Climate change deniers

I meant to link to this article in Salon months ago, but never did.  I remembered it yesterday when I covered "public policy myths and realities" in my last day of Intro to American Government for the semester.  Lots of students were unhappy when I pointed out that "there is a scientific controversy over global warming."  As you surely know, there's not.  There's plenty of non-scientific controversy, but the science behind human-caused global warming, though very much a work in progress, is still largely a settled issue.  Pointing out that the head of The Weather Channel or some TV weather forecasters don't buy global warming is not exactly an indicator of actual scientific controversy.  Sure, somebody can read the newspapers every day and decide that issues play an important role in the outcomes of Congressional elections, but that doesn't change the fact that people with PhD's in Political Science who have vastly more expertise and have devoted years to studying issues like this, have concluded that this is, in fact, not the case.  Anyway, here's the intro, which I especially love, of the aforementioned article:

So what's next? A series of essays by Sarah Palin about the Large
Hadron Collider and the mysteries of dark matter? An MIT lecture series
by Rush Limbaugh regarding the thermodynamics of black holes? A
Festschrift of Sean Hannity's scholarly articles on plate tectonics and
volcano formation? Glenn Beck performing live heart-lung transplants on
Fox News?

Everybody understands that these things couldn't happen. That when
it comes to serious scientific endeavor, years of study and professional
apprenticeship are required. In a word, expertise.

Ex-beauty contestants, drive-time DJs, TV sports announcers,
hairstylists, newspaper columnists — basically anybody whose math
skills topped out in the 10th grade — rarely have anything substantive
to add to the sum of technical and scientific knowledge. That's what
they most resent about it.

It's not impossible that such persons could educate themselves
sufficiently to have an informed opinion, but it's rare. Most of us,
most of the time, are like historian and blogger Josh Marshall: "The
fact that the vast majority of people with specialized knowledge in the
field think there's a problem is good enough for me," he wrote. "I can't
be knowledgeable about everything. And I'm comfortable with the modern
system in which the opinions of really knowledgeable people with
expertise counts more in cases like this than people who know nothing at

Of course science and the scientific method of peer review and such gets things wrong, but damn it, it's the best we've got.  You can't just choose to reject this when it clashes with your preconceived ideological notions or whatever Sean Hannity tells you. 


Texas justice

From what I've seen of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (the highest court in Texas for criminal cases, the Texas Supreme Court only handles civil cases), they might as well be the highest court in some totalitarian dictatorship.  When discussing 8th amendment rights to a competent counsel, I always enjoy telling my classes about the case in which this court found a narcoleptic, drug-addicted defense attorney (yes, he was either high or sleeping through the whole trial) to have provided effective counsel.  This present case, described by Slate's Dahlia Lithwick may be even worse.  Don't think the US Supreme Court looks so hot in this one, either, by refusing to take the case.  Anyway, the key points:

When the U.S. Supreme Court denied Charles Dean Hood's appeal last week, it was done
in a one-sentence, unsigned order. Hood is a Texas death-row inmate who
was convicted of murdering two people in 1990. Long after the conclusion
of the trial, it became clear that his trial judge and prosecutor had
been secretly involved in a years-long extramarital affair. Because they
were both married, they denied the affair—even to Hood's death-penalty
lawyers. After the clandestine relationship finally came to light, the
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected Hood's challenge in two curt
sentences last September, finding that his lawyers had waited too long
to raise the issue on appeal. How Hood was to have raised the conflict
of interest when the existence of the affair was not conclusively
established until 2008, when the judge and prosecutor were forced to
admit it under oath, is not explained.

Hood has already been granted a new sentencing hearing because the Texas
appeals court has acknowledged that the jury instructions were
improper, but prosecutors say they will again seek the death penalty. In
any event, resentencing Hood doesn't resolve the fundamental problem
with the case. The issue here is whether any reasonable person would
believe that a criminal trial at which one's prosecutor and judge are
secretly in love could ever be fair. And that's the issue the courts
keep refusing to address.

Whenever discussing federalism and the important differences between states in my classes, one question I always ask, "would you rather be accused of murder in Texas or Minnesota?"  Nobody ever chooses Texas.  For damn good reason. 

Useless poll, no. MMCX

Okay, I could admittedly spend a whole blog trumpeting mis-use of public opinion polls, but sometimes I just cannot let it go by.  Especially, when as in this latest Washington Post poll on financial regulation, the Post is using the results to frame all its stories on the matter.  Here's the question that really gets me: "Do you support of oppose having the federal government regulate the complex financial instruments known as derivatives?"  43% support and 41% oppose.  Well, clearly we've got closely divided opinion.  Or, more like it, I'd guess upwards of 75% of respondents were lying so as to not sound ignorant. The vast majority of truthful respondents, answered "no opinion" but they were only 17% of the poll.  If you believe that 83% of Americans have even the slightest clue what financial derivatives are (much less understand what regulating them would entail), I've got a bridge to sell you.  


