Bundy, race, and the GOP

The fact that Republicans are supporting this guy at all is just disgusting. TNC:

White supremacy is one of the most dominant forces in the history of American politics. In a democracy, it would be silly to expect it to go unexpressed. Thus anyone with a sense of American history should be equally unsurprised to discover that rugged individualist Cliven Bundy is the bearer of some very interesting theories:

“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” he said. Mr. Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, “and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids—and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch—they didn’t have nothing to do. They didn’t have nothing for their kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do.

“And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he asked. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”

Prick a movement built on white supremacy and it bleeds … white supremacy. That said, I think it’s always worth clarifying what we mean when we use words like “slavery” and “freedom” in an American context.


It’s clarifying, in a way, that embattled Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy directly injected race into the controversy over his standoff with the Bureau of Land Management by remarking offhand that “the negro” may have been better off held in slavery than “under government subsidy” because race has not been far from my mind since the story first hit the papers.

From day one, I’ve tried to imagine the reaction if a young black man living in my gentrifying neighborhood reacted to some adverse change in government policy — perhaps funding cuts led a bus line in the neighborhood to get shut down — by stealing a bus. Then when the cops come to take the bus back, he brings out fifty friends, some of them armed, and start talking about putting the women out front so they’ll be shot first. My overwhelming presupposition is that he’d end up shot dead, along with his armed buddies, and that would about be the end of it. There would be no partisan political controversy about whether or not it is appropriate to react to changes in WMATA’s route planning with violence.

You may want the government to provide excellent bus service to where you live, but in life you can’t always get what you want.

And make no mistake about it. Ranchers like Bundy who graze their animals on federally owned land are moochers, pure and simple…

What happened to Bundy is that due to a BLM policy change, he lost access to this valuable subsidy.

That he’s pissed about this is understandable. Who doesn’t like a valuable subsidy? That he is still walking around a free man despite blatant refusal to comply with the law is odd. That he’s doing it while bemoaning the sorry state of “the Negro” and his dependence on government handouts is somehow perfectly fitting.

And I can’t help thinking about this map via Nate Cohn:


It’s really kind of amazing– politics in the South is more about race than ever.  No, not all white southern Republicans are racist  Nor are all of them even white ethnocentrist.  But, it remains clear that, to a disturbing degree, white partisanship in the South is related to racial attitudes.

And lastly, Jon Stewart really sticks it to Hannity on the Bundy issue:

Anti-Common Core nuttiness comes to NC

Ugh.  Damn I hope saner voices prevail, but for now, the voices of idiocy are holding sway among the Republicans in the NC legislature:

 — North Carolina would begin walking away from the Common Core standards for math and English in public schools under proposed legislation that a student committee approved Thursday.

“Common Core is gone July 1 if this passes,” said Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, one of the measure’s leading proponents.

The full General Assembly will take up the measure when it returns to session in mid-May.

Although the bill does delete legislative language referencing Common Core standards, it does not take them out of play right away. Rather, the measure would create an Academic Standards Review Commission to develop standards “tailored to the needs of North Carolina’s students.”  [emphasis mine]

Riiiight!  Because NC students need unique approaches to understanding math and English.  In North Carolina, 2+ 2 =4.3.  And, clearly critical thinking skills are not needed in the least (certainly not if you plan on serving as a Republican in the state legislature).

“We’ve allowed the Common Core standard to be hijacked by the federal government for the sake of money,” said Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union.

While he initially favored the standards, Horn said that they made the state too dependent on the federal government.

“I just feel that it is time for the state of North Carolina to take responsibility for our own education system and not be dependent upon or subservient to the federal Department of Education or anybody else outside North Carolina for what we do in education,” said Rep. Larry Pittman, R-Cabarrus.

This might be a good time to mention that the standards were agreed upon by the states working together, not mandated by the federal government.  And, even if they were, this might be a good time to mention that all those countries that outperform us in education (and there’s a lot) have national standards.  But alas, reality is not what we are dealing with here:

Common Core critics said the state can’t separate standards from curriculum.

“I don’t like the rewriting of history. I don’t like the revisionist history. I don’t like the social justice. I don’t like the political correctness. It’s not education. It is indoctrination,” said Kim Fink, of New Bern, with the Coastal Carolina Taxpayers Association. “Education started to fail when the Department of Education in Washington, D.C., came into existence. We did fine without them, and we can do fine without them again.”

