Brexit and the human problem

Though I enjoy posting Bill Ayers thoughts on a variety of different topics, his political science expertise is in ethnic conflict and identity.  Thus, I found his take on Brexit particularly compelling.  Really good stuff, so I’ll excerpt and highlight liberally…

While he doubtless disapproves of spitting on people in parking lots, George Will signaled his approval for this sort of nationalism in a recent column (which you can read here), which he titled “Britain’s welcome revival of nationhood”. He couches his argument in terms of the political centralization of power and control in Europe, but it’s really an argument about identity and community. He rails against “cultural homogenization” and lauds the desire “to live on our land, under our laws, our values and with respect to our identity”.

What Will is blithely assuming here, of course, is that we have a common understanding of who is “us” and who is “them”. Moreover, he is also assuming (without saying so) that the best way for humans to live is for all of “us” to get together in our community, and all of “them” to go live somewhere else. [emphases mine]

This notion of homogenous, exclusive communities is popular with some (though not all) “conservative” thinkers. It’s usually rooted in an unexamined base of primordialism – the notion that “nations” have an “essential” character that is deeply historical, often ancient. Britons are British, therefore, because … well, because they’re British. The history behind these groups is usually fantasy and myth, but people like it anyway.

The instinct for gathering communities of like-minded people with whom we are comfortable is an understandable one. Social psychology has long established that this is in the nature of the human-as-social-animal: the desire both to be connected to others and to be distanced from others, which social identity theorists identify as the primary purpose of groups. If I’m in a group, by definition there must be some other people who are NOT in my group – there is an “us” and a “them”.

While he doubtless disapproves of spitting on people in parking lots, George Will signaled his approval for this sort of nationalism in a recent column (which you can read here), which he titled “Britain’s welcome revival of nationhood”. He couches his argument in terms of the political centralization of power and control in Europe, but it’s really an argument about identity and community. He rails against “cultural homogenization” and lauds the desire “to live on our land, under our laws, our values and with respect to our identity”.

What Will is blithely assuming here, of course, is that we have a common understanding of who is “us” and who is “them”. Moreover, he is also assuming (without saying so) that the best way for humans to live is for all of “us” to get together in our community, and all of “them” to go live somewhere else.

This notion of homogenous, exclusive communities is popular with some (though not all) “conservative” thinkers. It’s usually rooted in an unexamined base of primordialism – the notion that “nations” have an “essential” character that is deeply historical, often ancient. Britons are British, therefore, because … well, because they’re British. The history behind these groups is usually fantasy and myth, but people like it anyway.

The instinct for gathering communities of like-minded people with whom we are comfortable is an understandable one. Social psychology has long established that this is in the nature of the human-as-social-animal: the desire both to be connected to others and to be distanced from others, which social identity theorists identify as the primary purpose of groups. If I’m in a group, by definition there must be some other people who are NOT in my group – there is an “us” and a “them”…

But there is an argument here which goes beyond the economic to the moral and social. Simply put, what kind of society do we want to live in?And what kind of citizen do I want to be within my community? Do I want to only interact with people like me and avoid others as much as possible? How do I think the stranger, the “other”, should be treated? Is it OK if I draw the boundary of my identity narrowly and reject everyone outside of those lines?

These aren’t “liberal” questions or “conservative” questions – they are fundamentally human questions. The answers have political implications, but the questions are not essentially political, they are moral and social. In my view, I cannot square narrow nationalism with any understanding of the Christian faith, and any attempt to do so would simply be selfishness on my part. The value and worth of every human is the same in the eyes of God. How we negotiate living nearby and interacting
with each other is a matter of details, based on (hopefully) mutual respect for a common humanity.

The only other alternative, despite Will’s attempt to deny it, really is isolationism. If you want to be honestly isolationist and not interact at all with people who are different, that’s fine – have at it. But if you want to live in modern society, you don’t have much of a choice. And being angry at, or afraid of, other people is simply a recipe for violence.

Great stuff.

Abortion ruling

Very pleased to see, of course, that the Supreme Court got it right on the recent abortion ruling.  The Texas law and similar TRAP laws are so amazingly, transparently designed to close abortion clinics and yet all these pro-life supporters pretend that they are actualy designed for women’s health.  Please!  These laws so clearly present a substantial obstacle (i.e., an “undue burden”) to the right of a woman to obtain an abortion without any evidence whatsoever of improved health for women.  The New Yorker’s Margarat Talbot:

As my colleague Jeffrey Toobin noted, in 2014, “The key phrase did not have a fixed, self-evident definition. And as the Court moved to the right, following O’Connor’s resignation, the scope of the constraints on state power began shrinking.” There was always the possibility, though, that the undue-burden concept could be applied more rigorously. In a law-review article called “GivingCasey Its Bite Back,” published in 2013, Emma Freeman, then a law-school student, argued that good “undue burden” analysis would mean evaluating a law for “the weight of the burden, the legitimacy of the state’s regulatory purpose, and the sufficiency of the relationship between them.” In other words, it was legitimate to look at the nexus between the purpose and the effect of an abortion law. Were the state’s ostensible ends (say, protecting women’s health) actually met by the means it settled on (say, requiring abortion clinics to operate as ambulatory surgical centers)?

