Free speech and “activist” judges

I am so tired of conservative complaints about activist judges.  Once again, the “conservative” majority of the court has struck down a piece of legislation by the duly-elected representatives of the people (in this case, the Arizona legislature) and replaced their own judgement.  Now, sometimes that needs to be done, e.g., Brown v. Board of Ed, but let’s just not pretend this conservative jurists have any genuine interest in deferring to elected bodies when those elected bodies pass laws they don’t like.  In this case, it strikes me as a particularly tortured reading of the 1st amendment:

In its first campaign-finance decision since its 5-to-4 ruling in the Citizens United case last year, the Supreme Courton Monday struck down an Arizona law that provided escalating matching funds to candidates who accept public financing.

The vote was again 5-to-4, with the same five justices in the majority as in the Citizens United decision. The majority’s rationale was that the law violated the First Amendment rights of candidates who raise private money. Such candidates, the majority said, may be reluctant to spend money to speak if they know that it will give rise to counter-speech paid for by the government.  [emphasis mine]

“Laws like Arizona’s matching funds provision that inhibit robust and wide-open political debate without sufficient justification cannot stand,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority. Justice Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. joined the majority opinion.

Seriously?  They might not want to spend money because that affects the amount of public money their opponents receive and that’s somehow a 1st amendment violation?  Please.  Unfortunately, Arizona’s law was a particularly thoughtful way of public financing:

But supporters of campaign finance regulation worried that the decision represented a first step in a broader legal assault on public financing.

States and municipalities are now blocked from using a method of public financing that is simultaneously likely to attract candidates fearful that they will be vastly outspent and sensitive to the avoidance of needless government expense.

Short version: First amendment prohibits wise government expenditures on fairer elections but allows unlimited corporate spending.  Urggghh.

Gay marriage and the rules of the game

Nate Silver writes about NY’s new gay marriage law:

But the type of leadership that Mr. Cuomo exercised — setting a lofty goal, refusing to take no for an answer and using every tool at his disposal to achieve it — is reminiscent of the stories sometimes told about with President Lyndon B. Johnson, who had perhaps the most impressive record of legislative accomplishment of any recent president.

It’s also a brand of leadership that many Democrats I speak with feel is lacking in President Obama.

I think Yglesias‘ response is spot-on:

This is all true. Still, I would say that the bigger difference isn’t so much about the leadership style as it is that Cuomo won. Suppose that the New York State Senate operated according to the rules of the United States Senate and a bill failed unless it secured a 60 percent supermajority. What would people be saying about Andrew Cuomo now?

Exactly.  The United States Senate is a uniquely dysfunctional legislative body.  The political world we’re looking at right now would be dramatically different if Obama could have approached his first two years with a 50 rather than 60 vote majority Senate.

The Constitution and modern policy debates

Every now and then, Time magazine can still surprise with a unexpectedly thoughtful article.  Here’s a nice piece I just finished reading about the Constitution.  Makes a nice argument that slavish adherence to the founders gets us nowhere in today’s debates:

People on the right and left constantly ask what the framers would say about some event that is happening today. What would the framers say about whether the drones over Libya constitute a violation of Article I, Section 8, which gives Congress the power to declare war? Well, since George Washington didn’t even dream that man could fly, much less use a global-positioning satellite to aim a missile, it’s hard to say what he would think. What would the framers say about whether a tax on people who did not buy health insurance is an abuse of Congress’s authority under the commerce clause? Well, since James Madison did not know what health insurance was and doctors back then still used leeches, it’s difficult to know what he would say. And what would Thomas Jefferson, a man who owned slaves and is believed to have fathered children with at least one of them, think about a half-white, half-black American President born in Hawaii (a state that did not exist)? Again, hard to say.(See the top 10 American political prodigies.)

The framers were not gods and were not infallible. Yes, they gave us, and the world, a blueprint for the protection of democratic freedoms — freedom of speech, assembly, religion — but they also gave us the idea that a black person was three-fifths of a human being, that women were not allowed to vote and that South Dakota should have the same number of Senators as California, which is kind of crazy. And I’m not even going to mention the Electoral College. They did not give us income taxes. Or Prohibition. Those came later.

Of course, it does start with that classic “people on the right and left” balance.  In reality, only people on the right try and insist that whatever their political preferences are follow necessarily from what the founders believed.

Chart of the day: boys vs. girls

Here’s some results from an interesting Gallup poll (via Economix blog):

A recent Gallup poll asked Americans which sex they would prefer if they could have only one child. About 40 percent said they would prefer a boy and 28 percent would prefer a girl, with the rest saying they had no preference or opinion on the question.

Well, that’s kind of interesting.  And it turns out, that it is driven entirely by men preferring boys.


I’m going to unapologetically admit that if I could only have one child, I would want a boy.  Not because I think boys are better, but simply because I think it is more likely (though, far from a given) that any given boy will share common interests with me, and there’s nothing more satisfying than sharing common interests with your kids.  For the same reason, I would expect women to prefer daughters.  I actually find that non-result more interesting.

