Browsing the blog archives for November, 2014.


Great Moments in Journalism

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News Media

Over the weekend Breitbart scooped the world with the earth-shattering news that Loretta Lynch, who has been nominated to replace Eric Holder as AG, had defended the Clintons in the Whitewater investigation. Cue right-wing feeding frenzy.

However, however, the Whitewater Loretta Lynch was a different Loretta Lynch.

True to form, Breitbart issued a non-correction correction, since taken down but captured for posterity at TPM.

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Appeals Court Reinstates Same-Sex Marriage Bans

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Family Issues, Social Issues, Supreme Court, The Constitution

Yesterday a federal appeals court in Cincinnati reversed lower-court decisions that voided same-sex marriage bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee.

I believe this is the first genuine break in the streak of court decisions that have struck down same-sex marriage bans. Just yesterday I ran into a list of 22 states in which either federal courts or state supreme courts had voided such bans. The site Freedom to Marry keeps an updated account of where marriage equality stands in the states. Same-sex marriage currently is legal in 32 states, and courts had cleared the way for marriage equality in several other states.

Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog has the most detailed account of yesterday’s decision, by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, I’ve seen so far. The primary difference between yesterday’s decisions and the previous ones is that the Sixth Circuit upheld the states’ sovereignty on matters of marriage, and said federal courts had no bearing to countermand a state decision on marriage. The Sixth also said there is no right to marry. And this sets up an interesting contrast in legal thought.

As I understand it, some of the judges who have struck down the bans view marriage as a right of U.S. citizens that states cannot infringe. Others (see especially Judge Richard Poster’s very readable argument) basically say that the states’ reasons for banning same-sex marriage are irrational and blatantly discriminatory. Judge Posner wrote,

To return to where we started in this opinion, more than unsupported conjecture that same-sex marriage will harm heterosexual marriage or children or any other valid and important interest of a state is necessary to justify discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

As we have been at pains to explain, the grounds advanced by Indiana and Wisconsin for their discriminatory policies are not only conjectural; they are totally implausible.

The Sixth Circuit decision directly disagrees with Posner on some points. Posner said that “tradition” per se carries no weight, that delaying to change laws because there may be some unforeseen bad consequence to the law is not a valid excuse, and that there is no evidence children are harmed by being raised by same-sex parents. The Sixth apparently disagrees with all of those points, saying the states have a legitimate role in protecting children and that states have a right to “wait and see’ what happens elsewhere before enacting a change themselves. Also unlike Posner, the Sixth denied there was any evidence the law was based on animus to homosexuals.

Of course not. And jokes involving the President and watermelons are not racist. Sure.

Lyle Denniston writes that the Sixth also denies that homosexuals are a “discrete class deserving of special constitutional protection as historic targets of discrimination.”

The most obviously flimsy part of this decision is that it also denies that states have any obligation to recognize same-sex marriages of other states, which seems to me to fly right in the face of the Full Faith and Credit clause of Article IV Section 1.

Several articles today say that this decision almost certainly sets up a Supreme Court test. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had already said awhile back that if the Sixth upheld the bans, bring it on, dudes. Well, not those exact words. How the Court might decide is uncertain, especially after the U.S. v. Windsor decision that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (5-4, Usual Suspects with Kennedy swinging toward the liberals). I can see Justice Roberts having to decide which outcome would stir up the bigger hornets’ nest.

Update: Kenneth Jost, an adjunct professor of law at Georgetwon, rips the Sixth Circuit Court’s decision apart, and says the badly argued decision may prove to be a “blessing in disguise” for advocates of marriage equality.