In this week’s opinion, written by Justice Stephen Breyer, the Court appears to have done the real weighing of costs and benefits which the test deserves. At issue were two provisions of a law passed in 2013 by the Texas state legislature: one requiring all doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, and one specifying that all clinics providing abortions must be retrofitted to meet the elaborate standards of ambulatory surgical centers. As a result of the new restrictions, about half of the forty-one facilities providing abortions in Texas have already closed; ten more would have closed if the law had remained in effect. (There was an injunction blocking the surgical-center provision.)…

The court looked closely at the facts of abortion availability and safety in Texas…

Of the admitting-privilege requirement, Justice Breyer’s opinion points out “that, when directly asked at oral argument whether Texas knew of a single instance in which the new requirement would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment, Texas admitted that there was no evidence in the record of such a case.”

As for the mandate that abortions be performed in surgical centers, Breyer notes, “Nationwide, childbirth is 14 times more likely than abortion to result in death, but Texas law allows a midwife to oversee childbirth in the patient’s own home. Colonoscopy, a procedure that typically takes place outside a hospital (or surgical center) setting, has a mortality rate 10 times higher than an abortion. The mortality rate for liposuction, another outpatient procedure, is 28 times higher than the mortality rate for abortion.”

In fact, it’s clear that laws like the one in Texas are not the product of some new enthusiasm for promoting women’s health but of a resourceful anti-abortion movement. [emphases mine] The lieutenant governor of Texas, David Dewhurst, gave the game away with a tweet the day after the Texas law passed the Senate. Above an image of a poster from a pro-choice group warning that the bill would essentially ban abortion statewide, he wrote, “We fought to pass SB5 through the Senate last night, & this is why.”

That said, it did bug me that only RBG actually called out Texas for the fundamental and breathtakingly obvious mendacity behind their law:

While the majority opinion methodically countered each of the arguments in defense of the law, which had previously been upheld by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, Ginsburg went straight to the point.

“It is beyond rational belief that H. B. 2 could genuinely protect the health of women, and certain that the law ‘would simply make it more difficult for them to obtain abortions,’” she wrote. “Laws like H. B. 2 that ‘do little or nothing for health, but rather strew impediments to abortion,’ … cannot survive judicial inspection.”

No one joined her—not Stephen Breyer, who wrote the majority opinion, nor Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, the other female members of the liberal wing of the Court. While the Supreme Court’s decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt is legally complicated—concerning issues from the standing of the plaintiffs to their right to pursue this case all the way to the Supreme Court—the lonely stand of Ruth Bader Ginsburg speaks to the difficult issue looming behind it: Legislators both for and against bills like H.B. 2 claim they are protecting the health of women. When all parties claim to have good intent and medical science on their side, the Court is left to navigate competing narratives of truth—and fiction—about abortion in America. But it’s difficult for the Court to name those fictions directly.

And, finally, I liked Scott Lemieux’s take on why Kennedy had been pushed too far by conservatives and was on-board:

In theory, the “undue burden” standard could provide robust protection for abortion rights, but in practice, prior to Monday’s decision, it didn’t. And one reason for this is that Kennedy believed that his fellow justices had reneged on his carefully constructed compromise in Casey.

In the 2000 case Stenberg v. Carhart, a 5-4 Court struck down Nebraska’s ban on so-called “partial-birth” abortion. For reasons concisely summarized by Justice John Paul Stevens in his concurrence, I believe this decision was correct. But Kennedy believed he had been double-crossed by his fellow justices, especially Justices O’Connor and Souter. In a lengthy and uncharacteristically angrydissent, Kennedy repeatedly lamented the Court’s “basic misunderstanding” and “misinterpretation” of Casey

Kennedy made it clear that he would be very deferential to abortion regulations in the form of health regulations, no matter how little the regulations had to do, in practice, with protecting women’s health.

Many state legislatures got the message and passed an increasing array of regulations, the most insidious of which were targeted regulations of abortion providers (TRAP)…

Texas placed requirements on facilities and doctors that would have closed more than half of the states’ already relatively small number of clinics, regardless of actual safety concerns.