Arrrrgghhhh!  It’s not like Common Core is some Dept of Ed mandated program.  And even it were it sure is hell is still about critical thinking, common standards across school districts and states, etc., and not “political correctness.”  My God, the stupid!  It hurts!

Here’s where I draw my hope:

In North Carolina, the standards are backed by the North Carolina Chamber, the state’s largest business group.

Alright business, time to step up and not take the dismantling of educational standards due to ideological craziness lying down.

Capitalism and inequality

I’ve been reading a lot about Thomas Piketty’s Wealth in the 21st Century, but I most say, I found this NYT profile of Piketty and his work the most readable and interesting look at the man and his work.  I won’t be reading this tome myself, but I’m certainly a fan of Piketty’s perspective:

Inequality by itself is acceptable, he says, to the extent it spurs individual initiative and wealth-generation that, with the aid of progressive taxation and other measures, helps makes everyone in society better off. “I have no problem with inequality as long as it is in the common interest,” he said.

But like the Columbia University economist Joseph E. Stiglitz, he argues that extreme inequality “threatens our democratic institutions.” Democracy is not just one citizen, one vote, but a promise of equal opportunity.

“It’s very difficult to make a democratic system work when you have such extreme inequality” in income, he said, “and such extreme inequality in terms of political influence and the production of knowledge and information. One of the big lessons of the 20th century is that we don’t need 19th-century inequality to grow.” But that’s just where the capitalist world is heading again, he concludes.

Yep.  Capitalism, free markets, etc., truly are great when properly regulated.  Left to their own devices, the outcome is super sub-optimal for most members of society.   The idea that we should just stand back and unleash capitalism with barely any constraint has clearly been shown to be folly by history.  Now, it’s not easy to figure out exactly just how much and where capitalism needs to be held back, but it is clear that it does and that simply cutting taxes for rich people is not the recipe for a healthy, growing economy nor a healthy democracy.

It’s all about turnout

So, as if I didn’t have enough great sources of news and analysis to keep up with every day, now the NYT has unleashed the damn Upshot.   Dare I say anything edited by Dave Leonhardt is surely worth my time.  Anyway, nice post from UCLA Political Scientist Lynn Vavreck on “the myth of swing voters.”  I think this chart nicely summarizes things:



And some additional exposition:

Turnout in midterm elections is always down from presidential elections, and Democrats routinely fight to return more of their voters to the polls than the Republicans. More Democrats come from groups, such as young people and Latinos, that typically vote at lower rates in midterm elections than other groups. But this 11-point difference in holding on to 2008 voters is larger than normal. It probably stemmed from a gap in enthusiasm between the parties’ voters in 2010, as survey data indicated.

It may seem hard to believe that the shellacking was more about who turned up than about who changed their minds between 2008 and 2010, but it lines up with a lot of other evidence about voters’ behavior. Most identify with the same political party their entire adult lives, even if they do not formally register with it. They almost always vote for the presidential candidate from that party, and they rarely vote for one party for president and the other one for Congress. And most voters are also much less likely to vote in midterm elections than in presidential contests.

These stable patterns of American politics reveal a clear path for both parties in 2014: Get your 2012 voters to the polls. Of concern to Democrats right now is that Republicans once again have the upper hand on enthusiasm going into November.

The 2014 fight is not over swing voters. It’s for partisans.

I think one of the important points that political scientists (and the wonkier commentators who respect us) have contributed in recent years is just how important the composition of the electorate is and how important the role of voter mobilization– not just voter persuasion– is in campaigns.  And this post really shows just how true this is.  When I’ve been commenting on the 2014 NC Senate race, I pretty much always remark that a huge factor is simply going to be the composition of the electorate.  If it looks like 2010, Kay Hagan is just done.  And, not, it’s not going to look like 2012 or 2008, but just where it falls on the continuum is basically going to determine the outcome of the race– not Kay Hagan convincing swing voters she’s better than Thom Tillis (presumably) or vice versa.

