Monthly Archives: June 2012

Footnotes

I wonder what’s going to dominate the news cycle tomorrow.

  • Rob Portman doesn’t like taxes…on beer. [Reuters]
  • People are pissed that the makers of Oreos like gay people. [The Guardian]
  • Major cities are trying something new on crime fighting. [Next American City]
  • People in India consume less Coca Cola than the rest of the world and that may change. [WSJ]
  • Chuck Norris was attacked for an anti-gay article he wrote. I’m sure the jokes are coming. [The Guardian]
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Well, they ALMOST got it right: United States v. Arizona & S.B. 1070

The Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Arizona was heralded by many liberals as a complete victory for the Obama Administration. With 3 of 4 provisions of S.B. 1070 deemed unconstitutional and the final section open to “as applied” challenges, many see the measure as on “life support.”

The real loser here, then, was the law. Here’s why:

The Supreme Court almost got it right in United States v. Arizona yesterday. That might sound like high praise for the institution that decided, and yesterday reaffirmed, Citizens United; concededly, they could have done substantially worse than their 5-3 decision finding 3 of the 4 challenged provisions of Arizona’s S.B. 1070 preempted by federal law. While the decision is undoubtedly a substantial win for the President, liberal circles have begun their celebration a bit too early. The decision not to strike Section 2B is a telling repudiation of the President’s power to regulate immigration policy, even when operating with delegated powers. It’s also a study in how the Court allows its decisions to dictate how they read the law.

The fact that the Court, as presently constituted, upheld a piece of controversial conservative legislation comes as no surprise. What truly boggles the mind, however, is the way the Court came to its decision. Section IV(D) of the opinion, finding federal law didn’t preempt 2B, must have been written and reasoned in total isolation from the rest of the decision. Emphasis on must. It’s the only way to explain this decision.

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Race and Democracy

Ta-Nehisi today.  Hard to excerpt, but outstanding, so let this entice you:

I don’t know how it all connects. Maybe it doesn’t. But I keep seeing this recurrence–most spectacularly in the Civil War–wherein great fights over our democracy, are so often close to fights over whiteness and blackness.

This is too fascinating

Check out the whole post, over at BLDGBLOG:

To make a long story short, McPhee describes two things: how Switzerland requires military service from every able-bodied male Swiss citizen—a model later emulated and expanded by Israel—and how the Swiss military has, in effect, wired the entire country to blow in the event of foreign invasion. To keep enemy armies out, bridges will be dynamited and, whenever possible, deliberately collapsed onto other roads and bridges below; hills have been weaponized to be activated as valley-sweeping artificial landslides; mountain tunnels will be sealed from within to act as nuclear-proof air raid shelters; and much more.

Image by Victor Chapa

Dept. of Ignoring the Fine Print, Romney ed.

Mitt Romney’s immigration plan actually includes a pathway to citizenship [TPM]:

DREAM Act supporters reject Romney’s plan, even though it would provide a path to citizenship for children now living virtually their entire lives underground in America. Romney is going further than some of his own advisers when he provides at least some path for undocumented youth to become citizens.

You’d think that would be something the hard right would throw a tantrum about. But no, it seems they think his immigration stance should be discussed in quiet rooms [The Hill]:

Republican hardliners in both chambers are holding their tongues over Mitt Romney’s plan to grant qualified illegal immigrants legal status and even U.S. citizenship.

Similar proposals in the past have led to charges from these conservatives that the beneficiaries would be rewarded with “amnesty” after entering the country illegally. They’ve called instead for tougher enforcement and the deportation of all illegal immigrants.

Yet 24 hours after Romney, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, outlined a broad proposal extending permanent residency to some illegal immigrants — and creating a pathway to citizenship for others — those same Republicans have been uncharacteristically silent on the idea.

Game of Thrones is Really About Politics

You gotta admit, these Mother Jones Game of Thrones mock-superPAC ads are pretty funny. They reminded me of a theory I had about why the Game of Thrones universe is popular: it may be fantasy but at its core it’s really about politics. Most of the storylines are about the consequences of the choices made by rulers and city leaders.