It was this sort of practice that almost certainly pushed Kennedy back toward the liberal faction of the Court. Facing a brutal interrogation at oral argument, the medical justifications offered by Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller were almost farcically thin. It’s telling that the dissenting opinions in Hellerstedt focused primarily on procedural questions, and offered only cursory and half-hearted attempts at defending the sham justifications offered by Texas in support of its statute. The Texas regulations are not about protecting women’s health. They’re about trying to restrict, and eventually eliminate, abortion access…

Plenty of objections can be launched at Casey from both the left and right, and rightfully so. But it’s clear that Kennedy takes the compromises in this decision very seriously. It’s not surprising that state legislatures took his previous opinion as a green light to attack abortion rights, but it’s also not surprising that the pendulum is now swinging back. By demanding that state legislatures provide real medical justifications for regulations that substantially restrict abortion access, the Court has restored needed teeth to Roe. Kennedy’s past deference to anti-abortion interests has now turned to skepticism, and, for supporters of reproductive rights, this is excellent news indeed.

Politics and happy parents

So, among the more interesting social science findings is the one that parents are less happy than their non-parent peers (here’s a post I wrote about it many years ago).  Kids, damnit!  Of course, part of that could be the difference between moment-to-moment happiness as opposed to life satisfaction.  And, also, whether the parents are married or not.

Anyway, interesting new study reported in the NYT that looks at the issue cross-nationally and concludes that politics and policy really matter:

Based on data from 22 countries and two international surveys of well-being, researchers found that American parents face the largest happiness shortfall compared to people who don’t have children. The happiness gap between parents and nonparents in the United States is significantly larger than the gap found in other industrialized nations, including Great Britain and Australia. And in other Western countries, the happiness gap is nonexistent or even reversed. Parents in Norway, Sweden and Finland — and Russia and Hungary — report even greater levels of happiness than their childless peers.  [emphases mine]

The researchers, led by the University of Texas sociology professor Jennifer Glass, looked for factors that might explain the international differences in parental happiness, and specifically why parents in the United States suffer a greater happiness penalty than their peers around the world.

They discovered the gap could be explained by differences in family-friendly social policies such as subsidized child care and paid vacation and sick leave. In countries that gave parents what researchers called “the tools to combine work and family,” the negative impact of parenting on happiness disappeared.

“We comprehensively tested every other alternative,” said Dr. Glass, the lead author of the study, which will be published in the American Journal of Sociology in September. “The two things that came out most strongly in explaining the variation were the cost of care for the average 2-year-old as a percent of wages and the total extent of paid sick and vacation days.”

Notably, the researchers found that economic differences, whether a parent was married or partnered and whether the pregnancy was planned or unintended had no impact on the happiness gap. They also considered the impact of other family-friendly social policies, such as extended maternity and paternity leaves, flexible schedules and even policies that gave money to parents in the form of a child allowance or monthly payments.

Paid parenting leave has “nowhere near as big an effect as these other two policies, “said Dr. Glass, while the other policies didn’t have a significant impact on the happiness gap. Policies that made it less stressful and less costly to combine child rearing with paid work “seem to be the ones that really matter.”

Hmmm, if there was only something we could learn from this for the U.S.  And as for this happy parent, being a college professor is a terrific occupation for combining child-rearing with paid work.  I guess that’s why these guys make me so happy.

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I just had a nice conversation with my Republican neighbor

So, this is a pretty interesting chart from Pew about how political and demographic factors affect our perceived likelihood of making friends with new neighbors.

Meet the neighbors: Partisan differences over traits of new community members

As much as I hate guns, I really have no idea if my neighbors even own any.  Never comes up.  You know what helps– sports.  That is the male universal for making friendships easier.  And I’ll admit to finding it easier, in general, with fellow college grads (though the neighbor I hang out with the most runs a flooring crew and never went to college).  Though the biggest thing that makes it easy– having kids.  Anyway, interesting stuff.

Oh, and I did have a fun conversation with my Republican neighbor earlier tonight when she came by to ask about the tree service we recently used.  We joked that it was nice to have the doorbell be a neighbor and not the usual of a Jehovah’s Witness or a random solicitation.

Trump and Brexit

A little late on this, but still relevant.  Anyway, the thing that I do find most intriguing about Brexit is how much the Brexit coalition resembles the Trump coalition.  Rural, older, xenophobic, and generally distrustful of the changing modern world (make Britain great again!).  Plenty of good stuff on this.

