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November 22, 2014 8:24 AM Daylight Video

By Martin Longman

In honor of the death of the Benghazi conspiracy theories, I give you The Marines’ Hymn.

I do think that Charles Pierce is a bit optimistic. This parrot may be tired and shagged out after a long squawk, but it is probably a zombie parrot.

There is some sense in which the Benghazi conspiracy theories will and can never actually die.

November 21, 2014 10:13 PM Who Remembers Nelson Rockefeller?

By Richard Skinner

Despite promising my wife that I would not add to our home’s existing glut of books, I picked up three books at the APSA annual meeting, mostly for free. One was Richard Norton Smith’s On His Own Terms, a long-awaited biography of Nelson Rockefeller. I don’t have much to add to reviews by Timothy Noah, David Nasaw, and Jeffrey Frank. (I think that Nasaw is much too harsh in his judgment of Rockefeller). On His Own Terms is long and thorough. It illuminates parts of Rockefeller’s life he tried to hide, such as his dyslexia and philandering. It explains how Rockefeller’s love of art was central to his career, which is unusual for politicians, who are more likely to be golfers or baseball fans than serious students of Rothko and Rauschenberg. Smith is especially good at discussing Rockefeller’s actions as Governor of New York and his complicated relationship with Mayor John Lindsay. On the other hand, his detailed discussions of the state legislature may baffle those who don’t know their Steinguts from their Carlinos. He devotes an entire chapter to the tawdry circumstances of Rockefeller’s death, which may strike some readers as a little much.

Despite On His Own Terms’ great length, Smith skimps on some subjects that might interest political scientists, such as Rockefeller’s more-complicated-than-you-think relationship with Richard Nixon. He provides illuminating descriptions of Rockefeller’s presidential ambitions, but won’t the judgments of any serious students of the period. I find it hard to find a path that places Rocky in the Oval Office, except perhaps if he had accepted Nixon’s offer of the second spot in 1960, and became his obvious successor. Had it not been for Rockefeller’s divorce and (especially) remarriage, he might have won the Republican nomination in 1964, but he surely would have lost to Lyndon Johnson.

It’s striking that it has taken 35 years for a definitive biography of Nelson Rockefeller, a two-time presidential candidate, a four-term governor of New York, and a vice president. There are some obvious reasons for this: some archival material has only recently become available, authorized biographer Cary Reich tragically died after finishing the first volume of a two-volume work. But the more fundamental reason is that Rockefeller has been forgotten, perhaps because there has been no obvious constituency to celebrate his memory.

It’s hard to maintain widespread posthumous interest in an American politicians who did not become president. But other such figures of Rockefeller’s generation have had longer afterlives. Conservatives celebrate Barry Goldwater. Different sorts of liberals memorialize Adlai Stevenson, Robert Kennedy, Eugene McCarthy, and Hubert Humphrey. Neoconservatives lionize Henry M. Jackson. While few still praise George Wallace, at least he’s central to the civil rights revolution - if only as a villain. (Rockefeller certainly was a significant figure in support of the movement - he paid for Martin Luther King’s funeral, after all - but he’s not essential to its story).

Rockefeller has no constituency. Conservatives with AARP cards despise him; younger ones probably are oblivious. Baby-boom liberals did not embrace the taker of Attica, the author of draconian drug laws, the patron of Henry Kissinger and Edward Teller. The New Left despised a fervent Cold Warrior who seemed the epitome of “corporate liberalism.” While Rockefeller did try to seize RFK’s liberal mantle after his assassination (in retrospect, not a well-thought-out path to a Republican presidential nomination), he was a little old and un-hip to be embraced by the counterculture. (His legalization of abortion in New York State owed more to his brother John’s work at the Population Council than to the rising women’s movement). Even the few remaining Republican moderates rarely mention Nelson Rockefeller, so as to avoid the tax-and-spend label. (He is useful, however, to those GOP partisans who want to praise their party’s civil rights record - Jackie Robinson can be better described as a Rockefeller loyalist than as a staunch Republican). His record as governor, impressive in some ways (my family has benefited from his enormous expansion of the State University of New York), is besmirched by the fiscal mess he left.