This series isn’t like other fantasy books where battles are described in detail and all the protagonists turn out okay. No, these books are about flawed characters who make choices with serious, oftentimes damaging, consequences. Instead of just describing the battles, the reader also gets the gruesome aftermath and the horror that comes with it.

Racism and the President, again

Ta-Nehisi Coates, after commenting on some bigoted remarks by National Review writer David Yerushalmi and right-wing Arizona radio host Barbara Espinosa, adds this:

As a footnote, I need to say that it has been pointed out that cataloging racism is a sight below the standards of this blog. I sort of agree. But over the course of the Obama presidency I have become convinced that no single force exerts a greater pull on his presidency than white racism. Not white resentment. Not white populism. White racism. I don’t know how else to explain a health care denounced as reparations, the rather continuous disrespect, the sense that he is a Kenyan illegitimate or all of the attendant theories. I do not know how else to explain a state like West Virginia, arguably the most racist in the country, where delegates are now refusing to endorse the president.

There will be more on this in the coming months. I don’t want to scoop myself. But my point is I can only stop talking about racism, when it ceases to be a significant force in our politics. When the mere act of being white gives Obama’s opponent “a home-state advantage nationally,” I can’t stop. It would be deeply wrong to stop.


Obsessed with Intelligence

I just read an article by Chris Hayes called “Why Elites Fail,” which is adapted from his new book Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy and presumably a condensed form of some of his central points.  His main argument is this: the unequal incomes produced by meritocratic systems always become self-perpetuating, maintaining elite status, diminishing social mobility, and undermining the meritocratic mechanisms that produced these results in the first place.  Hayes believes that just such a collapse of meritocracy has contributed heavily to the current elite stratification and social woes that characterize the United States in the 21st century.

The arguments are compelling, at least, and I’ve heard generally good things about the book, but what I found most interesting about this essay was Hayes’ discussion of the cultural valence of intelligence.  “Of all the status obsessions that preoccupy our elites,” says Hayes, “none is quite so prominent as the obsession with smartness.”  He goes on: “Intelligence is the core value of the meritocracy, one that stretches back to the early years of standardized testing, when the modern-day SAT descended from early IQ tests. To call a member of the elite “brilliant” is to pay that person the highest compliment.”

But, he says, this obsession with intelligence actually presents a huge danger:

While smartness is necessary for competent elites, it is far from sufficient: wisdom, judgment, empathy and ethical rigor are all as important, even if those traits are far less valued. Indeed, extreme intelligence without these qualities can be extremely destructive. But empathy does not impress the same way smartness does. Smartness dazzles and mesmerizes. More important, it intimidates. When a group of powerful people get together to make a group decision, conflict and argumentation ensue, and more often than not the decision that emerges is that which is articulated most forcefully by those parties perceived to be the “smartest.”

He discusses an example in Dick Cheney’s counsel and chief of staff (during his VP years) David Addington and concludes:

This is a potent articulation of the dark emotional roots of the Cult of Smartness: the desire to differentiate and dominate that the meritocracy encourages. Ironically, in seeking to stand apart, the Cult of Smartness can kill independent thought by subtly training people to defer to others whom one should “take seriously.”

This part of his essay is a fascinating illustration of the way that power, authority, and status become self-justifying.  Analytically, it’s the perfect cultural complement to an argument that focuses on social-economic (or “material”) factors, i.e., the way meritocratic institutions produce elites and the way these elites pull the newly accessible levers of social power to pull, as Hayes puts it, the ladder up behind them.

Image by Campus Progress

If there is a true Žižekism…

…it must be a betrayal of Žižekism in the name of Žižekism’s subversive core.

The whole thing is great; check it out.

(h/t zunguzungu)

It’s hard to talk about dreams

Michael Chabon hates dreams, and I think he gets this in particular quite right:

Whatever stuff dreams are made on, it isn’t words. As soon as you begin to tell a dream, as Freud reminds us, you interpolate, falsify, distort; you lie. That roseate airplane, that wide blue arc of cold water: no, it wasn’t like that, not at all. Better just to skip it, and pass the maple syrup.

Image via Wikipedia