Parents for birth control

Over at Vox, Sarah Kliff has made some nice charts out of a recent JAMA study that looks at support for the Obamacare birth control mandate.  I was excited to see it broken down by parenthood, but I’d really love mothrs and fathers separately as most all my research shows that really matters.  Anyway:


Naturally, I went right to the JAMA article to learn more (i.e, boy, I would love to analyze this data).  Alas, they went to a lot of trouble in collecting data, but oddly to me, neglected to get some key variables:

Findings are potentially limited by lack of information about respondents’ political views, voter record, and religiosity

Ugh.  So much for that.  Actually, what confuses me is that this is a KnowledgeNetworks study and they actually already have the PID data on all their respondents.  Hmmm.  Anyway, as for the rest of the key findings:

 In this study, women, black, and Hispanic respondents were more likely to support coverage of birth control medication benefits than men, older respondents, and adults without children younger than 18 years. These findings may inform the ongoing national debate around the contraceptive coverage mandate.

Worst book ever?

Probably not, but it is pretty clear to anybody that was actually paying attention at the time of the Duke Lacrosse case that William Cohan’s The Price of Silence is some pretty egregious historical revisionism.  Most prominently, it is a defense of Mike Nifong, the prosecutor whom all evidence indicates repeatedly lied to the public and the defense team.  This whole crazy case would have never gone anywhere if not for Nifong’s breathtaking malfeasance and abuse of his prosecutorial powers.  Anyway, I’ve heard a number of interviews with Cohan and it’s depressing (but not surprising) that such a shoddy work of journalism is getting plenty of national attention.

The N&O’s Joe Neff, who covered the case at the time, has a nice column outlining some of the many failings of the book.  E.g.,

These would be pathetic mistakes for a daily newspaper story. For an author spending months or years on a book, it’s a revealing choice to avoid interviews that contradict the revisionist narrative: that Nifong is the victim.

Cohan declares the charge that Nifong withheld exculpatory evidence a “red herring.” Let’s review that. Nifong repeatedly told judges he had produced all the DNA evidence. He hadn’t: He and a lab director conspired not to report rape kit test results showing that the accuser had DNA from four unknown men. The tests were sensitive enough to register a wisp of DNA from the lab director, and yet the rape kit produced not a single particle of DNA from those accused of a brutal gang rape.

For Cohan to suggest that witholding excuplatory evidence is simply a “red herring” is truly amazing.  As if this is just some minor mistake on Nifong’s part.  Once I heard Cohan say that, it was pretty clear this whole endeavor is utterly lacking in credibility.

The Pope on taxes

No, not the awesome one, but Art Pope, NC’s own Koch Brother and current Budget Director.  He had an op-ed in the N&O this week that was just breathtaking in its mendacity and lack of actual empirical support for any of its claims.  To wit:

Our tax code is now simpler, more uniform and fairer for everyone.

Tax reform began in 2011, when the General Assembly reduced the state sales tax rate by 17 percent, from a state rate of 5.75 percent to 4.75 percent. Tax reform continued in 2013, when McCrory and the legislature simplified the personal income tax – taking rates ranging from 6 percent to 7.75 percent to a single flat rate of 5.8 percent. They also passed a higher standard deduction starting in 2014 and a flat personal income tax rate of 5.75 percent in 2015.

Oh please!! There is nothing simpler about having fewer and lower marginal rates.  You calculate your taxable income and you pay based on your rates.  It’s that simple.  Whether your rate is 10% or 5% and having multiple marginal rates makes it not the least bit harder.  Fewer, lower rates, basically just means less taxes for rich people.  Surely Art Pope’s idea of “fairer for everyone” but not what most people would see as “fair.”

The truth is, everyone in North Carolina is benefiting from the tax reforms that began in 2011. Sales tax rates are lower, income tax rates are lower and the standard deduction is higher.

Of course, there’s myriad analyses that show that not everyone is benefiting.  And to think just a little more broadly than the incredibly narrow way that Pope is stuck in, I would argue that if you have kids in public school you are not benefiting.  If you care about the quality of education in NC at all, you are not benefiting.  If you care about health care for the mentally ill, you are not benefiting.  If you care about health care for the working poor, you are not benefiting.  If you care about a crumbling infrastructure– perhaps you’ve been known to drive on roads– you are not benefiting.  Okay, I’ll stop now.

