Tag Archives: Patrick Appel

Actually, He’s Really Gone Now. No, Seriously. Egypt Just Overthrew Its Government.

Patrick Appel at Sullivan’s place has a round-up of reacts. Video via Appel.

David Kirkpatrick and Anthony Shadid at NYT:

President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt resigned his post and turned over all power to the military on Friday, ending his nearly 30 years of autocratic rule and bowing to a historic popular uprising that has transformed politics in Egypt and around the Arab world.

The streets of Cairo exploded in shouts of “God is Great” moments after Mr. Mubarak’s vice president and longtime intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, announced during evening prayers that Mr. Mubarak had passed all authority to a council of military leaders.

“Taking into consideration the difficult circumstances the country is going through, President Mohammed Hosni Mubarak has decided to leave the post of president of the republic and has tasked the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to manage the state’s affairs,” Mr. Suleiman, grave and ashen, said in a brief televised statement.

Even before he had finished speaking, protesters began hugging and cheering, shouting “Egypt is free!” and “You’re an Egyptian, lift your head.”

“He’s finally off our throats,” said one protester, Muhammad Insheemy. “Soon, we will bring someone good.”

David Rothkopf at Foreign Policy:

As the jubilation spread across Tahrir Square with the announcement of Hosni Mubarak’s departure, one can only imagine what was running through the minds of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as he watched. Or that of Saudi King Abdullah. Or Jordan’s King Abudllah. Or of any of the region’s autocratic leaders. We know that over the past several days the Saudis, the Emiratis and the Jordanians had urged support for the status quo. So too, for that matter, had Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.

And while the drama unfolding in Egypt today is profound and powerful, it clearly marks the end of only the first scene of the first act of what will be long twisting drama. Many questions hang in the air about what comes next. What will the transition look like? Will the army truly allow the emergence of a pluralistic, representative model government? Will the interim government have the savvy to present such a road map early enough to placate activists? Will the process be transparent enough? Will international observers be invited to monitor elections? Will real democracy be supported by broader changes than just in election laws?

Jeffrey Goldberg:

The Egyptian people have won a startling and historic victory. It is perhaps the most difficult thing in the world to do, to force a Pharaoh from the palace, but they did it, and without bombs.

Now, though, comes a series of terrible challenges that could undo what the people have achieved. The Egyptian economy needs to grow at least seven percent a year to create the jobs necessary for the masses of underemployed, often-over-educated, young people who have been crowding the streets, and economic power is still in the hands of plutocrats and oligarchs, who are not terribly interested in reforming the system that has made them obscenely rich.

If economic power is in the hands of the oligarchs, political power now is in the hands of the military. In other situations, in other countries, what we’ve seen today is called a military coup.  Egypt has no tradition of democracy, and a strong tradition of military leadership. The people, for the moment, seem to want the military. I don’t think this will last. And because Hosni Mubarak spent 30 years marginalizing and banning secular parties and opposition movements, there is no obvious path toward representative democracy. I am not overly worried, for the moment, in the possibility of a Muslim Brotherhood takeover, but the fortunes of the Brothers could change quickly, and dangerously.

My apologies for being a downer, but Egypt’s crisis has just begun.

Spencer Ackerman at Danger Room at Wired:

Don’t even bother to try keeping up with Egypt on Twitter right now. Using the social networking service that allowed the world to follow the uprising in real time is like drinking from a fire hose. Monasosh, another leading Egypt-tweeter, reports, “Shit! Ppl are going crazy, screaming and running.” Danger Room friend Michael Hanna of the Century Foundation: “I am close by Tahrir and the roar even outside the square is really loud. Some happy people right now.”

On “We Are All Khalid Said,” the Facebook page that galvanized the 18-day mass protests, Nana Mohamed comments (via GoogleTranslate), “Egypt gets the salvation of God.” The mood is the polar opposite of the fury expressed on the page last night after dictator Hosni Mubarak defiantly vowed to stay in power until presidential elections this summer.

“I’ve worked my whole life to see the power of the people come to the fore,” activist Rabab Al Mahdi told Al Jazeera through tears.  “I never thought I would be alive to see it. It’s not just about Mubarak. It’s a protest that brought about the people’s power to bring about the change that no one, no one thought was possible.”

The euphoria is unimaginable. Peaceful protests, propelled but by no means determined by social media, dislodged a 30-year dictatorship in one of the most important Middle Eastern countries. Neither violent repression nor an Internet shutdown nor mass arrests of Facebook-fueled human rights activists could stop what’s become the #Jan25 revolution. Al Jazeera was blamed for the protests by Suleiman and its reporters were physically attacked and detained, but the network went to round-the-clock coverage that kept pressure on Mubarak.

Steven Taylor:

It sounds a bit ugly to say, but it is still true:  the removal of Mubarak and the transfer of power to the high command has to be understood as a coup d’etat.  Indeed, I will not be surprised if we learn at some point in the future that Mubarak did not “decide” to “step down” and to then “transfer” power to the military but rather that he was told by the military that that was what he was going to do.  The lack of a statement from Mubarak, and his removal from Cairo seems to support this notion (as did the dour pronouncement of the Vice President about the resignation—a stark contrast to his more defiant statements after Mubarak’s speech last night).

The constitution has been set aside as there are no provisions for a military takeover of this type.  And I would expect to see other extraconstitutional moves in the days to come (like, perhaps, a dissolution of parliament and/or the cabinet).

It is worth noting that while the protestors prompted these events that the state is under the control of the military, not the protestors.   The real question now is whether this abrogation of the constitution will lead to its replacement with a more liberal system or whether the military will consolidate power in its own hands.

In the coming days it will be most fascinating to see whether the military reaches out to opposition figures or whether it remains quiet about its intentions.

I would note, by the way, that to date there is no evidence whatsoever that there is a threat of an radical Islamic takeover in Egypt.

By the way:  to call it a coup is not to assign a negative assessment to the events.  Indeed, this may have been the best way to move things forward.  Still, it seems clear that Mubarak was not going to resign on his own and to foster a transition on his own (which he could have done).  Still, we do not even know what the military high command’s dispositions are at the moment in regards to reform.  No doubt they figured out that something had to be done to restore order and to forestall a movement towards greater chaos.  Beyond that, we do not know what will happen next.

Tom Maguire:

My instant, uninformed reaction – if Mubarak had announced last night that he was stepping aside in favor of Suleiman and a group of generals, the popular reaction would have been that the faces had changed but the regime remains the same.

Today, since he is stepping aside in response to overwhelming public rejection of his speech, the public response seems to be a sense of empowerment and change.

Slick marketing by the regime, if this flies.

OR, IF YOU DON’T LIKE THAT IDEA I HAVE OTHERS:

Upon booth review, we are considering the possibility that Mubarak is secretly from Missouri, the “Show Me” state.  Yesterday his aides greased the skids and tried to get him to gdepart gracefully, without success.  Today, having seen how well he is loved and how successful his speech was, he is prepared to move on.

Joshua Keating at Foreign Policy:

There’s been a fair amount of speculation in recent days about now ex-President Mubarak’s preperations for departure. I just spoke with Christopher Davidson, a professor of Middle East studies at Britain’s Durham University who focuses on the economic interests of Arab rulers. He cast doubt on the $70 billion figure which has been floated widely by the media recently, but said Mubarak undoubtedly has interests throughout the world to fall back on:

 

There would be something wrong with the people he paid if we knew much about this. A lot of the figures we’ve seen in the press are really just speculation.  As with gulf ruling family, his wealth his hidden abroad very carefully with layer upon layer of shell companies in London and the States. There’s also a big question about his numbered bank accounts in Europe, whether he will be able to recover those or not.

Davidson speculated that Mubarak’s ability to recover funds from his Swiss bank accounts, and the difficulties his now partner-in-exile Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier has had in recovering his own assets, may have played a role in his delayed departure:

I would imagine that he’ll struggle to recover everything. A few weeks ago we had the Baby Doc ruling in Switzerland so that will clearly be playing on his mind. I suspect that this one of the reasons why he was trying to hold on as long as possible, so he could portray himself as having resigned peacefully as a legitimate president rather than having been ousted.

Despite having now holed up at his “Winter Residence” in Egypt — which is less a palace than a floor of a luxury hotel and golf resort —  and his earlier promise to die on Egyptian soil, Davidson believes that Mubarak is not long for Egypt:

 

He’ll be headed to the Gulf for sure. Perhaps not to Saudi like Ben Ali, but I think he’ll go to the UAE. [UAE Foreign Minister] Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed visited Cairo quite publicly and likely put a plan on the table to give him refuge.