Much like the modernist art and architecture he so loved, Rockefeller’s politics haven’t aged well. He was very much a man of the “Greatest Generation,” a product of “the American High’s” confidence that major institutions could always meet society’s challenges, given enough money and enough blue-ribbon task forces. Rockefeller not only believed in Big Government and Big Business, he had warm relations with Big Labor, and served as patron to both Big Intellect and Big Architecture. In an era marked by low trust in society’s institutions, Rockefeller’s heyday feels very long ago.

I can’t think of many people who resemble Rockefeller today. The closest I can come are the last two mayors of New York City. With Giuliani, he shares cultural liberalism, a messy personal life, a strong law-and-order inclination, and a pursuit of the Republican presidential nomination that failed for reasons that seem obvious in retrospect. With Bloomberg, he shares vast wealth (duh), an unsentimental attitude toward power, a love for technocratic paternalism, and a tin ear for west-of-the-Hudson sensibilities. But there is one surprising heir to the Rockefeller legacy. Eisenhower once said of Rockefeller, “He has one hundred ideas. One of them may be brilliant…it’s worthwhile to have him around because that one idea is worth the ninety-nine that aren’t.” I think there are those who make the same statement about Newt Gingrich.

[Cross-posted at Mischiefs of Faction]

November 21, 2014 8:48 AM Weekend Film Recommendation: Obsession

By Keith Humphreys

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In my recommendation of Dear Murderer, I described my fondness for British films in which brutal people say awful things with perfect manners and diction. This week’s film recommendation is another fine example of the “Terribly sorry old chap, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to kill you” school of Brit Noir: 1949′s Obsession.

Like Dear Murderer, the film revolves around a beautiful, faithless wife (Sally Gray) whose urbane, intelligent cuckold (Robert Newton) seeks indirect vengeance by trying to kill one of her lovers in a fashion that the police will never uncover. Gray, who was with us in prior film recommendation Green for Danger, is at her most alluring…and her most cold. If there were any doubt as the film progresses, the final scene makes clear her character’s utter selfishness, and she puts it over in a manner worthy of noir’s most memorable femme fatales.

Robert Newton, as a calculating, vindictive psychiatrist plotting the perfect murder, is even better. It’s hard to believe that his suave, perfectly tailored character is the creation of the same actor who made “Arrrrhhh!” the byword of would be pirates everywhere (see my prior recommendation Treasure Island for details). Because he is ostensibly the victim of his wayward wife and conducts himself so politely, it’s possible to feel sorry for him until about half way through the film, when a critical scene with a little dog makes you realize that he is, like his spouse, a thoroughly nasty piece of work.

As the lover who is to be killed, Phil Brown is solid, though a stronger actor might have been able to do more in the many face-offs he has with Newton. Naunton Wayne — for once not co-cast with Basil Reardon — comes off better as a dogged Columbo-type detective, and also skillfully injects some comic relief into the otherwise grim story.

The other key presence here is director Edward Dmytryk, who was essentially exiled to Britain during the McCarthy witch hunts. He had a smaller budget to work with than what he was no doubt used to in Hollywood, but he gets everything possible out of the small cast and few sets as the film unfolds.

If you have trouble finding a copy of Obsession, look for it under an alternate title that was adopted at some point after its release: The Hidden Room. Any required extra hunting effort on your part will be well-rewarded by this finely-crafted piece of cruel and suspenseful entertainment.

p.s. Look fast for Stanley Baker (whose films were recommended here, here and here) as a cop on the beat.

p.p.s. If Stanford grad Phil Brown looks vaguely familiar, it’s probably because he played Luke’s Uncle Owen in the opening scenes of Star Wars!

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

November 20, 2014 4:47 PM Homework from Edward Tufte

By James Wimberley

While you are twiddling your trackball thumbs waiting for the DACA explosion. something slightly useful.

I finally bought Edward Tufte’s classic of graphical design The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. It’s so good it has no competitors, like the Department of Water Engineering at the Technical University of Delft. Struggling to find a niggle against a nearly perfect work, my only complaint is that he compares his masterpiece to Strunk and White’s error-packed The Elements of Style: a “malign little compendium of bad advice” (Stephen Dodson); “the book’s toxic mix of purism, atavism, and personal eccentricity is not underpinned by a proper grounding in English grammar” (Geoffrey Pullum). If you have any serious professional or even amateur interest in charts, buy Tufte’s book: he gets all your money as self-publisher, as commercial publishing houses refused to cede him the full graphical control he demanded. More fools they.