If you want to follow Pope’s logic, just lower taxes to 0, we’ll all have way more take home pay, and everything will be grand.  Though, I think Hobbes had something to say about that.

The next time you buy clothes for your children, look at the receipt to see how much sales tax is charged and think of what you saved compared with the old state sales tax rate. Think of the long-term benefit in an economy that is still recovering and of employers, both corporations and mom and pop partnerships, keeping a bit more of the money they earned – money that can by reinvested to create more jobs and grow the economy.

Next time I pay $.40 less for a shirt I’ll be so glad that it won’t bother me at all that quality teachers are fleeing our state or that are universities are finding it harder than ever to compete for the top talent.

The evidence is clear. Tax reform is working, and nearly every North Carolinian is keeping more of the money earned, which is fundamental to building a stronger economy.

If the current evidence is clear, I’d hate to see ambiguous evidence.

And just to be clear, this transparent nonsense is from the single most politically influential person in the state.  Ugh.

Quick hits

1) NYT on the divisions in the NC Republican Party.  We’ll know just how divided it actually is when the Senate primary occurs next month.

2) How zebras got their stripes.   Best evidence suggest that stripes deter biting flies.

3) Charter schools are not the solution to educational inequality.

4) Forget ADHD, now we’ve got Slow Cognitive Tempo.  Seriously.

5) Chait provides a long summary of his much longer piece on Obama, race, and racism.

6) Politico on “is there a wonk bubble?”   Uhhhh, yes!  I love it.  Though sometimes I hate how much high-quality wonk content there is to read every day now.

7) The full story on the Jameis Winston rape “investigation.”  So disturbing and depressing.

8) Former MLB player gives account of being racially profiled shoveling snow in his own driveway.

9) Evan Osnos on politicians literally shooting legislation in their advertisements and what it all means.  It’s not good.

10) Short version of a man convicted of armed robbery and accidentally not sent to jail for 13 years who turned into a totally productive citizen.  Longer version.   This American Life version.  Seriously calls into question a lot about how we think about crime and punishment.

11) Research suggests students retain more when reading from “real” books than e-books.

12) Mark Kleiman on how legalized pot would change America.

13) Best thing I’ve read on the Cliven Bundy travesty.  This guy and anybody out there with a gun “defending” him needs to be in jail.  Seriously.  Timothy Egan:

Imagine a vendor on the National Mall, selling burgers and dogs, who hasn’t paid his rent in 20 years. He refuses to recognize his landlord, the National Park Service, as a legitimate authority. Every court has ruled against him, and fines have piled up. What’s more, the effluents from his food cart are having a detrimental effect on the spring grass in the capital.

Would an armed posse come to his defense, aiming their guns at the park police? Would the lawbreaker get prime airtime on Fox News, breathless updates in the Drudge Report, a sympathetic ear from Tea Party Republicans? No, of course not.

So what’s the difference between the fictional loser and Cliven Bundy, the rancher in Nevada who owes the government about $1 million and has been grazing his cattle on public land for more than 20 years? Near as I can tell, one wears a cowboy hat. Easterners, especially clueless ones in politics and the press, have always had a soft spot for a defiant white dude in a Stetson.

Truly atrocious and deplorable the support he’s been getting from the right.

14) Way too many teachers have been resigning from Wake County, NC during the school year.  Surely because the legislature has made it quite clear just how little the value educators.

American health care insanity– it’s the prices

Why it’s the prices is complicated, but suffice it to see this is largely a matter of policy.  And it’s pretty clear that ours gets it wrong.  Obamacare is a step in the right direction, but just a modest step.  Here’s one example, from a series of 15 charts at Vox.


Oh, and all the countries that pay less?  They are not doing it through health savings accounts or allowing insurance purchases across state borders, but generally through more (and more importantly) more coherent government regulation of health care policy.


I really enjoyed Jon Cohn’s paean to taxes yesterday.  Sure everybody likes money, but the fact that we all contribute through taxes (very, very few people fail to contribute over the long term and there’s always sales and property taxes) is what makes effective self government possible.  Cohn:

Sure, there are plenty of principled, intellectually honest reasons to think taxes should be lower. But one reason for the rage against them—and the perception that they are larcenously high—is that the act of paying them is so divorced from the act of receiving the benefits that they finance. You might not like paying a lot for groceries, clothing, a car, or a house. But it feels a lot better because, once you’re done with the transaction, you know what you’re getting for it. You’ve taken care of a basic need—there’s food on your plate, a roof over your head, and, if you’re lucky and can afford it, a Camaro in your driveway.