Update: Sure enough, we now have reports that Switzerland is freezing Mubarak’s assets.

Jonathan Bernstein:

And so Mubarak is done.

How has Barack Obama done during this major foreign policy challenge? I don’t know, and you don’t know, and the people talking about it on TV and in the blogs don’t know; too much of what’s happened (and what may have happened) is behind the scenes. Not just what Obama and the Americans are doing, but it’s going to take some time for us to really know what many of the key Egyptians have been up to. If I had to guess, at this point, I’d say that at the very least he’s avoided any significant egregious blunders, but even that is extremely provisional. We won’t be able to really say much for a while.

In the meantime, I want to steer you to some very useful analysis of the presidency in foreign affairs from political scientists. Over at the Monkey Cage, read two excellent posts from Elizabeth Saunders (first one, second one), who studies the ways that presidents personally make a difference in foreign policy. And I also highly recommend a post by presidential scholar Matthew Dickinson, who emphasizes the constraints presidents work under in foreign and security issues. For those interested in more, read a journal article by Saunders on JFK and LBJ in Vietnam.

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Things Fall Apart

Anthony Shadid, David Kirkpatrick and Kareem Fahim at NYT:

The Egyptian government struck back at its opponents on Wednesday, unleashing waves of pro-government provocateurs armed with clubs, stones, rocks and knives in and around Tahrir Square in a concerted effort to rout the protesters who have called for an end to President Hosni Mubarak’s near-30-year rule.

After first trying to respond peacefully, the protesters fought back with rocks and Molotov cocktails as battles broke out around the square. A makeshift medical clinic staffed by dozens of doctors tended to a steady stream of anti-government protesters, many bleeding from head wounds.

The Egyptian health minister, Ahmed Sameh Farid, said that 596 people have been injured in the battles in Tahrir Square and that one man was killed when he fell off a bridge, The Associated Press reported.

As the two sides to the fight exchanged volleys, the military restricted itself mostly to guarding the Egyptian Museum and using water cannons to extinguish flames stoked by the firebombs. And on Wednesday night, state media broadcast an order from the government for all protesters to leave the square.

Spencer Ackerman at Danger Room at Wired:

A plume of thick white smoke is emerging right now in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, an epicenter of Egypt’s massive protests, as “running battles” have broken out between the anti-regime protesters and pro-government forces. The Egyptian Army has yet to intervene. It would appear the government of Hosni Mubarak, on the ropes for the past eight days, has begun its crackdown.

Even as he pledged to step down in September, Mubarak told his police forces, the bulwark of his 30-year rule, to “shoulder its responsibilities” and “arrest the outlaws” yesterday. Within the hour, previously unseen supporters of Mubarak fought with protesters in Alexandria. Now it’s spread to the massive crowds at Tahrir Square in Cairo, where the demonstrators weren’t placated by Mubarak’s speech.

It’s all happening right now, live on Al Jazeera, and it’s not pretty. Protesters are throwing rocks at one another, and eyewitnesses report that people they believe are plainclothes police are wielding knives, sticks and “daggers.” The past week of anti-regime protests has been notable for their nonviolence. Now, pro-regime demonstrators are charging the square on horseback and camelback — two protesters even pulled someone off a camel. It’s worth noting that the regime has turned the Internet back on, as Renesys reports, right in time for its supporters to mobilize.

People are rushing one another near the square, where “pro-and anti-Mubarak forces are coming face to face in the side streets,” according to Al Jazeera’s on-scene correspondent. “I can see people running past me with blood on their shirts… No one knows where to go, who’s with who.” No one seems to know what caused the white smoke.

What about the Egyptian Army, which won accolades from the U.S. for not suppressing the anti-government demonstrations? It’s taking a hands-off approach, telling demonstrators that since everyone involved is a civilian, soldiers are not going to take sides. That’s according to anti-regime demonstrator Salma Eltarzi, who told Al Jazeera that she sees Mubarak’s game plan at work.

“We are in disbelief. We cannot believe [Mubarak] is so low,” she told the network. “The Army is very clear: you are both civilians and you cannot beat civilians. This is the game. He wants it to seem like the people are fighting each other so he has an excuse — ‘I was going to leave, but the people’s needs demand that I stay.”

Max Fisher at The Atlantic with the live-blog

Taylor Marsh:

The contrast to Pres. Obama’s speech last night and what has erupted the last two hours in Egypt is stark and reveals the lack of control the American President has over the situation.

Coming after Mubarak’s speech yesterday, what’s been playing out this morning has been frightening to watch.

Curfew is approaching, “a very intense battle” is how it’s being described on Al Jazeera English.

One person interviewed in the last half hour used the words “investigations” for Pres. Mubarak.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has condemned the violence.

…but on it rages.

Patrick Appel at Sullivan’s place:

Sonia Verma of the Globe and Mail is tweeting from the scene. Her most recent tweets, blocked into paragraphs:

Pro mubarak supporters jumping onto tanks. I am watching one have a very long talk with a soldier. Standing at one of the exits to tahrir. pro mubarak supporters standing on army tanks.

Hundreds of pro dem protesters pouring out of tahrir as things heat up. Groups of men mobilizing, arming themselves with bricks and sticks. Crowds pushing to get out of tahrir square. People saying they will use bricks as weapons. People digging up bricks in tarhir square. Everyone on edge today. Very different vibe than yesterday.

The Guardian:

Very ominous information coming out of Cairo, with reports of gunfire. Al Jazeera suggests they might be warning shots to keep people away from the museum, which is being defended by a number of military vehicles.

Mackey flags the reaction of an Egyptian blogger:

In a biting, angry and harrowing commentary on the clashes unfolding in Cairo on Wednesday, the Egyptian blogger who writes as Sandmonkey has called the appearance of regime supporters on Cairo’s streets, igniting violent clashes, a ploy by President Hosni Mubarak to create chaos and justify his continued rule.

Doug Mataconis:

Additionally, al-Jazeera and other news sources have posted pictures of police ID’s taken from the “pro-Mubarak” demonstrators, lending credibility to the theory that this is little more than a police operation designed to break the back of the protest and, of course, inflict bloodshed.

The pro-Mubarak crowd has also apparently turned its violence on journalists covering the protests:

Anderson Cooper and his crew have been attacked by supporters of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, according to CNN.

CNN’s Steve Brusk tweeted that “Anderson said he was punched 10 times in the head as pro-Mubarak mob surrounded him and his crew trying to cover demonstration.”

This is only going to get worse. More to come, I’m sure.

Ed Morrissey:

Amanpour says that Barack Obama will continue to push for a quick resolution, but that may have to change. She points out that the nation’s mainstream isn’t necessarily out on the streets. The Egyptian middle class may well want a more orderly transition, perhaps especially after seeing the violence in the streets today, and may end up backing Mubarak’s plan to restore order, at least in the short term. The White House had better take care not to get too far ahead of itself.

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Giovanni Peri Does A Study (And Pedro Should Buy A House)

Nathaniel Cahners Hindman at The Huffington Post:

Champions of strict immigration reform, be warned: there may be an economic consequence to tightening America’s borders.

Immigration is actually good for employment, wages and productivity, according to a new study from the San Francisco Fed.

States that have had a large influx of immigrants tended to produce more, hire more and pay workers more than states that have few new foreign-born workers, the study shows. For every one percent increase in employment from immigration, the study finds, a state will see a .4 to .5 percent increase in income per worker.

In conducting the study, Giovanni Peri, an associate professor at University of California, Davis, compared output per worker and employment in states that have had large immigrant inflows with data from states that have few immigrant inflows. Peri found no evidence that immigrants “crowd-out” employment for American citizens.

Peri concludes that immigration boosted states’ output, income and employment because the economies “[absorbed] immigrants by expanding job opportunities rather than by displacing workers born in the United States.” Further, the results of the study support the theory that U.S.-born workers and immigrants tend to take different occupations, says Peri.

Felix Salmon:

Never mind the stimulus vs austerity debate: here’s something that both sides should be able to get behind. It’s a simple legislative fix which increases tax revenues without raising taxes; which increases the demand for housing; which increases the economy’s productive capacity; and which boosts wages for American workers. It’s about as Pareto-optimal as legislation gets. So let’s open the borders, and encourage much more immigration into the US!