On a quasi-related note, Kim and I were were watching some of the “Toddlers and Tiaras” marathon on TLC yesterday afternoon.  I think Kim summed it up best in two ways.  First, “you just can’t stop watching; it’s like a train wreck.”  Indeed.  Like much reality television, I’m convinced much of the enjoyment comes from watching such horrible people and feeling better about your self.  Secondly, and apropos of this post, “those women should not be allowed to have daughters.”  In a perfect world.

Anatomy of a right-wing media freak-out

Interesting story in Slate about how some totally obvious (to the natural and social-scientifically literate) by Al Gore led to a right-wing media freak-out.  The author of the story posted a video in which Al Gore said the following:

Here’s my transcription of the segment of Gore’s speech that conspiracy theorists found so controversial:

You have to have ubiquitous availability of fertility management so women can choose how many children to have, the spacing of the children. You have to lift child-survival rates so that parents feel comfortable having small families. And most important, you have to educate girls and empower women. And that’s the most powerful leveraging factor, and when that happens, then the population begins to stabilize and societies begin to make better choices and more balanced choices.

I’ll make this crystal clear, since there are a few conservatives who read this blog…

1) More people = more resource use = more pollution and more global warming.

2) Educated and empowered women = smaller families = fewer people = less pollution and less global warming.

2a) Nice added benefit– it’s great for women!

Alas, what do we get from right-wing media?

The headlines were sensational: “Al Gore branches out into population control theory” (Watts Up With That), “Have Less Kids! Gore Pushes Population Control” (Fox), “Gore promoting fewer children to curb pollution” (Daily Caller).

A couple of options.  A) They’re not smart enough to understand how this works.  B) They are so pathologically driven by hatred for Al Gore that, even if they were otherwise smart enough to care how this works,they can’t under the circumstances.  c) The idea and implications of working to empower women in developing nations as an important and far-reaching policy goal is just way beyond them.  I’m sure I’m missing a few, but it’s pretty pathetic any way you look at it.

Was Bristol Palin raped by Levi Johnnston?

Wow– according to her memoir, it sure sounds like it.  From the Post:

While Palin does not accuse former boyfriend Levi Johnston of rape in “Not Afraid of Life: My Journey So Far,” her account of the night she lost her virginity certainly sounds nonconsensual. Palin writes that she got so drunk on wine coolers provided by Johnston during a camping trip with friends that she has no recollection of having sex. Afterward, she was distraught.

“Levi wasn’t even there to help me process — or even confirm — my greatly feared suspicions,” she writes. “Instead of waking up in his arms . . . I awakened in a cold tent alone.” Palin realized that she had lost her virginity only after a friend told her what happened.

She doesn’t use the word “rape” anywhere in her book, but what she describes seems to be just that.

She writes that she felt her virginity had been “stolen” and that she “tried not to vomit” when she found out what happened.

Palin describes being devastated as she confronted Johnston: “ ‘You knew I didn’t want to have sex until I was married!’ I whispered. ‘How could you?’ ” She also writes that Johnston apologized.

If Palin’s story is accurate, then what she appears to be describing is a nonconsensual — and likely illegal — assault. She doesn’t say whether she was unconscious, too incapacitated to give consent or just unable to remember what happened the next morning. But, by the account she gives, what took place in the woods near Wasilla that night sounds a lot like what Alaska rape lawdefines as sexual assault in the second degree, when the “offender engages in sexual penetration with a person who the offender knows is . . . incapacitated or unaware that a sexual act is being committed.”

Wow.  Going to be really curious to see what comes of this.   Even if Bristol Palin doesn’t realize that what she describes in her book is legally rape, surely some of the editors, etc., had to.   If this happened as alleged, Bristol Palin has my utmost sympathy and I certainly hope Levi is prosecuted.  A high-profile prosecution in a case like this might also make more young men aware that having sex with a woman who is not even in a mental state to consent is having sex without consent, i.e., rape.

Photo of the day

Got a kick out of this from a friend’s facebook feed:

“Job-killing” tax increases

Or maybe they don’t actually kill jobs.  Nice column about the Republican idiocy on taxes by Bruce Bartlett (you knew it had to be him, or Jon Chait).  Short version: pretty much every Republican economist has been completely wrong about the relationship between taxes and economic growth.  He looks at the cases of 1982 and 1993.   Here’s the long version:

Back in 1982, Ronald Reagan was persuaded that the deficit was such a severe impediment to growth that a tax increase to reduce it would be economically beneficial. Many in his party strenuously objected, citing research by Republican economists. For example, on August 12, 1982, U.S. Chamber of Commerce president Richard Lesher sent to Congress an analysis of the proposed tax increase. Said Lesher:

“If H.R. 4961 is passed in these troublesome economic times, we have no doubt that it will curb the economic recovery everyone wants. It will mean a lower cash flow as more businesses pay more taxes, with a depressing effect on stock prices. It will reduce incentives for the increased savings and investment so badly needed to improve productivity and create more jobs. It will mean higher prices for many products and services. It will increase government costs in caring for those who, because the economy is held down, cannot find employment.”