The book lucidly combines general graphical principles on “the revelation of the complex” and a plethora of striking and even amazing examples of good and bad practice. It would be a disservice to offer a dummy’s summary on this blog. What I tried to do was to investigate how much of his specific good advice, as opposed to the general principles, can be put into effect using a standard office software suite. I have LibreOffice. Most of the features apply in Excel, which does offer more: in some case misguidedly, in the 3D pyramid stacked histograms, with a variable lie factor as the data correspond to the heights of the pyramid slices while the eye reads their volume. If you want to make marginal or bubble plots, you will need specialised software like this or this.

I’ll take a worked example. Warning: the page below the fold is large, with many images, pushing the envelope on resolution. The WordPress software seems to muddy the resolution of images so you will need to click on each to get a proper view.

Tufte tells us to choose interesting, rich data. Obvious, but often ignored. I’ll use those from the annual LLNL energy flowcharts for the US economy. Here is that for 2013.

2013USEnergy

This is itself a fine piece of work. The only thing wrong is that the areas of the total boxes at the right do nor match those at the left. I once located a higher-resolution version, presumably the original, where the boxes are correct. Whoever converted this very large image to png format to fit on a webpage truncated the boxes. Keep control of your work.

They have charts for five previous years. It’s very difficult to compare years. Let’s try to chart the changes between 2008 and 2013, for a subset of key data. I’m especially interested in wasted energy, which happens at the right-hand side.

Let’s start with the popular pie charts. Tufte is against them:

A table is nearly always better than a single pie chart; the only worse design than a single pie chart is several of them, for the viewer is asked to compare quantities located in spatial disarray ….

Here they are. I left the default output of LibreOffice, with few exceptions: the data legends are in bold; the pies were carefully resized so that areas correspond to the true ratios of the data.
Energy pies merged png
The lesser problems include garish colours, oversaturated so that any legends placed within them are unreadable, and a legend train wreck at the top of the 2008 wasted energy pie on thin pie slices. For some reason the lettering has turned out poorly. The colours can be fixed by editing them; the lettering only by deleting from the chart software and re-entering by hand in a picture editor. The software changed the order of the sectors when I added electricity generation to the waste chart - I’ve no idea how to fix this. (The net output of electricity generation is included in the other sectors, see the flowchart.)

The main problem of difficult visual comparison is unfixable. What would you say is the ratio of useful to wasted energy in either year? The latter is clearly more, but could be by anything from 20% to 60%. The eye is not nearly as good at estimating areas as lengths. The true increase is 40%.

So let’s follow Tufte’s advice and put our 10 data points in a table.

Energy chart table
I take issue with Tufte here. A table is fine for at most a double comparison of a set of data: say, within a year between sectors, and between useful and wasted energy. Add a third variable such as time, and it gets confusing. So we will see what we can do with stacked bar charts. Here is the raw default result.

Energy chart 1This is already a considerable improvement. It is quite easy to run a visual comparison both between useful and wasted energy within each year (adjacent columns), and of useful or wasted energy between years (alternate columns). The intuitive perception of the ratios of the column heights is much more accurate. All the sectors are in the right order. The software offers percentage bar charts, but what’s the point? The percentages are just as clear visually without them, and the varying height adds another useful datum, the absolute total.

The remaining weaknesses are of visual comfort, elegance and legibility. First we add a white horizontal grid as a discreet reference point - a tip from Tufte. This suggested a pastel coloured background. To make the white line run through the columns, I made them 50% transparent. You want to start with a well-saturated colour for this to work. I played around with the colours to make an agreeable effect. Tufte does not offer much advice on colours, in this book at any rate. I like pastels, and chose related colours for my four final consumption sectors, and a contrasting one for the electricity waste, a category of its own. I also added data labels within the columns, allowing the precise numbers to be read off directly.

Energy chart 2

What are the tick labels on the left-hand axis doing? The numbers are already in the columns. So we get rid of them. Tufte suggests, for scatter plots, replacing regular interval ticks on the axes with exact marginal coordinate values; not feasible with ordinary tools. Similarly for truncating the lines of the axes to the data range. Another way of combining numbers with charts is to put a table below the columns, as with this good example from EPIA.