The SF Fed’s Giovanni Peri has the latest research on the subject:

Statistical analysis of state-level data shows that immigrants expand the economy’s productive capacity by stimulating investment and promoting specialization. This produces efficiency gains and boosts income per worker. At the same time, evidence is scant that immigrants diminish the employment opportunities of U.S.-born workers.

The effects of immigration on US wages are large, positive, and significant:

Over the long run, a net inflow of immigrants equal to 1% of employment increases income per worker by 0.6% to 0.9%. This implies that total immigration to the United States from 1990 to 2007 was associated with a 6.6% to 9.9% increase in real income per worker. That equals an increase of about $5,100 in the yearly income of the average U.S. worker in constant 2005 dollars. Such a gain equals 20% to 25% of the total real increase in average yearly income per worker registered in the United States between 1990 and 2007.

It’ll be interesting to see how much debate this paper receives. Anti-immigration forces are more likely to ignore it than attack it, I think, if they don’t like what it says. And George Borjas seems to have stopped blogging over a year ago, which is a shame, because he would be the perfect foil for Peri.

Kevin Drum:

What’s really striking about this is that the very mechanism that provides the productivity boost — the fact that immigrants don’t speak English well and therefore push native workers out of manual labor and into higher-paying jobs — is precisely the thing that most provokes the immigrant skeptics. They all want immigrants to assimilate faster and speak English better, but if they did then they’d just start competing for the higher paying jobs that natives now monopolize.

The usual caveats apply here. This is only one study. (Well, two actually, but still.) And in order to generate useful results the authors have to control for a whole menagerie of variables that can muck things up. There’s always a chance that some important variable got missed or that another one got controlled for incorrectly. So don’t take this as the last word. It does, however, join a growing literature that suggests immigration has no negative effect on wages and might actually have a positive effect. Interesting stuff.

Matthew Yglesias:

Think of some classic “bad” jobs that we find a lot of immigrants doing—basically the tidying-up industries. Now imagine that tomorrow 75% of the maids, the janitors, the dishwashers, the gardeners, the people who make the beds at hotels, etc. are all teleported to Mexico. This is a class of low-income people that’s vanished, so it’s possible that their teleportation will make certain statistical sets look better. But what’s going to be the impact on the living standards of those of us Left Behind in the United States of America?

Well there are really only two things that can happen here. One is that to an extent things can just be allowed to be dirtier and the other is that to an extent people can spend less time doing things that aren’t cleaning and more time cleaning. Down the first pathway, overall living standards decline because of the increase in the overall level of filth. Down the second pathway, overall living standards decline because of the decrease in the production of other goods and services. It’s true that amidst this overall decline in living standards some specific individuals would probably benefit (the remaining 25% of cleaners, for example) which is why there’s room for empirical research like the SF Fed paper linked above, but it’s easy to see that on the whole immigration boosts living standards even before you consider the positive impact on the immigrants.

At issue is the fact that here in the developed world we’re not peasant farmers fighting to support ourselves on a fixed quantity of viable agricultural land. When new workers come onto the scene and do jobs, they create more surplus. To get the kind of zero-sum effect that people think occurs when you get rid of immigrants, what you would actually need to do is send retirees to the Death Panels and turn them into Soylent Green. But of course even there we note that the interests of elderly people matter, morally speaking, and it would be grossly wrong to simply write them off in the interests of efficiency.

Adam Ozimek at Modeled Behavior:

Calculated Risk tells us the key to fixing the housing market:

The key to the housing market is to absorb the excess inventory. That means more households and fewer new housing units. Luckily housing starts are very low right now, but unfortunately there is very little job growth (and therefore little new household formation).

But job growth is not the only way to get new household formation, as I’ve argued again and again, we have immigration at our disposal. Of course, there are the usual complaints about jobs. But the weakness of this argument can be seen in a new paper Felix Salmon directs us to:

Statistical analysis of state-level data shows that immigrants expand the economy’s productive capacity by stimulating investment and promoting specialization. This produces efficiency gains and boosts income per worker. At the same time, evidence is scant that immigrants diminish the employment opportunities of U.S.-born workers.

It is well understood that the removing capital tariffs and protectionism would increase overall efficiency and incomes. Since immigration restrictions are labor market protectionism we shouldn’t be surprised to see that is has similar positive effects.

Unfortunately, journalists and pundits don’t seem to oppose labor protectionism nearly as much as they oppose capital protectionism. We would see an outcry among op-eds and pundits if we were seeing a worldwide rise in capital protectionism, because they recognize that beggar-thy-neighbor policies make everyone worse off. But no similar reaction has come from the rise in global labor protectionism

More Yglesias:

[…] Something that certainly shouldn’t be controversial is the fairly obvious point that if we allowed more immigrants to come to the United States this would bolster home price values in a clearer and more sustainable way than any kind of crazy patchwork of tax breaks. Right now we have more houses than households, if we had more immigrants we’d have more households. We’d work off the excess inventory more quickly, and be closer to the day when home construction returns as a viable economic sector.

Adam Ozimek offers up some quantitative research on the scale of the effect citing research from Albert Saiz (PDF) indicating that “[i]mmigration inflows equal to 1% of a city’s population were associated with increases in average or median housing rents and prices of about 1%.”

One way to especially take advantage of this effect and politically frame it as housing stabilization policy would be to create a special new class of visa specifically for people who purchase homes in the United States.

Patrick Appel at Sullivan’s place

Reihan Salam:

Well, I wouldn’t describe myself as belonging to the “anti-immigration forces.” But I will say that the study’s findings are hardly surprising. We’ve known for a pretty long time that immigration tends to increase wage dispersion by raising effective incomes at the top and depressing them at the bottom. And Peri’s findings regarding the impact on average income doesn’t tell us much about the distribution of gains. Felix excerpts the following from Peri:

Over the long run, a net inflow of immigrants equal to 1% of employment increases income per worker by 0.6% to 0.9%. This implies that total immigration to the United States from 1990 to 2007 was associated with a 6.6% to 9.9% increase in real income per worker. That equals an increase of about $5,100 in the yearly income of the average U.S. worker in constant 2005 dollars. Such a gain equals 20% to 25% of the total real increase in average yearly income per worker registered in the United States between 1990 and 2007. [Emphasis added.]

But how does immigration impact the median worker rather than the average worker? And how does it impact wages of workers at, for example, the 10th percentile?

In 2006, Peri co-authored a paper with Gianmarco I.P. Ottaviano of the Universita’ di Bologna that added an important wrinkle [PDF]:

Using our general equilibrium approach we estimate that physical capital adjsust promptly and fully to immigration (already within one year) and that immigrants are imperfect substitutes for US-born workers within the same education and experience group (because they choose different occupations and have different skills). These two facts, overlooked by the previous literature, imply a positive and significant effect ofimmigration on the average wage of U.S.- born workers, already in the short run. They also imply a small negative effect of immigration on wages of uneducated US born workers and a positive wage effect on all other US-born workers. Hence only a very small fraction of the increase in College/High School Dropout wage gap during the 1990-2004 period can be attributed to immigration.

A central question is how we weight the impact of immigration on “uneducated” US born workers. I tend to think the U.S. can accommodate a relatively large immigrant influx — I’d like to see an influx only slightly smaller than what we have now when we combine authorized and unauthorized immigrants, but with authorized and skilled immigrants much closer to 100 percent of the total than is presently the case. But that’s because I’m less concerned about wage dispersion than my left-of-center counterparts.

I wonder if my interlocutors would accept that we should only pay attention to the average effect of, say, changes to tax policy and ignore the impact on the median household. I doubt it.

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A Pretty Map To Tell You Where The Green Is At

Dylan Matthews:

The Census Bureau helpfully puts out data (see 690) on household income distribution by state, but unfortunately the highest category they include is households making over $200,000 a year. However, this is the group that will face higher rates if Obama’s tax proposal succeeds, so it’s worth examining.