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Politics of the Id

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elections, Obama Administration, Republican Party

I avoided political news yesterday, but this morning I bit the bullet and took a look at a few postmortems. I think Charles Pierce comes closest:

I think it was contemplating the fact that both Sam Brownback and Paul LePage both may have survived as governors that was the last straw for me tonight. Brownback has wrecked his state. Even Kansas Republicans believe that. LePage is a local embarrassment who became a national embarrassment in the final days before the election. Even Maine Republicans believe that. But Brownback will go back to wrecking his state, and LePage will go back to embarrassing his because of an attitude that Republicans, and the conservative movement that has powered the party, have cultivated carefully over the last three decades. They have engaged, quite deliberately and quite successfully, in a concerted effort to convince the country that self-government is a game for suckers. Nobody does what they say they’re going to do, so ignore the fact that our candidates have drifted so far to the right that they’ll be falling into the Thames any minute now because they’re not going to act on their fringe beliefs, and just go out there and vote your Id. Once you’ve divorced the act of voting from the conviction that voting will have any connection to what the government actually does, voters do not vote their desires, they vote their anger and their fear. And Sam Brownback goes back to wrecking his state and Paul LePage goes back to embarrassing his own.

Seriously, if we’d all taken a drink every time some election night bobblehead declared voters were tired of “politics as usual” or “fed up with Washington” we’d still be passed out. The bare-assed facts of the results would suggest that voters want more of the same. They want more wreckage, more gridlock, more drama, more stagnation. Except, they probably really don’t. They’re probably mostly really disgusted. So they vote for the candidate who personifies their disgust. As Pierce says, they are voting their Id. That’s the only explanation that makes sense.

Also, too:

Let us dispense with some conventional wisdom before it petrifies. First of all, the president’s basic unpopularity was unquestionably a factor, but not anywhere near as much of a factor as was the reluctance of the Democratic party — from the president on down — to embrace the actual successes that the administration has achieved. The economy is, in fact, improving. It is the responsibility of the president and his party that we have the paradoxical polling that indicates that the elements of the Affordable Care Act are popular, while “Obamacare” is not. (Mitch McConnell told a transparent lie that Kentucky could get rid of the ACA and still keep its very popular state exchange. He didn’t suffer at all for that.) The senatorial candidates who lost were senators who ran away from the administration.

I think President Obama’s single biggest mistake as President is that he has allowed himself to become too remote. It seems to me we don’t see as much of him as we have seen past POTUSes while in office. He’s a likeable guy, and while I don’t always agree with him he’s turned the economy around quite a bit and considerably lowered the deficit. How many Americans actually know President Obama has reduced the deficit? I’d be willing to bet real money that if you stopped people randomly in the street and asked them whether the deficit has gone up or down under Obama, 99 out of 100 would say “up.”

And, of course, a lot of the reason for this is that news media don’t inform the public of anything the public needs to know about their government. All we ever hear is the spin. News for the Id.

Second, I think it’s generally true that Democratic politicians campaigning for higher offices now probably started their political careers in the 80s or 90s or early 00. They learned that the way to succeed is to not stick their necks out for progressivism. So their don’t offer a real contrast to the Republican candidates except for seeming, well blander. No Id appeal. Combine that with apparently successful voter suppression efforts, and there’s nothing to stop the Republicans from swamping the ship of state.

Last, and I hate to break this to Tom Brokaw, and to Kasie Hunt, who talked about how the Republicans know they have to “govern,” but this election couldn’t have been less of a repudiation of the Tea Party.

That’s the other howler we heard over and over election night — the GOP establishment prevailed; the Tea Party has been leashed. Seems kind of the other way around to me.

Now the bobbleheads are putting on their best suits and telling us in their polished and resonate baritones that the Republicans will have to govern. No, they don’t, and they have no intention of doing so. In fact, The Editors of National Review have declared governing to be a trap. The reasons, boiled down, are these:

  1. Governing may require compromise which may require giving Democrats something they want.
  2. If we attempt to pass legislation Democrats will just obstruct us, doing to us what we did to them. The nerve.
  3. If we actually do something it might piss off the Tea Party.
  4. If government actually started working while a Democrat is in the White House, voters might elect another Democrat in 2016.
  5. Because of the four reasons above, instead of trying to pass legislation that would require compromises with Democrat and which might not be vetoed by a Democratic President, we should focus on what we will be able to accomplish after 2016 when we are in complete control.

Seriously, look for yourself. That’s what they’re saying.