Energy chart 4

Tufte insists that revision is as necessary for charts as it is for writing. First, I added the column totals, a useful piece of information, using a picture editor (SansSerif PhotoPlus Starter edition – free). More important, I decided to change the units, a substantive not a graphical issue. The quad (quadrillion BTU) is a standard unit for discussing very large quantities of energy, as for the US economy. But it reflects the era of fossil fuels we are leaving for one powered predominantly by renewable electricity. For geeks, the quad is deprecated as not an SI unit. There is no loss in intuitive grasp in shifting to SI. Neither the quad nor the BTU has any day-to-day resonance, unlike the kilowatt, roughly the power delivered by a small horse. (Racing cyclists can sustain 400 watts for a while). The terawatt (trillion watts) is too small as a measure for the US economy, so let me introduce you to the petawatt, a quadrillion watts or billion megawatts. (Get used to the prefix: the NSA are already up to exabytes – the next jump beyond petabytes – at their Borgesian Utah data centre. That’s thousands of petabytes of selfies and emails, no more useful (judging by Benghazi and ISIS) than Smaug’s bed of gold. So I recalculated the spreadsheet in petawatt-hours. A small explanation went into the chart.

Finally I decided to replace the data legends manually in the picture editor, allowing the placement I wanted. I added explanations of the electricity issue and the units, and my name as author. Here’s the end product. Not great, but I think a decent piece of work. I fancy I’m not far from the limits imposed by today’s bog-standard software. In a few years my grandchildren will be emulating Hans Rosling’s dynamic bubble plot (2.30 minutes in).

Energy chart 8

Was it worth the effort? I gained no new insights from the work, and you should not expect any if you emulate. Chart design is all for getting across your thinking about data to your audience, not refining it for yourself. By that standard, I hope I succeeded. Let me know. I’d have liked to add thin line borders to the column segments, but neither LibreOffice nor Excel offer this, and I felt I’d invested more than enough time in the project already.

What are then the points the chart illustrates?

  • There is a colossal amount of energy waste, and it’s overwhelmingly in just two sectors, electricity generation and transport. Shift to renewable generation (100% efficient by accounting definition) and electric vehicles (something like 85% efficient plug-to-wheel) and you would save waste, and hence carbon emissions, equal to the entire useful energy consumption of the country, with no other changes in lifestyle or the production basket. Replacing current primary energy production is unnecessary, and it’s the wrong metric. Focus on useful energy and waste. (The accounting convention for renewables and nuclear is incidentally correct. Inefficiencies in the form of unconverted wind and sunlight, and heat from reactors, are absolutely trivial environmentally, unlike the emissions from wasted fossil fuels. Conversion efficiency gains are of course welcome there, and costs create a sufficient incentive to pursue them.)
  • US industry is remarkably energy-efficient compared to commerce (including government) and households. How it rates against German industry is another matter.
  • Obama’s presidency, in spite of sound policies, has not yet achieved significant reductions in energy consumption and efficiency. Some of these policies, notably the EPA coal regulations and vehicle mileage standards, will of course certainly have a bigger impact in the future.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

November 20, 2014 7:45 AM Leave Cory Booker Aloooone!

By Martin Longman

I think Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey befuddles political commentators because he doesn’t neatly fit into preconceived boxes. He can’t be buttonholed as a “liberal” or a “black” politician, nor can he even be called a typical Garden State pol. Perhaps Emma Green was correct when she wrote that Silicon Valley loves him because he speaks their language and “what the tech world wants will just make sense to him.”

It certainly matters that Mark Zuckerberg donated a $100 million to Newark schools while Booker was serving as that city’s mayor, and when Zuckerberg’s political action committee advocates on behalf of the Keystone XL pipeline I think we can assume that Booker will at least give them a hearing. It could be that these kind of connections help explain why Booker was one of the last Democratic senators to take a position on the pipeline, although it should also be remembered that he ultimately chose not to support the bill before the Senate.

It’s easy to forget that the Keystone XL pipeline divides the left on more than just corporate vs. environmental lines. Many unions urged passage of the bill, which helps explain why several Mid-Atlantic politicians with close ties to labor voted to authorize the project. In the Philadelphia area, the Democratic machine is embodied by Rep. Bob Brady (Philly) and Rep. Donald Norcross (Camden), both of whom voted for the bill in the House. They were joined by labor-friendly Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey. New Jersey Democrats tend to be liberal on social issues but also very responsive to both labor and the financial industry, which made the vote on Keystone XL something more than a no-brainer. If you accept that unions are a crucial and indispensable component of the Progressive Movement, the proper “progressive” position on the vote wasn’t as clear as you might like to believe, particularly because the unions were not united.