About 3.96 percent of American households make over $200,000 a year. Thirty-eight states have lower percentages than that, and twelve and the District of Columbia have higher ones. Seven states have a percentage of less than 2 percent (West Virginia is lowest with 1.36 percent), 21 have a percentage between 2 and 3 percent, 11 have one between 3 and 4 percent, and four have one between 4 and 5 percent. New York and Virginia are both at about 5.6 percent, and California and Massachusetts are around 6.2 percent. Maryland is at 6.8 percent, New Jersey at 7.46 percent, Connecticut at 7.95 percent, and D.C. tops the list with 8.37 percent

[…]

The states with the highest proportion of wealthy households tend to be large (New York, California) or suburban (Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, Connecticut) while large plains states and most of the South fall on the very low end; both of the Dakotas and Montana are under 2 percent, as is Mississippi, with Alabama just over. Perhaps surprisingly, only two Republicans — Judd Gregg and Scott Brown — were elected from the 12 states above the national average, which would benefit the most from GOP-backed efforts to extend the Bush tax cuts in their entirety.

Reihan Salam:

One thing that is crucially important for people to understand is the importance of the changing demographic composition in households in increasing household income dispersion. As Scott Hodge of The Tax Foundation observed in a 2007 report, the rise in the number of single taxpayers has had a predictable effect:

(1) There are vastly more single taxpayers than ever before and they comprise the majority of the populations of the first three quintiles.

(2) Because of the rise in dual-earner families, married couples are mostly found in the two highest quintiles.

(3) A greater percentage of taxpayers in the top two quintiles are married couples without dependents; no doubt many are “empty-nest” Baby Boomers nearing their peak earning years.

The landscape Hodge describes is the impetus for Rob Stein’s family-friendly reform of the income tax, which promises to dramatically reduce the tax burden on households with dependent children.

The $200,000 plus set is disproportionately composed of dual-earner families living in high cost metropolitan areas.Assortative mating plays a crucial role as well: in the age of consumption complementarity, high-earners are more likely to marry other high-earners.

Check out this wonderful map from CNNMoney, which I found via a Gothamist post by Jen Carlson. The lifestyle that would cost $250,000 in Salt Lake City would cost $545,000 in Manhattan, $261,750 in Miami-Dade, and $405,250 in San Francisco.

To be sure, there is a reason that Manhattanites aren’t moving in Utah. They are consuming what they consider to be a valuable amenity. Yet when we’re talking about upper-middle-class taxpayers, it is important to have a sense of what headline income numbers actually mean. I’d submit that there is a tremendous value to having economic agglomerations of talented workers, and that we want people to choose cities and neighborhoods on the basis of their preferences and needs, not tax arbitrage. This is a big reason why I’m opposed to beggar-thy-neighbor state industrial policies.

Jen Carlson at Gothamist:

Those buzzkills at CNNMoney created a Google Map that shows what it really means to have $250K/year—which the White House says is a mark that someone is wealthy. Since cost of living is different in various cities, however, that is a sweeping generalization. In some parts of Texas and Florida it may be accurate, but here in New York City (and more specifically, in Manhattan) the local equivalent is $545K. Meaning that is how much you’d have to make to maintain the same lifestyle as someone living in, say, Missoula, Montana. On the upside, you don’t live in Missoula; their fresh air is so overrated anyway.

James Joyner:

Regardless, all of this shows how complicated gauging relative wealth is when dealing with a diverse, continental country.  We have not only very different costs of living and rates of taxation but also very different economies and cultures.   And compounding this by looking at “households,” and thus comparing dual earners with single earners, only further obscures the issue.

Patrick Appel:

Dylan Matthews looks at the distribution of high earners across the country, which prompts Reihan to sound off on dual-earner families. I’m with Joyner

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Filed under Economics, Go Meta

“This Bud’s For You”

Mark Kleiman at Ta-Nehisi’s place:

Two items on my list of drug-policy reforms drew the most flak in comments:  the abolition of the minimum legal  drinking age and the non-commercial legalization of cannabis.

Note that the drinking-age idea was paired with a tenfold increase in alcohol taxes to about a dollar a drink, roughly doubling the retail price of alcohol. That, plus a zero-tolerance policy on drinking and driving for teenagers, would get you most of the benefits of the current 21-year-old MLDA (and lots of benefits the MLDA can’t provide) without making tens of millions of teenagers into scofflaws.  It’s a good general principle that a law that’s widely broken is a bad law, and 90% of American 18-year-olds have sampled alcohol, despite the laws against it.
On the cannabis front, my plea is for a “grow-your-own” policy: consumers would be allowed to cultivate pot for their own use, to give it away, or to join small consumer-owned co-ops to produce the stuff for them. No commercial sales.
“Why not?” demanded several outraged commenters. Why allow use but not sale?
Two words provide the gist of the answer:  marketing and lobbying. A legal cannabis industry, like the legal beer industry, the legal tobacco industry, the legal fast-food and junk-food industries, and the legal gambling industry, would do everything in its power to expand its sales, including taking political action to weaken whatever regulations and minimize whatever taxes were imposed.

Reihan Salam:

In Kleiman’s view, commercial sales would create a powerful marketing and lobbying machine that would encourage cannabis consumption. On paternalistic grounds, Kleiman is concerned about the public health consequences of a dramatic expansion of cannabis consumption. Given that decriminalization would already lower the effective price of cannabis, this strikes me as a legitimate concern:

To the consumer, developing a bad habit is bad news. To the marketing executive, it’s the whole point of the exercise. For any potentially addictive commodity or activity, the minority that gets stuck with a bad habit consumes the majority of the product. So the entire marketing effort is devoted to cultivating and maintaining the people whose use is a problem to them and a gold mine to the industry.Take alcohol, for example. Divide the population into deciles by annual drinking volume. The top decile starts at four drinks a day, averaged year-round. That group consumes half of all the alcohol sold. The next decile does from two to four drinks a day. Those folks sop up the next thirty percent. Casual drinkers – people who have two drinks a day or less – take up only 20% of the total volume. The booze companies cannot afford to have their customers “drink in moderation.”

Because distillers are dependent on “problem drinkers,” they deploy an effective, well-funded lobby to stymie efforts to reduce alcohol consumption and indeed to permit the emergence of potential substitutes or complements to traditional wines and spirits, hence the ban on breathable alcohol. Though cannabis consumption is less dangerous than binge drinking, the impact of full-blown legalization is unpredictable:

The rate of problem use among cannabis users is lower than the rate of problem drinking among drinkers (lifetime risk of about 10% v. lifetime risk of at least 15%) but that’s under conditions of illegality and high price. The risks of chronic heavy cannabis use aren’t as dramatic as the risks of chronic heavy drinking – the stuff doesn’t kill neurons or rot your liver, and generates less crazy behavior than beer – but that doesn’t make those risks negligible. Ask any parent whose fifteen-year-old has decided that cannabis is more fun than geometry. Of the 10% of cannabis smokers who become heavy daily smokers for a while, the median duration of the first spell of heavy use (not counting the risks of relapse) is 44 months. That’s not a small chunk to take out a lifetime, especially a young lifetime.

Kleiman is a frank paternalist, and his arguments are potentially discomfiting for those of us of a libertarian bent. But as a prudential first step, I think he’s right to prefer non-commercial legalization.

Kleiman is wrong on many fronts, but mainly he’s wrong because most people who want to smoke pot don’t want to grow it. They want to buy it. And all these people spending money to grow their own aren’t going to give it away to everyone for free, which leaves us with a demand to fill but not nearly the level of supply needed to fill it. The only thing standing between that demand and the supply shortage would be the government. Which, naturally, leads to black markets, drug dealers, confiscation of property by police departments, drug raids, shooting deaths and so forth. Not too far a cry from where we’re at now.

So we have a choice: create a legal market or a new black market.

One of these two markets will exist no matter what we do, because people are going to smoke pot one way or another. The laws we have now don’t prevent this. Allowing home growing but not commercial sales won’t either. Nothing will. This is one vice that isn’t going anywhere and doesn’t really need “America’s marketing geniuses” in order to peddle.

Kleiman thinks all the companies selling marijuana will be like the Big Tobacco companies, with a fierce lobbying arm and a huge monopoly over the market, preying mercilessly on helpless consumers. But that’s not going to happen if we just legalize marijuana and don’t set up regulations which grant these big companies de facto monopolies to begin with. Small growers, like small brewers, will do just fine. And no, we won’t have a bunch of crazed cannabis users at the mercy of Marijuana Inc. Some people will smoke too much pot, but plenty of people already do and many of them quit before their lives are ruined.