It would be hard to find an economic forecast that was more wrong in every respect. Looking at real gross domestic product, it grew 4.5 percent in 1983 and 7.2 percent in 1984 – an exceptionally strong performance. The stock market had one of its best years ever in 1983 – both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 Index rose 35 percent. There was no increase in the rate of inflation, which was exactly the same in 1983 and 1984 as it was in 1982. The unemployment rate fell from 10.6 percent in December 1982 to 8.1 percent by December 1983 and 7.1 percent in December 1984.

The Chamber was not an outlier. Virtually every Republican economist made similar dire predictions.

1993 is basically the same story.  And in 2001, they all predicted amazing economic growth that never happened from the Bush tax cuts.  Yet people still take these claims seriously.  I also love how the sainted Reagan would be driven out of the modern Republican party for raising taxes.

Rand Paul is stupid

I’ve said it before, I’ll surely say it again, you don’t have to be the least bit intelligent to be  US Senator (or an opthamologist, apparently).  Via Steve Benen:

A Senate subcommittee held a hearing this week on funding the existing Older Americans Act, including a $2 billion investment to prevent senior hunger. The panel, led by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), explored how the government can actually save money through these investments.

It’s really not that complicated. By spending money to prevent hunger and malnutrition among the elderly, Americans can save on health care and nursing home costs.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), labeled “America’s Dumbest Senator” by some, was flabbergasted. “It’s curious that only in Washington can you spend $2 billion and claim that you’re saving money,” he said. “The idea or notion that spending money in Washington somehow is saving money really flies past most of the taxpayers.”

The video of the exchange is well worth watching. (via Oliver Willis)

I think Sanders and Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) made this pretty clear, but I’m nevertheless fascinated by the ways in which the right is completely unfamiliar with notion of “penny wise, pound foolish.”

Agreed.  It really is amazing that Republicans talk so much about how spending money is horrible they seem to have completely over-dosed on their own Kool-aid and are unable to recognize the very basic principle of investing in the short-term to save in the long-term.  As Howard Dean would say, Yaaaarggghhhh!!

Tea party and gay marriage

You know you are a liberal when… your facebook feed is 90% filled up by positive commentary on NY’s gay marriage law.  Am I wrong for not being excited?  All well and good, but part of me doesn’t like how this issue has become almost the sine qua non of liberalism when there are so many issues that strike me as more important.  Nonetheless, important step for equality, etc., yeah, I get all that.

Second point– not to suggest that a single photo is proof of anything, but really, nobody should be doubting that “The Tea Party” is anything other than intense, very conservative Republicans.  That’s it.  It’s not some broader populist movement, it’s certainly not libertarian, and it’s sure not bipartisan.  The fact that The Tea Party is out protesting the gay marriage vote tells you what you need to know about the Tea Party, i.e., it’s really just conservative Republicans.


Deadly animals

This is pretty cool– a Smithsonian magazine feature on the 10 deadliest animals of our evolutionary history.  #1: Lions, tigers, and leopards.  As the article says,

If you live in a developed country, odds are you are going to die of a heart attack, stroke, cancer or an accident. But it was not always this way. For most of our evolutionary history as primates, one of the most common causes of death, perhaps the most common cause, was, well, being eaten.

Reminds of two excellent books on the topic: Monster of God by David Quammen profiles four species which still kill humans more than you’d think.  Quammen focuses on these remaining man-eating, desperately-endangered, alpha predators left in the wild: the lions of India, crocodiles of Australia, Carpathian Bears of Romania, and the Siberian Tiger of Russia.  It’s great stuff.

Also, Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War by Barbara Ehrenreich.  Ehrenreich presents a compelling thesis that humans’ tendency towards war and ritualized violence developed from early humans, biological and cultural evolutionary responses to predation.  Ehrenreich firmly rejects the now discounted “man the hunter” hypothesis and argues that much of human culture is explained by humans difficult transition from prey animal to predator.  Great stuff.

Meta quote of the day

I liked Kevin Drum’s response to his Eric Cantor based quote of the day.  First, Cantor:

I believe that we have identified trillions in spending cuts, and to date, we have established a blueprint that could institute the fiscal reforms needed to start getting our fiscal house in order. That said….Democrats continue to insist that any deal must include tax increases….Given this impasse, I will not be participating in today’s meeting and I believe it is time for the President to speak clearly and resolve the tax issue.

And Drum:

Roger that. Trillions in spending cuts already agreed to, but there can’t be one dime in tax increases of any kind. Would any conservative apologists like to continue pretending that Democratic aversion to spending cuts is pretty much the same kind of thing as the Republican jihad against tax increases? Anyone?

Anyone?  Nonetheless, I’m sure a quick scan of recent news articles would happily suggest this is the case– that’s what’s so annoying about it.  Journalists desire to see a symmetry where none exists (or at least pretend it’s there in the name of “objectivity”)  is an amazingly powerful (and bad for our democracy) bias.  Of course, it’s not just the province of political journalists, but I honestly expect more from them than I do from my students.

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