The debate in Congress was about more than whether or not the pipeline should be built. It was also about whether Congress should be in the business of bypassing the State Department and approving projects without regard for the impact research or the public comments. You could personally support the project and still vote against the bill on grounds of congressional overreach. Several senators explained their opposition in exactly this way, and for once it wasn’t necessarily just ass-covering spin.

In any case, I don’t think Booker deserves the criticism he receives from Dana Milbank for being late to commit on the issue. I don’t think he deserves the rest of Milbank’s criticisms either. Milbank’s chief criticism is that “Booker has been light with legislation and prolific with platitudes” during his brief tenure in the Senate, and is “known less for legislative labors than for frequent tweeting and selfies with colleagues.”

Booker does love platitudes, but we frankly need at least one elected official in this country willing to crusade against apathy, cynicism, and civic disengagement. I hope Booker never loses his zeal and optimism that we can make things better by getting involved. Beyond that, it seems more than unfair to blame a freshman senator for not having many legislative accomplishments, particularly in the least productive Congress since Roman days.

He has introduced legislation with Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky that would reduce penalties for non-violent drug offenders. If Milbank cared to look, he’d see that Booker has introduced legislation repeatedly, e.g., here, here, and here. He’s also lent his time to worthy causes, like Parkinson’s disease and asthma.

And he’s a vital voice and brings a key perspective to the broad range of problems we have with the prison industrial complex in this country.

I may not agree with Cory Booker all the time, but I don’t think he’s afraid of Dana Milbank, or anyone else.

[Cross-posted at Booman Tribune]

November 19, 2014 9:19 AM The Only Way to Fly

By Keith Humphreys

I recently flew coach to Minneapolis. My seat space was small for a reason that may outrage you: I was not willing to pay for a bigger seat.

I ate a sandwich on board that I packed myself before hand, for a reason that may make your blood boil: I was not willing to pay the cost of the food served on the plane.

I took less luggage than I might have, for a reason you may want to refer to the International Court of Human Rights: I was not willing to pay the costs of checking a bag.

But in fact I am not angry at all and you don’t need to be either. The only way to fly, which eludes the people who issue a sea of complaints about the flights that they freely choose to take, is this: (1) Accept responsibility for the choices you make and (2) Don’t act oppressed when in fact you are incredibly privileged.

The reason airline seats are small is not because you are being persecuted, or that airlines are mean, or because they are raking in big bucks at your expense. We get the smallest, cheapest seats because that’s what we are willing to buy. American flyers care about pricing more than anything else, and a large proportion of them wish that even smaller, even cheaper seats were available for purchase. Airlines that expanded the size of seating throughout coach (like American Airlines) or offered 100% no frills business class flights priced between economy and typical business class (like Maxjet and Silverjet, both of which went bankrupt) lost money because flyers prefer cheapness above all. Airlines today have learned to sell us the product we actually want (Yeah I know, the nerve of these corporate fatcats…).

Also, for those of you who are upset that you got an owie on your knee during your family trip to Paris, remember that for over 99% of human history, our species was Earthbound. Even today, most people don’t get to fly anywhere, ever. If it feels unjust that your pillow wasn’t big enough, tell it to the billion human beings who live on less than one percent of your ticket price a day and they will quite rightly shove said pillow down your entitled piehole.

If you have privileges and define yourself as oppressed, you will be unhappy. If you make choices with perfectly predictable consequences and then resent those consequences, you will be unhappy. So don’t do those things and instead enjoy your flight. My seat to Minneapolis was very small. So what? For two hundred dollars I got to safely fly through the air like a bird, visit an interesting city and see dear friends. That’s a technological miracle and a gift to be grateful for. Thank you Sun Country Airlines!