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Derp Nation

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disasters, natural and unnatural, elections

Headline on an AP Story: “Exit poll: Voters unhappy with Obama and GOP.” So they elect more Republicans to send to Washington? Why do voters hate America?

We’re in for a nasty couple of years.

Peter Baker writes in the NY Times that President Obama is “fighting for his own relevance.” But President Obama’s relevance is the least of my concerns today. What’s really at stake is America’s relevance. If we thought U.S. politics has mostly been a clown show for the past 20 years, I fear that was just the warm up act. I know we’ve been joking for years about moving to Canada, but frankly were I a young person I would seriously be considering finding a more stable country to live in. We can’t keep this up.

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Election Returns

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Obama Administration

Pennsylvania will have a Democratic governor next year. Tom Corbett is out. The winner’s name is Tom Wolf. The GOP has picked up one Senate seat, in West Virginia. Mitch McConnell and a bunch of other incumbents have been re-elected. It’s probably going to be awhile before we know much

(Update) I see that the Republican, Tom Cotton, has won the Arkansas Senate race over the incumbent Mark Pryor. So that’s two pickups for Republicans.

I’m watching MSNBC and for the past half hour we’ve been told over and over that Mitch McConnell won. Move on already. Also I turn the sound off for the speeches. They’re too annoying.

Actually it’s better with the sound off all the time.

(update) Al Franken wins another term. Scott Brown lost in New Hampshire, Jeanne Shaheen wins another term.

(update) Wendy Davis lost in Texas. She was running for governor.

(update) The Louisiana Senate race is going to go to a runoff. It won’t be settled until December. I’m not waiting up.

(update) The Republicans picked up another Senate seat, in Montana.  That’s four.

(update) Mark Udall lost to the Republican challenger Cory Gardner, so that’s five. Republicans need just one more win to take over the Senate.

(Update) Damn. Scott Walker won.

(Update)  I’m seeing on the Web that Rick Scott was re-elected in Florida, but I don’t think I’ve seen this on MSNBC.

(Update) Looks like Pat Roberts is going to return to the Senate, too. Damn.

(Update) Ernst wins in Iowa.

Well, I’m depressed enough now, so I’m calling it quits for tonight.

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See You Later

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elections

I have a lot to do today, but consider this an open thread. I’ll plan on live-blogging election returns tonight unless it gets too depressing. Feel free to drop by if you need company.

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I’m Getting Tired of Winning by Losing

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elections

Dems are bracing themselves for losing the Senate tomorrow. Some are consoling themselves by saying this will be a wake-up call for progressives. To which I say, sweetums, if they ain’t awake already, I don’t know what’s going to do it.

Others are saying there are very tight races in states that will be key in the next Electoral College count, and given the “fundamentals” Republicans ought to be doing better, and this is a bad omen for them in 2016. In other words, a near miss is something like a win for the Dems. But a near miss is still a near miss.

Some commenters think the GOP is bound to overreach and spend the next two years making fools of themselves and proving their own ineptitude, and they won’t have Harry Reid to blame any more. Ah, but they can still blame President Obama. So sorry if I’m not in silver lining mode right now.

I’m personally hoping to see some governors going away, notably Brownback, Walker and Scott. These are very close races. Right now Brownback and Scott are considered likely to lose and Walker to win, but they’re all going to be nail biters.

But, y’know, in a sane world it shouldn’t even be close.

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Bring Back MWO

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elections, News Media, Obama Administration

Not to bum you out or anything, but it appears Iowa is about to elect a certifiable whackjob to the Senate. Molly Ball writes at The Atlantic,

Joni Ernst is an Iowan, born and bred, an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, and the Republican nominee for the Senate in Iowa. She has also flirted seriously with wacky conspiracy theories, especially Agenda 21, which takes off from an innocuous, voluntary UN resolution and turns it into a sinister plot which, as the John Birch Society says, “seeks for the government to curtail your freedom to travel as you please, own a gas-powered car, live in suburbs or rural areas, and raise a family. Furthermore, it would eliminate your private property rights through eminent domain.” And she has made comments about Americans totally dependent on government that make Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” observations look almost populist by comparison.