Here’s Drum with the Brexit vote and turnout by age:

Of course, one could “blame” youth turnout, but young people pretty much always turn out less. I saw some interesting graphics that show, of course, that the old people who set this new course are the ones who will live with the shortest time.

This Atlantic post is chock full of demographic correlations (rather than exit polls).  Those living in educated areas where much more supportive of remain.  Of course, we know Trump does much better among less educated voters.

remain

Zach Beauchamp’s Vox post headline pretty much captures the basic dynamic, “Brexit was fueled by irrational xenophobia, not real economic grievances.”

Now some pundits are suggesting that the real lesson of Brexit is that ordinary Britons are bearing an unacceptable economic cost from immigration, and that elites should heed that lesson and think about restricting immigration to other Western countries to prevent a similar populist backlash.

There’s just one problem: This narrative isn’t actually true. Data shows that Britain wasn’t suffering harmful economic effects from too many new migrants.

What Britain was suffering from too much of, however, was xenophobia — fear and hatred of immigrants. Bigotry on the basis of national origin.

That’s not something you give into and close the borders. It’s something you fight…

Take a look at this chart, from University of Oxford’s Scott Blinder. Blinder put together historical data on one polling question — the percent of Brits saying there were too many immigrants in their country. It turns people believed this for decades before mass migration even began…

Brits believed there were “too many immigrants” even when there were too few to have appreciable effects on the British economy. If Britain’s backlash to immigration was really about immigrants taking their jobs, then you’d expect hostility about immigration to be correlated to the actual level of immigration. But it’s not.

That’s not the only reason to believe Brexit was about xenophobia…

Brits believed there were “too many immigrants” even when there were too few to have appreciable effects on the British economy. If Britain’s backlash to immigration was really about immigrants taking their jobs, then you’d expect hostility about immigration to be correlated to the actual level of immigration. But it’s not.

That’s not the only reason to believe Brexit was about xenophobia.

Meanwhile, here in the US, we’ve seen plenty of evidence that Trump support is more about racial attitudes and xenophobia that actual economic distress.

And, finally, Steve Benen on Trump’s extraordinarily self-centered response.  If this man doesn’t have Narcissistic Personality Disorder, it doesn’t exist.

How to report on Trump

Sure, this Washington Post story from earlier this week about Trump’s anti-Clinton speech has too much game orientation and is too ready to grant the Trump pivot, but what it does exactly right, that all journalists need to do is report what he says but then call out his lies immediately with facts.  Not with “Democrats say” or “Clinton’s campaigns insist…” or an entirely separate “fact check” story, but the reporters clearly and forthrightly telling the reader that what Trump just said was a lie.  Like this:

Trump sought to engineer a course correction by effectively hurling the opposition-research book at Clinton. In Wednesday’s speech, he hit the former secretary of state, senator and first lady on her decision-making surrounding the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya; her and her husband’s paid speeches; her use of a private email server; her deep ties to Wall Street; and her past support for trade deals.

Trump also explicitly blamed Clinton for the death of J. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and for general unrest there and in Egypt, Iraq and Syria.

“No secretary of state has been more wrong, more often and in more places than Hillary Clinton,” he said to applause. “Her decisions spread death, destruction and terrorism everywhere she touched.”

But some of what Trump said about Clinton’s record was exaggerated or untrue. He charged falsely that Clinton wants “totally open borders” and that she would admit hundreds of thousands of refugees from dangerous countries without vetting them.

Trump also incorrectly stated that Clinton supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal she has opposed since last year. And he said that Clinton “has spent her entire life making money for special interests” when in fact she spent much of her career in government service or at nonprofit organizations. [emphasis mine]

There, was that so hard?  Actually, it is harder in that it requires a thorough knowledge of the facts on the part of the reporter than just calling up the other side and saying, “your turn.” But this is how Trump needs to be reported on a day-in, day-out basis.

Quick hits (part II)

1) The show trial of the IRS Commissioner:

No one in their right mind would have wanted the job. Koskinen took it for the reasons that Dwight Ink (and the wonk community) prized when he singled out Koskinen for praise. He did it to make government work better for the American people. And, like most other executive-branch nominees, he had to endure delays and a filibuster before being confirmed in December 2013.

His reward: an irresponsible, unprecedented, and politically motivated attack from Republicans in the House…

There is a broader motive here, coming from radical forces that want to blow up all of government as we know it. Intimidating, undermining, and destroying the IRS’s capacity to carry out its role, to collect all the tax money that’s owed, to starve government, makes all agencies perform more poorly, and leads to a backlash against government. The poor service that results from cutting personnel also alienates taxpayers, frustrates their efforts to keep up with tax law, and makes it easier to evade the law.