Louis C.K. says all this better than I just did. Play this whenever you are tempted to feel sorry for yourself at 35,000 feet.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

November 18, 2014 4:39 PM The SCOTUS Should Reject Alabama’s Legislative Districts

By Jim Sleeper

With roughly 80% of Alabama whites voting Republican and 90% of African-Americans voting Democrat, it’s been easy for the state’s legislative leaders to deny they had any explicitly racial intent in compressing black voters into a few electoral districts and “whitening” the neighboring districts to elect more Republicans. Districting along party lines is the prerogative of whatever party controls the process, and if citizens are voting in racial blocs, what can a loyal Republican or Democrat line-drawer do but follow that pattern — and perhaps even intensify it when “voting rights” laws facilitate the design of “majority-minority” districts to enhance non-white voters’ opportunities to elect “candidates of their choice”?

That’s the gist of Alabama’s defense this week in a suit brought by the state’s Legislative Black Caucus. The Supreme Court must decide whether the line-drawers acted racially, and therefore unconstitutionally, or for purely partisan purposes. But poor leadership on both sides of this question has intensified racial polarization even when voters have tried to transcend it, even in the Deep South. The Court should rebuff line-drawers in a way that points beyond both racialism and partisanship in districting.

Anyone doubting that racism does drive southern state legislators’ partisanship need only recall how willing their predecessors were to be Democrats - and then Dixiecrats, a third party that segregationists formed when Democrat Harry Truman challenged them. Right up through the 1950’s the Republicans posed as the party of Lincoln: Richard Nixon was a card-carrying member of the NAACP, and Senator John F. Kennedy courted segregationist fellow Democrats, who abandoned the party fully only after Lyndon Johnson found the courage to push through the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Successors of these Democrats-turned-Republicans have now even concocted voter-identification laws that New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice believes depressed the 2014 minority turnout just enough to help some Republican win. Their racism cannot be doubted.

But, as I describe in Liberal Racism, civil-rights advocates, too, entrenched polarization in the 1980s by intensifying racial districting. Assistant U.S. Attorney General for Civil Rights Deval Patrick led some such efforts, although he would later be elected governor of Massachusetts by an overwhelmingly white electorate. Only when the Supreme Court invalidated some minority-majority congressional districts in Shaw v Reno and other cases in the mid-1990s did their black incumbents - in Texas, Georgia, and Florida — prove that blacks could win in new, majority non-black districts, discrediting some voting-rights activists’ fatalism about the persistence of racial bloc voting.

The Voting Rights Act has quite rightly stopped partisan map-drawers from dispersing voters in an existing black community such as Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant into several heavily white congressional districts that wouldn’t send black candidates to Washington. But the act overreached by telling line-drawers, in effect: “If you can connect even the farthest-flung, otherwise unrelated enclaves of blacks or Hispanics to create a majority-minority district, you must do so.”

Some such districts have become what the British call “rotten boroughs” whose office-holders were almost the only people in them acquainted with all their enclaves. And “whitened” neighboring districts are more narrow politically. That the Supreme Court was right to block such districting was confirmed in the 1996 elections just mentioned. Since 1963, in fact, overwhelmingly white electorates in some states have chosen blacks such as U.S Senator Edward Brooke and Governor Patrick in Massachusetts, Senators Carol Moseley Braun and Barack Obama in Illinois, and Gov. L. Douglas Wilder in Virginia, seat of the old Confederacy. As early as 1972, civil-rights leader Andrew Young was elected to Congress by a mostly white district in Georgia, as were other blacks in the 1970s and ‘80s, including Republicans Gary Franks in Connecticut and J.C. Watts in Oklahoma.

This year, U.S. Senator Tim Scott, a black Republican recently appointed by South Carolina’s governor, was elected in his own right. The election analyst Jerry Skurnik of PRIMENY informs me that two new black Republicans were elected to the House: Mia Love, from a majority white district in Utah, and Will Hurd, who defeated an Hispanic Democrat in a majority non-black Texas district. Democrat Bonnie Watson-Coleman has been elected in a majority white district in New Jersey. Among older black congressional incumbents, Joyce Beatty of Ohio, Andre Carson of Indiana, Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri, and Keith Ellison of Minnesota represent districts with more whites than blacks.

So what’s Alabama’s or any state’s “partisan” excuse for continuing to pack blacks into a few, tight, districts under rules that have been discredited and that Republicans themselves once denounced? The answer is that by creating racially distinct districts only for partisan purposes, they’re keeping black and other minority voters out of other districts where they might help to elect Democrats - even white Democrats -and broaden those districts’ political cultures and concerns in ways a healthy, partisan democracy should.

When Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, a hero of the civil rights movement, defied segregationist violence, he was hoping “to create an interracial democracy in America… not separate enclaves,” and “to create a climate in which people of color will have an opportunity to represent… all Americans.” That opportunity is now real in statewide and even nationwide elections. There’s no reason to frustrate it in districts.

California has already shown that non-partisan, non-racial districting is better for both minorities and democracy. If the Supreme Court decides that practices like Alabama’s are acceptable because they’re merely partisan, it will uphold only a partisanship that has been corrupted by both conservative racism and by a well-intentioned liberal racialism that abetted it for two decades before becoming wise enough to abandon it.

November 18, 2014 11:04 AM NSA Debate Brings Bad Guys to the Fore

By Martin Longman

On Monday, the executive office of the president urged the U.S. Senate to pass the USA Freedom Act, a bill marked up by Senator Patrick Leahy’s Judiciary Committee. The bill is intended to rein in the National Security Agency and to assist the American tech industry which is reeling from lost sales resulting from the revelations of Edward Snowden. Tech firms have been joined by groups as diverse as the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Rifle Association in lobbying senators to vote in the affirmative.

The pushback isn’t subtle. In a Wall Street Journal opinion piece with the headline NSA Reform That Only ISIS Could Love, former NSA and CIA Director Michael Hayden and Bush Era Attorney General Michael Mukasey argue that these modest reforms will get us all killed. In the Washington Post, J-Rube exposes herself as a sycophant and a parrot for the worst elements of the Intelligence Community and launches a withering attack on both Ted Cruz (for co-sponsoring the bill) and Rand Paul (for opposing it as inadequate).

It also can be a clarifying moment for Republicans. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who has railed against the program, sued the administration to stop it and falsely implied it allows unrestricted listening in on our calls, claims the bill does not go far enough. Think about that. When it comes to anti-terror surveillance he is to the left of Obama and Leahy. So much for his claim to be a mainstream Republican on national security.

Meanwhile, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) - who has also dabbled in anti-surveillance hysteria and seeks to grab some of the far-right presidential primary vote- is supporting the bill along with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Il.) and the ACLU. He should explain why Hayden and Mukasey are wrong.

There are several hurdles to clear before this bill can become a law. First, there will be a cloture vote with the requirement of 60 votes to begin debate. Then there will be a contentious amendment process in which there will be efforts to strengthen and weaken the legislation. The White House seems to support an effort to eliminate a provision that would create a public advocate at the FISA Court. Assuming the bill does eventually pass the Senate, it will have to be reconciled with a House version of the bill that is so weak on reform that the tech industry withdrew its support for it.

Senator Leahy is responsible for pushing this debate now, at a time when it certainly could be swept under the rug. He’s about to lose his gavel on the Senate Judiciary Committee and he wants something to show for his term as chairman. Passing the bill in the Senate won’t be much of a show if it can’t be reconciled with the House version, and the final product is probably going to satisfy no one. Will it be better than nothing?

Sadly, that might not be the case.

But the debate will, at least, make it easy to identify the enemies of privacy and oversight.

[Cross-posted at Booman Tribune]

November 18, 2014 11:00 AM A Human Being Lives There: Grubergate

By Harold Pollack

Jon made some really misguided and condescending comments that fueled the #Grubergate frenzy. So I am both angry with and sad for him today. In the apocalyptic politics of Obamacare, it’s easy to forget that he’s also a good person and a distinguished scholar who is getting the full internet-frenzy gang tackle right now.

Ezra Klein captures well my own sadness:

I’ll offer a slightly smaller final thought here: Gruber increasingly looks like a casualty of Obamacare. He’s become a liability to the law’s supporters — “I don’t know who he is,” said Nancy Pelosi, who had cited Gruber’s analyses during the health-care debate — and a villain to its opponents. He has been made into the worst comments he ever uttered on tape.

That’s a shame. Gruber tried to make it a better bill than it is. He tried to make what was in it clearer and more known than it was. And then — and this is where all the tapes come from — he traveled the country trying to explain it to people. And Gruber, as is perfectly clear now, was not an experienced political operator who knew how to talk carefully in front of a camera. The lesson other academics will take from his humiliation is that they best stay out of big policy debates, and they had really better make sure they never say anything interesting on tape.