A better idea would be to simply not regulate out home growers from the market which is a legitimate concern. Setting up laws which prevent home growing will crowd out home growers and make big corporations much more powerful. Simply opening up the market to both will create a much more level playing field. I think it will actually be extremely difficult for big corporations to compete with local growers – economies of scale be damned, pot smokers enjoy the quality of their product too much – but at least that competition will exist.

Kleiman in the comments to Kain’s post:

It’s really tiresome to be criticized for view you don’t hold. Here’s what I wrote (emphasis added for the hard-of-reading):

On the cannabis front, my plea is for a “grow-your-own” policy: consumers would be allowed to cultivate pot for their own use, to give it away, or to join small consumer-owned co-ops to produce the stuff for them. No commercial sales.

So no, I don’t propose making everyone who wants to smoke pot grow his own garden; you could always join a co-op, or get yours from a friend who either belongs to one or grows the stuff. Given the high costs of running an illegal business, the black market just couldn’t compete with the legal co-ops.

Now, if someone wants to criticize that proposal, go ahead. But all the “anti-prohibitionists” seem to prefer pounding on a straw man.

Kain responds:

There are several things wrong with this.

First, it creates at best a gray market. You can grow it, smoke it, and join a co-op to help produce it, but you can’t sell it to whoever you want or buy it from whoever you want. This is very fuzzy. Can you think of any other product like this? I can’t, and I don’t think Americans would take to the idea very well (what, I can’t buy bread at the store, I have to make it myself? What the hell is a co-op?) or that our regulatory apparatus would be up to enforcing it (not to mention the potential for regulatory capture at the local and state level). Furthermore, this strikes me as little more than Kleiman’s own preferred version of Capitalism Lite – a sort of throwback to distributism – Chestertonian in its romanticism, but not terribly practical.

Second, no matter how you spin this, consumers of marijuana under Kleiman’s rules would also have to be producers of marijuana – if not directly, then indirectly through a co-operative. Rather than casually purchasing pot whenever they wanted, they would have to make a commitment to either A) grow the stuff, or B) become involved with a group of people growing the stuff. If anything, this works against Kleiman’s paternalist instincts. Where Kleiman seeks to protect the consumer from the big marijuana corporations, he ends up making consumers more financially vested in the product, and thus more bound to its success, use, and so forth. Probably not the best idea when you’re attempting to keep use of the product to a minimum. This would be like forcing drinkers to have a financial stake in whatever alcohol they were consuming. And a lot of people just don’t want that. They want the freedom to choose to simply buy the stuff at a store or, if there’s no co-op nearby and nobody growing, then from a dealer.

Which brings us to point number three. I don’t think co-ops would actually spell the end of the illicit marijuana trade unless the co-ops were allowed to scale up to the point where basically they were operating as commercial businesses. So either you lose the idyllic co-operative-only market or you sustain the demand for the black market.

And last, there is simply nothing in this argument that makes it necessary. The problem with pot is that it’s illegal, not anything inherent with the drug – at least no more so than alcohol (and probably a lot less). If pot becomes legal I hope we don’t regulate out home growers or local co-operatives. That would be a disaster and a travesty. Imagine doing to the wine industry what was done to the beer industry for so long. Imagine the Budweiser of bud – and that all legal marijuana was so lifeless. But preventing commercial sale of anything that has a high consumer demand is just asking for trouble, even if you provide avenues for that demand to be met. Those avenues are simply unnecessary when an open market could exist instead. If we really want to curtail marijuana usage, legalize it and then tax the hell out of it. At least people will be able to buy it and consume it safely.

Adam Serwer at The American Prospect:

I think Kain is missing at least part of Kleiman’s point. The whole idea behind decriminalizing marijuana possession is to eliminate the “black market cycle of violence”; since people wouldn’t necessarily be dependent on dealers, dealers would have a hard time plying a lucrative trade, and paramilitary SWAT teams wouldn’t be shooting dogs and old ladies trying to get at the hidden cannabis stash of a 72 year-old with cataracts.

Second, while I’m not quite sure where I stand on the choice between legalization and criminalization, I do think that marijuana abuse is a relatively minor problem. I’d like to preserve that status quo while eliminating the draconian penalties and absurd amount of law-enforcement resources devoted to preventing people from toking. But I think Kain is being a bit to dismissive in arguing that there would be no adverse consequences from the mass marketing of marijuana. It seems entirely possible to me that commercializing the drug could create a problem where none really exists — businesses have to make a profit; someone growing their own doesn’t. A world where a smaller, less profitable illicit market that continues to exist looks a lot like our own without the outsize penalties and adverse consequences of over-enforcement. I’m not sure what a world with a fully commercialized marijuana industry that profits from turning people into potheads looks like, but it makes me nervous.

Ezra Klein

Patrick Appel at Sully’s place:

Kleiman has been beating this drum for a long time. I don’t have a problem with “grow your own” in theory but worry that prohibiting commercial cannabis will sustain the black-market. What are the other unintended consequences?

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“The Celebration Of Lifelong Heterosexual Monogamy As A Unique And Indispensable Estate”

Ross Douthat at NYT:

Here are some commonplace arguments against gay marriage: Marriage is an ancient institution that has always been defined as the union of one man and one woman, and we meddle with that definition at our peril. Lifelong heterosexual monogamy is natural; gay relationships are not. The nuclear family is the universal, time-tested path to forming families and raising children.

These have been losing arguments for decades now, as the cause of gay marriage has moved from an eccentric- seeming notion to an idea that roughly half the country supports. And they were losing arguments again last week, when California’s Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that laws defining marriage as a heterosexual union are unconstitutional, irrational and unjust.

These arguments have lost because they’re wrong. What we think of as “traditional marriage” is not universal. The default family arrangement in many cultures, modern as well as ancient, has been polygamy, not monogamy. The default mode of child-rearing is often communal, rather than two parents nurturing their biological children.

Nor is lifelong heterosexual monogamy obviously natural in the way that most Americans understand the term. If “natural” is defined to mean “congruent with our biological instincts,” it’s arguably one of the more unnatural arrangements imaginable. In crudely Darwinian terms, it cuts against both the male impulse toward promiscuity and the female interest in mating with the highest-status male available. Hence the historic prevalence of polygamy. And hence many societies’ tolerance for more flexible alternatives, from concubinage and prostitution to temporary arrangements like the “traveler’s marriages” sanctioned in some parts of the Islamic world.

So what are gay marriage’s opponents really defending, if not some universal, biologically inevitable institution? It’s a particular vision of marriage, rooted in a particular tradition, that establishes a particular sexual ideal.

This ideal holds up the commitment to lifelong fidelity and support by two sexually different human beings — a commitment that involves the mutual surrender, arguably, of their reproductive self-interest — as a uniquely admirable kind of relationship. It holds up the domestic life that can be created only by such unions, in which children grow up in intimate contact with both of their biological parents, as a uniquely admirable approach to child-rearing. And recognizing the difficulty of achieving these goals, it surrounds wedlock with a distinctive set of rituals, sanctions and taboos.

The point of this ideal is not that other relationships have no value, or that only nuclear families can rear children successfully. Rather, it’s that lifelong heterosexual monogamy at its best can offer something distinctive and remarkable — a microcosm of civilization, and an organic connection between human generations — that makes it worthy of distinctive recognition and support.

Again, this is not how many cultures approach marriage. It’s a particularly Western understanding, derived from Jewish and Christian beliefs about the order of creation, and supplemented by later ideas about romantic love, the rights of children, and the equality of the sexes.

Or at least, it was the Western understanding. Lately, it has come to co-exist with a less idealistic, more accommodating approach, defined by no-fault divorce, frequent out-of-wedlock births, and serial monogamy.

In this landscape, gay-marriage critics who fret about a slippery slope to polygamy miss the point. Americans already have a kind of postmodern polygamy available to them. It’s just spread over the course of a lifetime, rather than concentrated in a “Big Love”-style menage.

If this newer order completely vanquishes the older marital ideal, then gay marriage will become not only acceptable but morally necessary. The lifelong commitment of a gay couple is more impressive than the serial monogamy of straights. And a culture in which weddings are optional celebrations of romantic love, only tangentially connected to procreation, has no business discriminating against the love of homosexuals.

But if we just accept this shift, we’re giving up on one of the great ideas of Western civilization: the celebration of lifelong heterosexual monogamy as a unique and indispensable estate. That ideal is still worth honoring, and still worth striving to preserve. And preserving it ultimately requires some public acknowledgment that heterosexual unions and gay relationships are different: similar in emotional commitment, but distinct both in their challenges and their potential fruit.

