-as-Magic-8-Ball analogy. In some cases this may by due to infirm powers of reading or reasoning; in other cases, to ignorance of the law, or of recent legal history. In some cases it may be due to insufficient familiarity with a children’s toy. No matter, I shall explain.

The Magic 8-Ball has 20 possible responses: 10 positive, 5 hazy or non-commital, 5 negative. And that is what Kennedy was. Half the time a rock-ribbed conservative, but half the time either liberal or hazy.

Thus, the following would be one way to keep the Supreme Court above the partisan fray, post-Kennedy, while acknowledging the power of partisanship, and according the sitting President a certain privilege when it comes to determining the make-up of the court. [click to continue…]

What Now?

by John Holbo on June 30, 2018

Like lots of folks, I’m pretty shell-shocked by the latest round of Supreme Court decisions, capped off by Kennedy’s retirement. (I haven’t felt up to writing about it. I haven’t felt able to write up anything else.) It’s not that any of the decisions were so shocking (although the gerrymandering punt was deeply disappointing.) It’s not surprising that Trump, plus a retirement-age court, equals fresh appointments. But all this seems fearfully irreversible in two senses.

First, ‘the courts will save us’ is dead for liberals and progressives for a generation.

Second, the hope that America might still awaken from the bad dream of Trump before something Really Bad happens seems dead.

It all seems a lot more zero-sum and long-term now. Either the left struggles and wins by huge margins, to take the (undemocratic) heights the Republicans currently command, or the future of US politics is Trumpist. There isn’t any hope that the future of the Republican Party isn’t Trumpist, or that there is some neither/nor option consisting of leaving a major decision to a somewhat inscrutable Magic Eight Ball in the form of Anthony Kennedy.

Abolish the death penalty

by John Quiggin on June 29, 2018

The discussion surrounding the US Supreme Court led me to think about the death penalty, one of the limited number of issues on which Justice Kennedy was a swing vote.* In this context, that means that he supported the death penalty in general but was concerned about due process and the execution of minors. It can safely be assumed that his replacement will have no such concerns.

That’s bad. But it’s only possible because the death penalty exists. The Supreme Court can’t sentence anyone to death; all it can do is fail to save them.

The only (possibly) feasible option therefore is to change the law to abolish the death penalty.There has been some progress at the state level, but that’s not going to stop executions any time soon. The only effective response is to pass Federal legislation abolishing or restricting the death penalty. Of course, that requires Democratic control of Congress and the Presidency, but so does any action with respect to the SC.

IANAL but this discussion seems to show that it would be possible in practice. At the very least, Congress could legislate the kinds of protections Kennedy supported, and repeal the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996

[click to continue…]

Say not the struggle naught availeth

by John Quiggin on June 28, 2018

With all the grim news from the US Supreme Court today, it’s easy to feel despairing. And there are certainly strong arguments to support a pessimistic view.

On the other hand, we’ve been here before many times before. Arthur Hugh Clough’s poem “Say not the struggle naught availeth” was written in 1849 the aftermath of the collapse of Chartism, a movement that demanded universal male suffrage, secret ballots and other democratic reforms. Clough himself spent 1848 in Italy during the “Year of Revolutions”, most of which were defeated within a few years. Yet, in the end, the Chartist demands were met*, and then surpassed through the struggle for women’s suffrage. The struggle for democracy in Europe as a whole has ebbed and flowed (it’s ebbing at the moment), but has so far been successful.

Coming to the US situation, even though the right has all the levers of power, they are still losing ground on lots of issues, both in terms of public support and in terms of actual outcomes
* Obamacare has survived, and there’s now rising support for a single-payer system.
* The Republican tax cuts are less popular than ever.
* Equal marriage is firmly established, and talk of a constitutional change to stop it has disappeared.
* Gun control, one of the few issues on which the right had gained popular support in the culture wars, is now back on the agenda
There are lots more examples both economic and cultural, including minimum wages, Confederate monuments, and the decline of for-profit education.

[click to continue…]

Ocasio-Cortez beats Joe Crowley

by Henry on June 27, 2018

Talk away

Breakdown values

by Henry on June 26, 2018

Today’s Supreme Court decision upholding the travel ban has renewed discussion of Mitch McConnell’s decision to prevent any Obama nominee to the Court from receiving consideration, and whether Democrats should run on packing the Court to redress this. If they did, they’d surely be greeted with deploring howls from centrist opinion makers in a way that Mitch McConnell was not. Michelle Goldberg points to a similar imbalance in the “civility” debate in a really great NYT piece today.

Naturally, all this has led to lots of pained disapproval from self-appointed guardians of civility. A Washington Post editorial urged the protesters to think about the precedent they are setting. “How hard is it to imagine, for example, people who strongly believe that abortion is murder deciding that judges or other officials who protect abortion rights should not be able to live peaceably with their families?” it asked.

Of course, this is not hard to imagine at all, since abortion opponents have assassinated abortion providers in their homes and churches, firebombed their clinics and protested at their children’s schools. The Roman Catholic Church has shamed politicians who support abortion rights by denying them communion. The failure to acknowledge this history is a sign of the reflexive false balance that makes it hard for the mainstream media to grapple with the asymmetric extremism of the Republican Party.

One of the big disputes among liberals and the left today is over norms. Some people who hate Trump, hate him because he is trampling over the norms that have previously restrained presidents and politics, and want a return to the status quo ante. Others hate Trump because they see him as the manifestation of a problem that has been there for a very long time – that the norms governing US politics have been systematically imbalanced in ways that favor the right, and that we’d be better off without them. This dispute has plenty of political dimensions – one of them is strategic. You can think of norms, like any informal rule or institution, from a game theoretic perspective, and see them as an equilibrium that represents the relative bargaining power of the two main parties in American politics. In this kind of analysis, as per Jack Knight and others, relative bargaining power depends on the breakdown values – the payoffs that people receive in the event that no agreement is reached. The less that I care over whether an agreement is reached or a norm is maintained, the more bargaining power I will have to shape that agreement or norm, so that it favors my interests rather than the other party’s.

Much of the implicit argument of ‘normcore’ people on the liberal side of politics has been that liberals and the left need these norms more than the right, because without them, we’d be even worse off than we are. In other words, liberals and the left are in a strategically weak position. They want to reach an agreement far more than conservatives do. Accordingly, conservatives are going to be able to bargain harder, because they are more indifferent to breakdown than liberals or left-leaning people are. From the normcore perspective, even if it is going to be a pretty cruddy deal, it is better than no deal at all.

But there’s another way to think about it. The more unbearable that status quo politics are, the less value there is to liberals and the left in reaching an accommodation. Under this logic, things are pretty shit already. They might be even more shit if we refuse to play ball, but who knows? Things couldn’t be much worse than they are – so why not try something different? The more that norms become a threadbare justification for a situation that is effectively that preferred by the side that is prepared to play hardball politics, the more likely that the other side is going to want to start playing hardball politics too. Their breakdown values are going to be higher when everyday politics is visibly breaking down.

I’ve seen (although I can’t find it right now) polling data suggesting that liberals, who have historically been much more interested in reaching agreement with the other side than conservatives, have now converged upon conservative preferences. The various self-organizing groupings around the country don’t seem to me, from what time I’ve spent with them, to be particularly ideological (for better or for worse). What they do seem to be is completely uninterested in compromise with the Republican party in its current configuration. Leaders like Pelosi and Schumer seem to be more attuned to the people writing hand-wringing editorials about civility than to the people whom they’re supposed to be representing. That’s probably not going to work out too great for them.