She’s a Michele Bachmann clone, in other words, but she’ll be in the Senate where she can do a lot more damage than Bachmann could in the House. Thanks loads, Iowa.

However, we might not entirely blame Iowans. Molly Ball also writes that news stories and profiles of Ernst in mainstream media make her seem harmless, even charming.

The other day, The Washington Post carried a front-page profile of Joni Ernstby feature reporter Monica Hesse. The piece was particularly striking—a long, warm, almost reverential portrait of a woman candidate charming Iowans by doing it “the Iowa way”—no doubt, an accurate portrayal by a veteran journalist. Hesse did suggest, in passing, that Ernst has taken some controversial positions in the past, such as supporting “personhood,” but emphasized that she has walked them back. Not mentioned in the piece was Ernst’s flirtation with one of the craziest conspiracy theories, or her comments on dependency—or her suggestion that she would use the gun she packs if the government ever infringed on her rights.

For those of you who don’t remember, the MWO in the title refers to one of the first liberal blogs that made an impact, Media Whores Online. MWO was the blog everybody talked about in 2002, but then it ceased to be, sometime in 2003 I think. As I remember it, MWO was instigated in part to rage against the fawning deference and considerable slack news media had given GW Bush in the 2000 campaign, as opposed to the pubescent piling on of Al Gore, who was treated as the kid nobody wanted at his lunchroom table.

Ball writes that media is falling into its old habit of writing The Narrative. The Narrative is the story of the campaign, or the general theme in which political coverage is framed. Use of The Narrative is a natural storytelling device that makes politics news stories more interesting to the public at large, I suppose, but it also  introduces considerable bias.

I found an article from the 1990s discussing the media’s tendency to create frames that are “frequently drawn from, and reflective of, shared cultural narratives and myths and resonate with the larger social themes to which journalists tend to be acutely sensitive.” Although it goes back several years I think what it describes is still going on. See also “The Master Narrative in Journalism” by Jay Rosen.

Molly Ball writes,

The most common press narrative for elections this year is to contrast them with the 2010 and 2012 campaigns. Back then, the GOP “establishment” lost control of its nominating process, ended up with a group of extreme Senate candidates who said wacky things—Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, Sharron Angle—and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in races that should have been slam dunks. Now the opposite has happened: The establishment has fought back and won, vanquishing the Tea Party and picking top-flight candidates who are disciplined and mainstream, dramatically unlike Akin and Angle.

It is a great narrative, a wonderful organizing theme. But any evidence that contradicts or clouds the narrative devalues it, which is perhaps why evidence to the contrary tends to be downplayed or ignored. Meantime, stories that show personal gaffes or bonehead moves by the opponents of these new, attractive mainstream candidates, fit that narrative and are highlighted.

However, by all accounts Ernst and some of the other “establishment” GOP candidates are every bit as wacky as Akin or Angle, but the public wouldn’t know this by media coverage. The “establishment” Republican candidates are being fluffed, but as Ball describes, their Democratic opponents are not. Media are, possibly unconsciously, attempting to give the Senate to Republicans.

Steve M agrees but thinks Ball is missing the bigger story on The Narrative.

It’s also that the press agrees with the GOP (and much of the public) that Barack Obama is a terrible president who needs to be punished. Journalist resent Obama because he hasn’t always been nice to them (why weren’t they allowed to watch him play golf with Tiger Woods?). He hasn’t been the guy they thought he was in 2008, the the cool, hipster bro capable of solving all of America’s problems without breaking a sweat. He let them down, so no matter what it does to the country, they’re going to put the boot in as he gets stomped. Plus, they’ve already got a crush on a whole new crop of dreamboat frat boys — Rand, Jeb, Christie, Ryan. And besides, if they’re nasty toward the Democrats, maybe right-wingers will stop denouncing them as “the liberal media.” So what if that’s never happened before? It could totally happen now, right?

It’s Bush v. Gore coverage all over again. At least it’s just a midterm.