Rod Dreher:

I don’t think most people realize how epochal the social shift we’re living through now, with regard to the big tangled ball involving sex, sexuality,marriage, civilization and Christianity. I take it for granted now that we are going to have same-sex marriage in this country, because the elites are all for it, young adults are all for it, and their support of it makes sense for the reasons of “postmodern polygamy” Ross identifies. But few people seem to have thought through the deeper ramifications of this civilizational shift. Most people seem to think this is merely a matter of moving the lines a bit more to the side, to bring gay couples into a stable social framework. In fact, it’s revolutionary to the core.

Andrew Sullivan:

Look at how diverse current civil marriages are in the US. The range and diversity runs from Amish families with dozens of kids to yuppie bi-coastal childless couples on career paths; there are open marriages and arranged marriages; there is Rick Santorum and Britney Spears – between all of whom the civil law makes no distinction. The experience of gay couples therefore falls easily within the actual living definition of civil marriage as it is today, and as it has been now for decades. To exclude gays and gays alone is therefore not the upholding of an ideal (Britney Spears and Larry King are fine – but a lesbian couple who have lived together for decades are verboten) so much as making a lone exception to inclusion on the grounds of sexual orientation. It is in effect to assert not the ideal of Catholic Matrimony, but the ideal of heterosexual superiority. It creates one class of people, regardless of their actions, and renders them superior to another.

Ross’s view is increasingly, therefore, one faction of one religion’s specific definition of Matrimony out of countless arrangements that are available for cohabitation in civil society and world history. It’s a view freely breached within his own church itself. And it has already been abandoned as a civil matter in some of the most Catholic countries on earth, including Spain and Argentina. And heterosexuals-only marriage is only a microcosm of civilization if you exclude all other relationships from civilization – friendship, citizenship, family in the extended sense, families with adopted, non-biological children, etc.

And – this is my main point – Ross’ argument simply ignores the existence and dignity and lives and testimony of gay people. This is strange because the only reason this question has arisen at all is because the visibility of gay family members has become now so unmissable that it cannot be ignored. Yes, marriage equality was an idea some of us innovated. But it was not an idea plucked out of the sky. It was an attempt to adapt to an already big social change: the end of the homosexual stigma, the emergence of gay communities of great size and influence and diversity, and collapse of the closet. It came from a pressing need as a society to do something about this, rather than consign gay people to oblivion or marginalization or invisibility. More to the point, it emerged after we saw what can happen when human beings are provided no structure, no ideal, and no support for responsibility and fidelity and love.

If you have total gay freedom and no gay institutions that can channel love and desire into commitment and support, you end up in San Francisco in the 1970s. That way of life – however benignly expressed, however defensible as the pent-up unleashed liberation of a finally free people – helped kill 300,000 young human beings in this country in our lifetime. Ross may think that toll is unimportant, or that it was their fault, but I would argue that a Catholic’s indifference to this level of death and suffering and utter refusal to do anything constructive to prevent it happening again, indeed a resort to cruel stigmatization of gay people that helps lead to self-destructive tendencies, is morally evil.

What, in other words, would Ross have gay people do? What incentives would he, a social conservative, put in place to encourage gay couples and support them in their commitments and parenting and love? Notice the massive silence. He is not a homophobe as I can personally attest. But if he cannot offer something for this part of our society except a sad lament that they are forever uniquely excluded, by their nature, from being a “microcosm of civilization”, then this is not a serious contribution to the question at hand. It is merely a restatement of abstract dogma – not a contribution to the actual political and social debate we are now having.

Glenn Greenwald:

First, the mere fact that the State does not use the mandates of law to enforce Principle X does not preclude Principle X from being advocated or even prevailing.  Conversely, the fact that the State recognizes the right of an individual to choose to engage in Act Y does not mean Act Y will be accepted as equal.  There are all sorts of things secular law permits which society nonetheless condemns.  Engaging in racist speech is a fundamental right but widely scorned.  The State is constitutionally required to maintain full neutrality with regard to the relative merits of the various religious sects (and with regard to the question of religion v. non-religion), but certain religions are nonetheless widely respected while others — along with atheism — are stigmatized and marginalized.  Numerous behaviors which secular law permits — excessive drinking, adultery, cigarette smoking, inter-faith and inter-racial marriages, homosexual sex — are viewed negatively by large portions of the population.

The State’s official neutrality on the question of marriage does not even theoretically restrict Douthat’s freedom — or that of his ideological and religious comrades — to convince others of the superiority of heterosexual monogamy.  They’re every bit as free today as they were last week to herald all the “unique fruit” which such relationships can alone generate, in order to persuade others to follow that course.  They just can’t have the State take their side by officially embracing that view or using the force of law to compel it.

But if the arguments for the objective superiority of heterosexual monogamy are as apparent and compelling as Douthat seems to think, they ought not need the secular thumb pressing on the scale in favor of their view.  Individuals on their own will come to see the rightness of Douthat’s views on such matters — or will be persuaded by the religious institutions and societal mores which teach the same thing — and, attracted by its “distinctive and remarkable” virtues, will opt for a life of heterosexual monogamy.  Why does Douthat need the State — secular law — to help him in this cause?

Second, Douthat is quite confused about what Judge Walker actually ruled.  He did not decree that there are no legitimate moral, theological or spiritual grounds for viewing heterosexual marriage as superior.  That’s not what courts do.  Courts don’t rule on moral, theological or spiritual questions.  Such matters are the exclusive province of religious institutions, philosophers, communities, parents and individuals’ consciences, but not of the State.  That’s the crux of this judicial decision.

Thus, one can emphatically embrace every syllable of Judge Walker’s ruling while simultaneously insisting on the moral or spiritual superiority of heterosexual marriage.  There would be nothing inconsistent about that.  That’s because Judge Walker’s ruling is exclusively about the principles of secular law — the Constitution — and the legitimate role of the State.  That legitimate role ends where the exclusively moral and religious sphere begins.  That’s why we call it “secular law.”  Judge Walker’s ruling concerns exclusively secular questions and does not even purport to comment upon, let alone resolve, the moral and theological questions which Douthat frets can no longer be “entertained” in a society that affords legal equality to marriage.

The court ruled opposite-sex-marriage-only laws unconstitutional not because it concluded that heterosexual and homosexual marriages are morally equal, but rather, because it’s not the place of the State (or of courts) to make such moral determinations.  Moral and theological debates are to be resolved in the private square — through the kinds of discussions Douthat claims he wants to have — not by recruiting the State to officially sanction one moral view or the other by using law to restrict moral choices.  Judge Walker, citing decades of clear precedent on that question, made as clear as can be that the issue Douthat seems to think was resolved by his ruling — namely, whether heterosexual marriages are morally or spiritually superior — is the exact issue he refused to adjudicate, precisely because those are the issues that courts have no business addressing and the State has no business legislating

Jonah Goldberg at The Corner:

Now, I gather that Greenwald is a pretty radical civil libertarian (of the hard leftist variety, of course), but we aren’t talking about his preferences. When he writes that racist speech is a fundamental right that is (and should be) widely scorned, I’m with him. But is it really treated as a fundamental right? What about speech codes? Hate-crimes laws? Similarly, secular law does permit cigarette smoking, but lots of states regulate it and essentially ban it in all public areas. Try smoking in public in California. Try getting a job at some hospitals if you smoke.  Meanwhile, tax dollars are routinely used to stigmatize smoking and excessive drinking. And then there are the countless exhortations in public schools and elsewhere against racist speech and attitudes as well. Whatever the merits of these policies, I don’t see anything like the state neutrality Greenwald is alluding to and he would certainly be livid if the state of California (or the federal government) countenanced public-service advertisements against gay marriage or homosexual behavior (I wouldn’t like it either, for the record) or if government treated gay couples the way it treats smokers (“Do that in the privacy of your own home, but not on the job or near children!”).

Douthat responds to Greenwald:

Well, first of all, I don’t believe that having the truth on your side is any kind of guarantee of success in public debate. (Nor, I’m sure, does Greenwald, or else he would have abandoned his views on torture and executive power long ago.) This is particularly the case when the truth in question asks men and women to engage in sacrificial and frankly counter-biological behavior, in pursuit of an ideal that few societies in history have even attempted to achieve. I will return to this point again and again throughout my responses, but let me be clear: The marriage ideal that I’m defending would be in equally serious difficulties in contemporary America if homosexuality did not exist, because what it asks of straight people is in deep tension with what straight people want to do, and with the way that the incentives of modern life often line up. This is why I’ve spent much more time writing about divorce and out-of-wedlock birth rates (and pornography, for that matter) than gay marriage over the years — and I wouldn’t be writing about gay marriage today if Judge Vaughan Walker’s decision wasn’t poised to throw the issue before the Supreme Court, where it might be settled legally once and for all.