2) Great interactive feature on the new Panama Canal.

3) I do get a little tired of the trope that the NRA “buys” or “owns” Members of Congress.  They don’t vote the way they do for money, but because they largely believe the same things the NRA does (and the NRA are, thus, quite happy to help keep them in office).

4) Teens should have unglamorus summer jobs.  Another parenting fail on my part I need to work on next year.  Also, I hated it at the time but I’m damn glad I spent summers working at K-Mart and in a warehouse.  That really taught me a lot I would have not otherwise learned.

5) The world’s disappearing sand.

6) An AR-15 owner defends his choice of gun.

7) Is Estonia the new Finland when it comes to education?  One thing seems clear– the success in both case comes from a strong commitment to equity.

8) Donald Trump’s ignorance helps expose the “good guy with a gun” fallacy.

9) A better way to punish malfeasant police— sue them:

But when an officer uses excessive force or makes an unlawful arrest or search, proving wrongful conduct is not enough. Under Section 1983 of the federal civil rights statute, the officer can escape liability with the special defense of qualified immunity — showing that he reasonably believed his conduct was lawful, even if it was not. And if the jury finds the officer liable, federal law does not require his employer to pay the award.

Juries, and even judges in non-jury trials, are reluctant to convict police officers of a crime, even in the face of ample evidence. With rare exceptions, they simply will not say “guilty” and risk sending an officer to prison. Suing the officer for money damages in a federal civil rights suit is the only realistic way to establish police misconduct and secure at least some vindication for victims and their families.

But Congress needs to strengthen Section 1983 in three ways. First, the defense of qualified immunity should be abolished. If an officer violates the Constitution, the victim should win the lawsuit, just as he or she wins when hit by an officer negligently driving his vehicle.

Second, the city (or county or state) that employs the officer should pay a damage award, just as a governmental employer pays for injury caused by an officer’s negligent driving. A jury would be more willing to rule against a city than to make a police officer pay out of his own pocket.

Third, the local U.S. attorney, not just the victim of the unconstitutional conduct, should be authorized to bring the suit. When federal law has been violated, a federal lawyer should act on behalf of the victim. A jury is more likely to take the matter seriously if a U.S. attorney sues than when the victim is the plaintiff, who can sometimes be perceived as a not very respectable member of the community.

10) Drum says I should stop staring at my backup camera and just consider it another window.  I already do that, so I guess I’m good.  Like any technology, just don’t over-rely upon it.

11) What little boys can learn from Disney princesses.  Safe to say my not-so-little boys have had way more exposure thanks to having a little sister.

12) A defense of Hillary Clinton’s honesty.

13) Sweden is finding out how hard it is to quit nuclear power (they shouldn’t).

14) What’s the matter with Kansas?  Just ruinous conservative Republican economic policies in full fruition.

15) How Subarus came to be the lesbian car:

In the 1990s, Subaru’s unique selling point was that the company increasingly made all-wheel drive standard on all its cars. When the company’s marketers went searching for people willing to pay a premium for all-wheel drive, they identified four core groups who were responsible for half of the company’s American sales: teachers and educators, health-care professionals, IT professionals, and outdoorsy types.Then they discovered a fifth: lesbians. “When we did the research, we found pockets of the country like Northampton, Massachusetts, and Portland, Oregon, where the head of the household would be a single person—and often a woman,” says Tim Bennett, who was the company’s director of advertising at the time. When marketers talked to these customers, they realized these women buying Subarus were lesbian.
“There was such an alignment of feeling, like [Subaru cars] fit with what they did,” says Paul Poux, who later conducted focus groups for Subaru. The marketers found that lesbian Subaru owners liked that the cars were good for outdoor trips, and that they were good for hauling stuff without being as large as a truck or SUV. “They felt it fit them and wasn’t too flashy,” says Poux.

16) Kristof says he was wrong about welfare reform.

17) He also has a nice column on our criminal justice system’s deplorable war on poor people.

18) It ain’t easy being an anti-gun advocate in gun-loving America.

19) Enjoyed this ranking of Pixar movies.

20) Jeffrey Toobin on the Supreme Court’s affirmative action ruling (it’s a big deal).

21) Walter Dellinger makes as succinct and persuasive case as I’ve seen for Obama’s immigration executive order.  That said, whether the Supreme Court decision in this case was right or not, I find it eminently reasonable.  No matter your position, Obama was clearly pushing at the boundaries of executive authority here.  Maybe it should have been found on the Constitutional side, but given the boundary-pushing nature, I think there’s plenty of reasonable justification for either outcome.

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