Taxes do the same thing. That payroll tax taken out of everybody’s check? It’s buying you Medicare and Social Security, which means a more secure retirement free of crippling medical bills. Your federal income tax? Its effects are a lot more diffuse. But chances are pretty good that you’ve already used some infrastructure today—whether it was a road or railway you took to work, or maybe the information technology connections you’re using to read this article. Federal, state, and local taxes helped pay for that. Is your water and air clean? Are you safe from threats, domestic and foreign? Then you’re getting something valuable from the Environment Protection Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Department of Defense. Your tax dollars paid for those, too.

Sometimes, of course, your tax dollars pay for supports and services you won’t use. And you might resent that. But even taxes that pay for someone else’s benefits can benefit you. Why does the U.S. not have the massive underclass that characterizes many third-world countries—or the incipient danger of violent upheaval that accompanies it? The safety net your taxes purchased, tattered as it is, buys a degree of social harmony, too.

On a mostly unrelated note, it’s depressing, disturbing, and sadly unsurprising to learn how TurboTax is actually making it harder for us to pay our taxes because that helps their business model.  Ugh.  Any why are politicians listening and preventing an obviously better system?  Mostly, it’s client politics– a narrow interest serves to hugely benefit, so they fight like hell for it, whereas the rest of us pay the costs, but they are not all that great and spread across all taxpayers.  A more sensible system would directly benefit a great many of us and save the federal government a bit of money, but alas, the narrow, moneyed interest has won the day.  And, it doesn’t help that anti-tax zealots like Grover Norquist want to make taxes as painful as possible.  Just another sad story of how American politics really works.

Gerrymander two-fer

Vox gives us some nice visuals on the 5-most gerrymandered states (the top 4 are Republican gerrymanders).  Here’s North Carolina:



That sprawling beast spreading tentacles in search of Democratic voters, NC-4, that’s me!

Usefully, Vox also gives us the example of the Canadian truly non-partisan solution to gerrymandering (apparently the non-political redistricting commissions in the US are typically bi-partisan rather than non-partisan):

So is it possible to end gerrymandering? Well, the country just north of us managed to pull it off. “Canadian reapportionment was highly partisan from the beginning until the 1960s,” writes Charles Paul Hoffman in the Manitoba Law Journal. This “led to frequent denunciations by the media and opposition parties. Every ten years, editorial writers would condemn the crass gerrymanders that had resulted.” Sound familiar?

Eventually, in 1955, one province — Manitoba — decided to experiment, and handed over the redistricting process to an independent commission. Its members were the province’s chief justice, its chief electoral officer, and the University of Manitoba president. The new policy became popular, and within a decade, it was backed by both major national parties, and signed into law.

Independent commissions now handle the redistricting in every province. “Today, most Canadian ridings [districts] are simple and uncontroversial, chunky and geometric, and usually conform to the vague borders of some existing geographic / civic region knowable to the average citizen who lives there,” writes JJ McCullough. “Of the many matters Canadians have cause to grieve their government for, corrupt redistricting is not one of them.” Hoffman concurs, writing, “The commissions have been largely successful since their implementation.” …

Only six US states use commissions to do their redistricting, but none of them have fully embraced the Canadian solution. The key difference is that Canada’s commission members are all nonpartisan — they’re mostly judges, political scientists, or retired civil servants. But our states with redistricting commissions, like California and New Jersey, reserve many seats for members of political parties. “There are no truly nonpartisan redistricting commissions in the United States,” political scientist Bruce Cain of Stanford University told me. Iowa uses a nonpartisan agency that’s not permitted to take party registration into account, but it still gives final say to the governor and legislature…

Replacing gerrymandering with independent commissions won’t solve all our problems. But 50 years of Canadian experience shows that it can make elections more fair — and that it’s possible to make one of the worst features of our politics a thing of the past.

I would so love to see reform like this.  At this point, though, I see little reason to be optimistic.

Yeah science!

Great Tom Tomorrow (bigger version here).


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