Second, I think that most of Greenwald’s examples of cultural norms that aren’t legally enforced actually tend to back up my belief that law and culture are inextricably bound up, rather than his case that they needn’t be. A stigma on racism, for instance, would hopefully exist even in a libertarian paradise, but it draws a great deal of its potency from the fact the American government has spent the last 40 years actively campaigning against racist conduct and racist thought, using every means at its disposal short of banning speech outright. The state forbids people from discriminating based on race in their private business dealings. It forbids them from instituting policies that have a “disparate impact” on racial minorities. It allows and encourage reverse discrimination in various settings, the better to remedy racism’s earlier effects. It promulgates public school curricula that paint racism as the original sin of the United States. It has even created a special legal category that punishes crimes committed with racist intentions more severely than identical crimes committed with non-racial motivations. In these and other arenas, there isn’t a bright line between the legal campaign against racism and the cultural stigma attached to racist beliefs; indeed, there isn’t a line at all.

Or take alcohol and cigarettes. Why are Marlboros more stigmatized than Budweisers in contemporary America? Well, in part, it’s because there’s been a government-sponsored war on tobacco for the last few decades, carried out through lawsuits and public health campaigns and smoking bans and so forth, that’s far eclipsed the more halting efforts to stigmatize alcohol consumption. Here again, public policy, rather than some deep empirical or philosophical truth about the relative harm of nicotine versus alcohol, has been a crucial factor in shaping cultural norms.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry at The American Scene:

In his column, Ross puts forward the most eloquent defense I’ve seen of “lifelong heterosexual monogamy” as an institution that should be afforded special status by a society’s laws.

Unfortunately, responses to Ross’s column have been predictably dire. Supporters of gay marriage are increasingly candid about their belief that there can be no legitimate, non-bigoted argument against gay marriage, a view which I believe to be false and says more about a certain kind of narrow-mindedness than about anything else. (At this point I should probably produce my non-troglodyte Ausweis and state that I am in favor of legalizing same sex marriage.) Most responses make a spectacle of the author’s incapacity to consider viewpoints that do not fit neatly into her own biases.

Two interesting responses to Ross that stand out from this sorry lot have been from Hanna Rosin and Andrew Sullivan, two writers whose work I admire.

I’ll start with Andrew Sullivan. Reading Mr Sullivan is often frustrating to me because of what I take to be a reflexive tendency to cast anathema upon ideological opponents with inflamatory language (I don’t find it correct or useful, for example, to describe the Catholic Church’s stance on women in the priesthood as “un-Christian”).

Yet Mr Sullivan put forward what I think is the best response to the column, largely even-handed, generous, and very touching. His post is very much worth reading. If Ross puts forward the best argument on one side, clearly Mr Sullivan puts forward the best response. Even though at times Mr Sullivan comes close to reaching for the flamethrower (I don’t believe, as he seems at one point to imply, that Ross is “indifferen[t]” to gay victims of the AIDS epidemic; and I don’t know what it means to say that the Church is in a “High Ratzinger phase”), he is very generous and lucid.

He (and one would not think it should be noted, but given the other responses it must) actually understands Ross’s argument and gives what I think are the two best responses. That while the ideal Ross extols might be wonderful as a religious or even a moral ideal, it does not necessarily follow that the law should promote it at the exclusion of everything else. And that even if that were true, the fact of countless homosexual unions exists, unions that are worth something, and that denying them the legal protections of marriage is a very heavy, to the point of being inhumane, price to pay for a theoretical protection of another kind of ideal.

But really I don’t do it justice. I basically agree with Mr Sullivan, and felt more attention should be given to a great piece of writing.

“Hanna Rosin’s take”!http://www.doublex.com/blog/xxfactor/marriage-was-awesomein-17th-century is also worth reading, considerate and rooted in the teachings of history as it is, although she fails to actually grapple with Ross’s argument in certain key respects.

Where Ms Rosin fails is that, after acknowledging that Ross’s argument is substantially different from the regular litany of gay marriage opponents, she still takes it as a nostalgia argument. Ross wants to “go back” to an era where marriage was defined a certain way. She asserts that the kind of marriage that Ross defends never actually existed, or only existed at the cost of “love or choice.” I actually think that’s highly debatable, but I also think it’s beside the point. Her assertions that “[t]here is no barbaric Orientalist marriage which contrasts with a pure, Western one” and that “[m]arriage in the Bible was almost always polygamous” are correct but also irrelevant, because Ross never claimed any of that.

Just as Ross is a very effective critic of the sexual revolution because he recognizes that it has had many positive repercussions, his critique of gay marriage is worth taking seriously precisely because it doesn’t harken back to some mythical era which he starts out by acknowledging never existed.

If Ross wants to “go back” to anything, it’s not so much an era as ideas — ideas that have been with us for a very long time, even if they were all too rarely practiced.

Adam Serwer at The American Prospect:

I can’t speak to the Catholic view of marriage, but I will say this: My parents met in the 1950s when they were teenagers in a small town in upstate New York. They married in their early 20s, and went on to raise two kids. In many ways they are the embodiment of Douthat’s religiously inspired ideal of heterosexual marriage. Except that for about the first five years or so of their relationship, it would have been illegal in many parts of this country for them to get married, because my father is white and my mother is black. My parents’ relationship was startlingly apolitical given the era — they told me they weren’t even aware of Loving v. Virginia at the time despite being married only two years later.

I don’t know what it’s like to be gay and not be able to marry one’s partner, but knowing that my parents, who are more in love with each other than any two people I’ve ever known, could have been legally prevented from getting married within their lifetime because they are not the same race has always framed the issue of marriage equality for me. It’s heartbreaking for me to think of my parents not being able to be married for no other reason than because of entrenched cultural taboos against miscegenation, because their kind of love is so rare that denying it implicates the state in an indefensible act of cruelty. Reducing marriage to a matter of procreation seems ridiculous to me because I don’t consider myself or my brother the most meaningful product of my parents’ marriage; it’s the fact that more than 40 years into it, my mother and father are still each other’s best friend. I’m not in awe of me, I’m in awe of that.

I can’t help but reflect on my own parents when I think about how many people are denied that experience simply because they happen to share the same gender. It’s hard for me to understand how anyone could see that as any kind of justice.

Paul Waldman at Tapped:

These are the words of a defeated man. And they may reflect what’s currently going on in the conservative elite. If you’re a part of that elite, by now you’ve probably had plenty of exposure to gay people — at college, in the course of your work, and in the place where you live. So you probably find the kind of naked bigotry still expressed by some in the religious right to be repellent. The rhetorical shift of recent years — in which conservatives take pains to stress that they aren’t denying gay people’s humanity or rights, just trying to defend tradition — is something you genuinely believe. But that leaves you with the sentiment reflected in Douthat’s column, which is this: Yes, gay unions are meaningful and worthy of respect. But straight unions are really, really awesome. The problem is that marriage-equality opponents can’t define what gets taken away from the straight couple when the gay couple gets married, so they have nowhere to fall back to except vague encomiums to marriage between a man and a woman. Which is all very heartwarming, but it still doesn’t tell you why same-sex marriage should be illegal. And I’m pretty sure Douthat and other people making this argument know it.

Choire Sicha at The Awl:

The reason I always make fun of low-level Times semi-conservo-wonk Ross Douthat being unwilling to publicly explain his opposition to gay marriage is that he said it was too personal, essentially. (I know: quite unlike being singled out by society your entire life for being gay—though I guess some people take that personally too? Anyway, that’s why they call it privilege, Ross! Privilege literally means you don’t have to deal with such things.) So good news! He has laid it out, and I really encourage everyone to sit down and read it slowly. I found it an amazing experience. I won’t spoil the actually stunning conclusion—I was actually stunned! I had to sit down for a few minutes to gather myself!—but, in short, he apparently believes that gay marriage is some seven-week-old fetus that needs to be thrown out along with the bathwater of the society that straight people have so thoroughly fouled. After that, you can read the incredibly well-reasoned comments that were allowed on the Times site before they were shut down (hmm!) and then Glenn Greenwald picking apart a few points nicely—but in an incredible way, Douthat is literally unaddressable. Douthat really does want people to be happy, I think. But this all reads like he’s never met a person before, so how would he know?