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Please Let’s Retire PC

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Obama Administration

I well remember that I first heard the term “political correctness” back in the 1970s used as a kind of self-deprecating joke about the many often clumsy strategies for getting gender and racial bias out of language in academia and leftie activist circles. We had to stop using “men” as a synonym for “the human species,” for example. The suffix -man was replaced with -person — spokesperson, chairperson. This was all exceeding strange at first, and sometimes got silly. Once when I was working in the textbook industry I came across a passage in which “Viking oarsmen” was changed to “Viking oarspersons” (I changed it back). We struggled with the nomenclature for racial and ethnic groups and the physically challenged (a prime PC term). I understand the term “political correctness” was borrowed from communist literature, but I’ve never read much communist literature so I wouldn’t know about that.

But for a long time PC has stopped meaning what it used to mean. It was taken over by the Right as a kind of all-purpose defense against hate speech, as in “you’re just being PC.” The Right actually sees what they think is PC as a kind of censorship, or a strategy by which the Left is trying to silence opposition. If it were, I think we can all agree it doesn’t work. It also seems to me that the Right screams more loudly and more often about language they don’t like than the Left, but I’ll leave that for another post.

Bill Maher’s loudly expressed hate speech against Islam got him dis-invited from speaking at UC Berkeley. I have mixed feelings about the young folks’ proclivities for canceling speech invitations, but it’s their campus, and at least they give a damn. And it’s not as if Bill Maher is not being heard elsewhere. The First Amendment protects your right to speak, but it doesn’t guarantee a venue. Nor does it include protection from disagreement.

At The Atlantic, Peter Beinart isn’t having it, and says political correctness is back. It had left? Well, never mind. Beinert recalls the horrors of the past —

In 1987, the University of Michigan reprimanded students working at the school radio station for broadcasting racially insensitive jokes. In 1990, after Stanford students painted a picture of Beethoven black, and added big lips, the university passed a speech code that prevented “personal vilification of students on the basis of their sex, race, color, handicap, religion, sexual orientation, or national and ethnic origin.” In 1991, George Mason punished fraternity students for dressing in blackface before being prevented from doing so by a federal judge. In 1993, African-American students at the University of Pennsylvania protested a student columnist’s denunciations of Martin Luther King by dumping 14,000 copies of The Daily Pennsylvanian in the trash. Later that year, Penn tried to punish a white student for yelling “Shut up, you water buffalo” at a group of largely African-American sorority sisters who were making noise outside his window.

Hey, Beinart, I can remember when a thousand paratroopers were deployed to Little Rock so that a handful of African American students could safely attend high school classes. I remember when a U.S. Air Force veteran named James Meredith had to sue the University of Mississippi to be allowed to attend, because he was black. Meredith had to be protected by U.S. Marshalls on campus. The white segregationist riots that accompanied this event resulted in two deaths. Trashing 14,000 copies of the Daily Pennsylvanian isn’t exactly in the same ball park, is it?

The fact is, when you leave academia and get a job you can get fired for racial and gender insensitivity, so you might as well learn to can it while you’re still in college. Much of the Real World doesn’t put up with that crap, either. You’re free to say what you like, but you are not free from the consequences.

Beinart wrings his hands because everybody feels victimized.

Once again, campuses are witnessing a clash of the supposedly victimized. Maher paints himself as a man bravely violating politically correct orthodoxy to tell truths about Islam that many American liberals fear acknowledging. Muslim students on campus want their campuses to be a refuge from what many consider the demonization and persecution of Muslims in post-9/11 America. And once again, the clash is bringing out the worst in both sides.

And it appears students at UC Berkeley chose to stand with their Muslim fellow students and have told Maher to take his bigotry somewhere else, and that’s also an example of free speech in action. Maher has a very public venue for expressing his opinions, and I’m sure other venues are open to him, so his freedom of speech is not being squelched. It could be argued that Maher should have been allowed to speak and that the students who objected to his speech could just not go. But, as I said, it’s their campus, and at least they give a damn.

But my larger point is that “political correctness” wasn’t originally about blatant hate speech, and bigotry is not “politically incorrect.” It’s bigotry.

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