Arizona’s immigration policy

I've been a little slow to comment on the recently passed legislation on immigration in Arizona.  (Here's EJ Dionne's nice quick take on the matter).  As written, the law may be Constitutional, but I truly see no way that it can actually be enforced in the real world which does not end up being a blatant violation of civil rights (i.e., selective enforcement on the basis of ethnicity).  The law gives Arizona police the power to search anyone they have probable cause to believe is an illegal immigrant.  That sounds all well and good, but in the real world, just what is "probable cause" to believe someone is an illegal immigrant? Hmmm, something tells me it might have something to do with a person's ethnic appearance and language.  As soon as you start checking for evidence of legal status based on these factors, you are violating civil rights and thus the Constitution.  Selectively asking for proof of citizenship only for persons who fit a certain stereotype is a clear violation of the 14th Amendment (my favorite) proposition of "equal protection under the law."  

On a sort-of-related note, actions like this might help the GOP short-term, but long-term makes it ever more likely they will have permanent minority party status.  Building a party off the anger of angry white men is just not a good long term strategy as they are an ever-shrinking (thank goodness, does that make me a self-loathing white male) portion of the electorate. 


Fox News and scary logos

I missed this from Jon Stewart last week.  It's brilliant.  Watch.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
A Farewell to Arms
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party


Anderson Cooper shows what actual journalism looks like

Every pundit in America who does TV interviews should be forced to watch this and see how its done.  It's not that hard.  Just know your facts and don't be afraid to use them.  This is awesome:

Quick hits

1) Why are Wall Street banks so damn profitable.  Safe to say, any industry that is actutally this profitable is not actually a properly functioning market.  Certatinly, in part, these large profits depend on a huge lack of transparency.

2)  Nice post from Ezra really outlining the pernicious effects of the modern filibuster well beyond the 60 vote requirement.

3) Should college professors ban laptops?  I really struggle with this one.  My students get so distracted, but as someone who much prefers typing to actual pen to paper, I've got a lot of sympathy for those that simply want to type.  

4) We've talked about prison rape in my criminal justice class a fair amount this semester.  In response to another post, Matt Yglesias makes a nice comment I hadn't really thought about: "…it should be seen that in addition to being horrible on its own terms
this kind of thing totally undermines the criminal justice system’s
ability to mete out punishment in a considered way. The idea is that
criminals should be punished in some kind of proportion to the severity
of their crimes. Allowing violence to run amok in prisons does the
reverse—ensuring that members of organized gangs get off lighter than
less dangerous felons."


Understanding the tea partiers: It’s the white ethnocentrism, stupid

There’s a really important point about the tea partiers that a number of bloggers have been making, that I’ve been slow to get around to.  And I really should, as the key insights actually come from some cool political science research.  There’s surely a very real degree of racism and very unpleasant racial stereotypes going on with the tea-partiers, but rather than racism, per se, what’s at work here is much better conceived of as white ethnocentristm.  I’m pretty fond of this explanation because it relies heavily on social identity theory which was a really important part of my dissertation (and later) research.  The truth is, humans are amazingly prone to dividing the world up into “us” and “them” and thinking less about “them.”  That’s what you are seeing in the Tea Party movement, and the “them” is largely defined by race and ethnicity.  Jon Chait provides a nice summary:

This, too, fits in snugly with a racialized vision of government. Donald Kinder and Cindy Kam have conducted research showing that, even independent of ideology or partisanship, whites with ethnocentric attitudes are more hostile toward means-tested government programs, which they clearly see as benefiting other, non-white people. Meanwhile, ethnocentric whites are more likely than non-ethnocentric whites to support social insurance programs like Medicare and Social Security.

The Tea Party is not racist. But it is an almost entirely white movement, largely driven by a sense that the government is taking money away from people like them and giving it to people unlike them, with “them” understood in a racial context.

So, they’re not actually racist, just a hyper-developed sense of white identity and (irrational) fear that others, i.e., minority, are taking the fruits of their labor.