UPDATE: Noah Millman at The American Scene

More Douthat

And even more Douthat

Ezra Klein

UPDATE #2: Douthat responds to Sullivan

Patrick Appel at Sullivan’s place responds

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Filed under Families, Gay Marriage, Mainstream, New Media

The Oscar Grant Verdict: Trouble In O-Town

Joe Eskenazi at San Francisco Weekly:

Ex-BART cop Johannes Mehserle has been found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the shooting death of unarmed BART passenger Oscar Grant.

The jury could have convicted Mehserle of either second-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter — both charges that would have required the jury to believe that Mehserle intended to kill grant. That was evidently too much for the jury, which declared its belief that the former policeman didn’t intend to kill the man he shot via its involuntary manslaughter conviction. This carries a sentence of two to four years; a potential gun enhancement could bump that to five-to-14 years .

Heather MacDonald at Secular Right before the verdict was read:

It is true that death at the hands of a representative of the state–in this case, the BART police officer–has an entirely different meaning than death at the hands of a common criminal and produces a far greater sense of injustice.  That sense of injustice is compounded for blacks by the shameful history, now largely corrected, of police abuse.   Still, this one tragically-mistaken killing—BART officer Johannes Mehserle entered a scene of chaos at Oakland’s Fruitvale station on a night in which several guns had already been found along the subway line and thought, according to his testimony, that he was firing his Taser to subdue a resisting, possibly gun-wielding Oscar Grant—stands out from the tidal wave of cold-blooded murders in Oakland by the fact that Mehserle did not intend to murder an unarmed civilian.  Like many urban areas, Oakland has been seeing a retaliatory shooting pattern around vigils for shooting victims.  On June 21, for example, a 17-year-old was shot at an Oakland bus stop; just after midnight the next day, two gunmen sauntered up to a vigil for the bus stop victim and killed a 19-year-old girl and seriously wounded five other teenagers who were attending the vigil.  None of these and the hundred or so other murders a year in Oakland provoke the spectre of riots if their perpetrators are not convicted; indeed, it is often hard to find anyone to cooperate with the authorities in bringing the killers to justice.   The thousands of black-on-black killings a year nationally are treated as a matter of course; so, too, are killings of police officers.

Let’s hope that Oakland residents heed the many calls from community leaders to accept the jury’s verdict peacefully and defeat the sad, but not irrational, expectations of Bay Area law enforcement.

J. Peter Nixon at Commonweal:

I work in downtown Oakland, where many businesses were concerned that the announcement of the verdict would bring a repeat of the civil violence that accompanied the original shooting.  Shortly before the verdict was to be announced, we were asked to evacuate our office building.  I will confess I felt a great deal of ambivalence about this, but as a manager I felt responsible for the safety of our employees.  So I encouraged people to leave.

As I walked to the BART train entrance, the sidewalks were filled with office workers essentially fleeing the city.  I began to feel a sense of shame about this.  It was “white flight” on a concentrated and graphic scale.  I got in line to pass through the BART gates and even had my card out when I just stopped and got out of line.  “I can’t do this,” I thought.

I am probably the least spontaneous person you will ever meet.  The white board in my office has a “do list” ranging across three columns.  I don’t take a vacation without a carefully planned daily itinerary.  And yet there I was, making a last minute decision to remain in downtown Oakland at a time when many (white) commentators were convinced the place was about to explode in civil unrest.

I wish I could tell you it was an act of heroic virtue.  The truth is that I was seized by something outside myself, an irresistible prompting of the Holy Spirit.  I just couldn’t muster the energy to fight against it and keep my legs moving toward that gate.  So I climbed the staircase out of the rail station and walked back down the street against the human tide.  I called my wife to tell her of my decision. She, of course, understood perfectly.

My first destination was the Cathedral, which stands next to my office building.  My hope was that others would be naturally drawn there as a place to keep prayerful vigil while awaiting the verdict.  I’m sorry to say I was disappointed.  It was deserted except for the security guards.  I prayed for a just verdict, not even sure in my own heart what a just verdict would be in this case.  I prayed for a peaceful response, whatever the outcome.  In the Cathedral, an enormous image of Christ in judgment is depicted on the window behind the altar.  I contemplated the image, and prayed that whatever the imperfections of human justice, the city would be able to trust in the ultimate judgment of Christ.

Shortly after 4pm I flipped on my Blackberry and got the news: the verdict was involuntary manslaughter.  It was the least serious offense available to the jury, although it still represents—to my knowledge—the only case to date where a police officer has been found criminally liable in a case of this nature.

I wondered whether I should go downtown and join the demonstrators, who I knew would be deeply angry about the verdict.  The truth was that my own heart was conflicted about the justice of the verdict.  But I felt strongly that the place of a Christian that night was to be present in the midst of the city, not absent from it.  In the Psalms of the Office we pray “the Lord is my light and my salvation, of whom shall I be afraid?”  Did I believe these words or not?

San Francisco Chronicle:

There was outrage, there was looting and there were skirmishes between police and protesters, but that wasn’t the whole story of how Oakland reacted to the Johannes Mehserle verdict.

The trouble Thursday boiled down to a racially diverse mob of about 200 people, many bent on destruction no matter what, confronting police after the day’s predominantly peaceful demonstrations ended.

Sporadic conflicts were quelled quickly early in the evening, but by late night at least 50 people – and maybe as many as 100 – had been arrested as small groups smashed windows, looted businesses and set trash bins on fire.

The violence was contained for much of the early evening within a one-block area near City Hall by an army of police officers in riot gear, but around 10 p.m. a knot of rioters broke loose and headed north on Broadway toward 22nd Street with police in pursuit.

They smashed windows of shops including the trendy Ozumo restaurant, and one building was spray painted with the words, “Say no to work. Say yes to looting.”

A boutique called Spoiled was spared. It had a sign outside and pictures of Oscar Grant with the words, “Do not destroy. Black owned. Black owned.”

On  the verdict, Kevin Drum:

I hardly even know what to say about this. I wasn’t in court and I wasn’t on the jury, so I didn’t hear all the evidence. But for chrissake. Look at the video. Mehserle didn’t look confused and modern tasers don’t feel much like service revolvers. And it’s not as if he was acting under extreme duress. At most there was a brief and perfunctory struggle, after which Mehserle calmly raised himself up while Grant was pinned to the ground, drew his revolver, and shot him. The only thing that even remotely makes Mehserle’s story believable is that doing what he did is just flat out insane. It doesn’t make sense even if he were a stone racist and half crazy as well.

The jury can say what it wants, but it still looks to me like Mehserle decided on the spur of the moment to shoot Grant. I don’t know why, and no explanation really makes sense. But he’s a white cop and the jury apparently concluded that Grant was just black riffraff. The whole thing is just appalling.

Mark Kleiman:

Kevin Drum is upset by the verdict, which he regards as a finding of “semi-guilty.” He joins the victim’s family, the National Lawyers Guild, and a host of the usual suspects in thinking that the officer should have been convicted of second-degree murder instead. As usual, there will be an attempt to organize riots in protest, because of course burning down the stores of black shopkeepers is an excellent way to attack the white power structure.

I haven’t followed the case closely, but when I heard the story my first reaction was “involuntary manslaughter,” which is what the jury decided on. To bring in second-degree murder, the jury would have had to be sure, beyond reasonable doubt, that an ill-trained very junior cop, operating at 2am on New Year’s, didn’t make the unforgiveable error of drawing his handgun thinking it was his taser. They would have had to be sure, beyond reasonable doubt, that instead he decided at random to murder someone he’d never met before, in front of a big crowd of people and several other police officers.

It’s good to see the people who otherwise condemn the pointlessness of harsh retributive justice making an exception in this case. Perhaps retribution is actually a legitimate function of punishment after all? And of course the silence from the usual denouncers of the criminal-coddling criminal justice system, now that the criminal being coddled is a white cop who killed a black parolee, is deafening.

UPDATE: Via Patrick Appel at Sully’s place, Radley Balko at Reason

Adam Serwer at The American Prospect

Julianne Hing at Colorlines

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Filed under Crime