Washington has always done this to people, but it’s happening more frequently, and more viciously, in the age of Twitter and YouTube. And while it makes sense in every individual case, it is, on the whole, bad for American politics. “It’s a healthy world where academics can speak their minds at conferences and the like without their words becoming political weapons in a bigger fight,”¬†writes¬†Tyler Cowen.

Cowen goes on to suggest that “perhaps we should subsidize people who end up looking foolish, rather than taxing them.” We’re not going to do that, of course. But we can at least try to be a bit more generous. We can remember people are more than the most controversial thing we’ve ever heard them say.

I am reminded of Philip Roth’s comments about a much more megawatt and sordid scandal. Roth also advised President Clinton to hang a banner outside the White House: “A human being lives here.” On all sides, we easily forget our humanity and compassion these days. The ecstasy of sanctimony is an ugly thing to see.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

November 18, 2014 10:56 AM Rand Paul and Late-Regime Politics

By Julia Azari

It’s too early to speculate about the 2016 presidential nominations. But that’s not stopping anyone. Pundits seems especially preoccupied with the much storied but unlikely candidacy of Rand Paul. Last week Andrew Prokop wrote at Vox.com about the major obstacles to a Paul nomination, which wisely quoted Hans’ insights on the subject. Yesterday, Frank Bruni took a similarly dim view, suggesting that Rand Paul is a “one-adjective pony.”

For the actual outcome of the 2016 nomination contests and general elections, Rand Paul may not be very significant. But the attention to his possible candidacy indicates something about the state of presidential and party politics. The recent Rand Paul fascination indicates that we are nearing the end of the Reagan regime (where “regime” means dominant party).

In the formulation first offered by Stephen Skowronek in the mid-1990s, the idea of political time cycles works like this: new regime replaces old. A new coalition forms around a set of animating ideas and established authority by breaking with the past. As time goes on, that coalition begins to fray. Disagreement among factions occurs, and the ideological commitments of the dominant party become irrelevant and contradictory. Think Andrew Jackson- Polk- Pierce, or FDR-LBJ-Carter. Jackson and FDR built their respective regimes, Polk and LBJ expanded - but also fractured - the dominant political order. Carter and Pierce were what Skowronek called “disjunctive” leaders, who attempted, unsuccessfully, to reinvigorate regimes in the midst of collapse.

The nomination politics of each era have their own pathologies. But a common feature of late regime politics is that people both within and outside party coalitions start to look for presidential candidates who will resolve emergent contradictions and affirm regime ideology in new ways. In the wake of Johnson’s presidency, the New Deal coalition became internally divided on issues of expanding the social safety net, on foreign policy, and, of course, on civil rights and race. Jimmy Carter, a Southern governor who was considered liberal on racial issues, embodied a kind of reconciliation of this tension.

Writing about Franklin Pierce as a late-regime leader in the 1850s, Skowronek notes, “it became far more difficult to draw the line between orthodoxy in national Democratic politics.” (177, 2nd edition) When applied to Rand Paul, this also seems to illustrate twenty-first century Republicans politics pretty well. Paul’s stances on foreign policy and mass incarceration break sharply with important Republican commitments during the Reagan era - toughness on crime and on enemies abroad. At the same time, these stances reaffirm the deeper ideological tenets of contemporary conservatism: opposition to the growth of government and the impediments to personal liberty posed by taxes and government surveillance. In other words, Paul takes up the “maverick” mantle (which was unceremoniously shed by John McCain in 2008, but that’s another post entirely), and does so by making claims to ideological purity.

None of this means anything for the (remote) chances of a Rand Paul nomination. But the continued interest in him indicates tensions characteristic of a dominant party regime on its way out. In turn, this has implications for some big questions in American politics. One is whether political time is a useful or falsifiable theory. If you read political time as a typology that determines the opportunities and constraints for presidents, then it is a pretty limited and perhaps tautological framework. But a deeper reading suggests that what really matters is what presidential leadership does to political coalitions and political ideas. This reading of the political time thesis can help us understand how political parties behave at different points in regime development.

For those who already buy the general idea of political time, the fascination with Rand Paul bears on the question of whether we are still in a declining Reagan regime, or an ascendant Democratic one started by Obama. I’ve been consistently in the former camp, but not everyone shares that view. The idea that an “orthodox heretic” like Paul could reconcile the contradictions of Reagan conservatism suggests that disjunctive politics lie ahead.

[Cross-posted at Mischiefs of Faction]

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