Electing judges

So, as I'm sure I've mentioned, I'm teaching a class on Criminal Justice policy this semester.  Spent yesterday's class discussing an absolutely terrific book, Courtroom 302 by Steve Bogira.  While telling the story of America's justice system from the perspective a single courtroom, Bogira seems to hit on every major issue and failing in our current system.  And in a style that is as readable and compelling as a fast-paced novel.  Great stuff.  I was very pleased to see that most all my students really got a lot out of the book, too.  One interesting thing we could all agree upon is that electing judges is simply a bad idea.  Any way you slice it, it distorts justice.  Appointing justices surely has its flaws, but it is a helluva lot better.  That said, how timely to come across this post from Matt Yglesias yesterday.  Yglesias summarizes some recent research on electing judges:


Matias Iaryczower, Garrett Lewis and Matthew Shum from the CalTech
Division of Humanities and Social Sciences offer some useful perspective
in this paper (PDF):

In this paper, we address empirically the trade-offs
involved in choosing between bureaucrats and politicians. In order to do
this, we need to map institutions of selection and retention of public
officials to the type of public officials they induce. We do this by
specifying a collective decision-making model, and exploiting its
equilibrium information to obtain estimates of the unobservable types.
We focus on criminal decisions across US states’ Supreme Courts. We
find that justices that are shielded from voters’ influence on average
(i) have better information, (ii) are more likely to change their
preconceived opinions about a case, and (iii) are more effective (make
less mistakes) than their elected counterparts
. We evaluate how
performance would change if the courts replaced majority rule with
unanimity rule.

Here in NC, we've at least made the step of going to non-partisan judicial elections.  Still, far from perfect, but one of my students researching his term papers says that other studies show that judges elected in non-partisan elections are clearly better than those elected in partisan elections.  Alas, most states insist on continuing to elect their judges and I don't think there's much prospect for change on the horizon.  Of course, pretty much no other countries elect their judges and they think we are crazy (rightly) for doing so.

How a bill doesn’t become a law

Joe Conason has a nice column outlining how the Republican strategy on financial reform is almost identical to the strategy on health care reform.  And both are based on lying and a complete lack of personal integrity on the part of Senators.  Of course, the Democrats fault in this is behaving like Charlie Brown.  Yes, Charlie Brown, Lucy is going to pull the ball away again. Conason:

How many times will the Democrats fall prey to the same Republican
strategy? There is nothing subtle about the Republican approach to
frustrating reform, whether in healthcare, banking regulation or climate
change.  Scarcely anything could be more obvious, indeed, than Mitch
McConnell’s cynical obstruction of the financial reform bill, announced
over the weekend, with an
incoherent Scott Brown
 (and the rest of the Senate Republicans)
lining up in formation against "taxpayer bailouts" that literally do not
exist in the pending bill. 

The underlying agenda on the Republican side, from the top down, is
to frustrate and humiliate the president and the Democratic majority —
and to ensure that no legislation passes. They typically begin with a
memo from Frank Luntz, outlining rhetorical tricks that will be used to
mislead and anger voters, while obscuring the true content of any
proposal that Democrats might consider.

At the same time, Republicans on the relevant committees simulate
bargaining over matters of substance with their Democratic counterparts,
which is what the civics books tell us they are supposed to do, of
course. But when a bill emerges and debate is scheduled to begin,
McConnell stalls the process by threatening a filibuster, due to
allegedly unacceptable features of the legislation or an alleged refusal
by the Democrats to consult with Republicans. His false claims are
aimed at a single objective: to justify the filibuster threat.

 On financial reform, check, check, and check.  They've successfully done all these things.  If people start paying attention, this is a winning issue for Democrats (um, the people vs. Wall Street, that's easy), so we'll see how they play it.   

Quick hits

1) Okay, you don't need new evidence that Sarah Palin is a moron, but here's a nice column by Will Saletan emphasizing just how stupid and ahistorical her imperialistic rhetoric is.  

2) Ezra Klein had a nice column about just how stupid it is that Republican budget cuts have made it so hard for the IRS to actually crack down on tax cheats.  I'm going to link to Jon Chait's summary of Ezra, as his take-home point is predictably more cutting. 

3) Via the perpetually bearded Steve S., apparently beards make men seem more trustworthy (and older).  Since I tend to only have a beard in the Spring semester, perhaps I should be a good social scientist and look for effects on my course evaluations.

4) Fascinating: kids with Williams syndrome seem to have no innate ethnic biases, but gender biases remain.  

5) Nice column from EJ Dionne summarizing who the tea-partiers actually are (surprise, older white, conservative Republicans).

6) Really interesting Supreme Court case pitting freedom of association vs. freedom from discrimination.  Of course, nobody sums up Supreme Court cases like Slate's Dahlia Lithwick (she doesn't know it yet, but I hope to get her for our "American Values" speaker next year).   

Tax day plus 1

So, I meant to have a post yesterday linking to a terrific Dave Leonhardt on all the misleading spin out there on who pays taxes and also to link to a terrific John Stewart video that takes on this idiocy.  I'm late, and Jon Chait already did both in a single post– just go there.  He's also got the best takedown I've read of some poor, opressed, financial adviser who had an Op-Ed in the WSJ yesterday. 

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