Tag Archives: Will

It All Comes Back To The Bush

Andrew Sullivan rounds up here, here and here

Jennifer Rubin:

The Obama administration needs to think long and hard about how it can convert its occasional rhetorical flourishes into concrete polices that can assist democracy advocates not only in Tunisia, but in Jordan, Egypt and elsewhere. If Obama wants to do some more productive “Muslim Outreach,” he should stop trying to ingratiate himself with despotic leaders and show that America is, and will continue to be, on the side of those yearning for freedom.

Recall when President George W. Bush talked about democracy taking hold in Iraq and then the region? Now Bush’s vision seems very prescient. Shouldn’t we all be in favor the freedom agenda? Criticized at the time as too Pollyannaish and too ambitious, Bush’s second inaugural address is worth reading again in full. This section is particularly apt:

We will encourage reform in other governments by making clear that success in our relations will require the decent treatment of their own people. America’s belief in human dignity will guide our policies, yet rights must be more than the grudging concessions of dictators; they are secured by free dissent and the participation of the governed. In the long run, there is no justice without freedom, and there can be no human rights without human liberty.

Some, I know, have questioned the global appeal of liberty–though this time in history, four decades defined by the swiftest advance of freedom ever seen, is an odd time for doubt. Americans, of all people, should never be surprised by the power of our ideals. Eventually, the call of freedom comes to every mind and every soul. We do not accept the existence of permanent tyranny because we do not accept the possibility of permanent slavery. Liberty will come to those who love it.

One question that deserves further consideration: How much did the emergence of a democratic Iraq have to do with this popular revolt in Tunisia? For now, the current administration had better get on the right side of history.

Adam Serwer:

Rubin doesn’t even attempt to prove causation — eight years ago, the U.S. invaded Iraq, and last week there was an uprising in Tunisia. Ergo Bush deserves the credit. This is deeply paternalistic — in Rubin’s version of history, the Tunisians who faced down the security forces of an autocratic regime are practically bit players in their own political upheaval.

The point is not to make an actual argument, but to inject a political narrative that will retroactively vindicate the decision to go to war in Iraq, as though the American people would ever forget that the Bush administration justified that decision by manufacturing an imminent danger in the form of WMD that were never found.

“Democracy in the Muslim World” was not the primary reason given for invading Iraq, and even as a retroactive justification it remains weak. As Matt Duss pointed out last year, the RAND Corporation did a study concluding that “Iraq’s instability has become a convenient scarecrow neighboring regimes can use to delay political reform by asserting that democratization inevitably leads to insecurity.” But as Donald Rumsfeld might say, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, so Rubin presses on:

One question that deserves further consideration: How much did the emergence of a democratic Iraq have to do with this popular revolt in Tunisia? For now, the current administration had better get on the right side of history.

Perhaps the most bizarre of Republican foreign policy instincts is the belief that the President of the United States can force the foreign policy outcomes he desires through sheer force of will. This is what Matthew Yglesias has dubbed the “The Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics.”

Dan Murphy at the Christian Science Monitor:

One question in Ms. Rubin’s column does have a clear answer however. “How much did the emergence of a democratic Iraq have to do with this popular revolt in Tunisia?” she asks.

Having covered Iraq and Egypt full time between 2003-2008, and having explored the question of whether the US invasion of Iraq would spur regional political change at length with academics, politicians, and average folks in and out of the region over a period of years (and talked to people in touch with current events in Tunisia the past few days) the answer to her question is clear: “Little to nothing.”

The sectarian bloodletting in Iraq, the insurgency, and the US role in combating it claimed tens of thousands of Iraqi lives, and Iraq remains unstable today. The regional view of the Iraq war was and is overwhelmingly negative, the model of Iraq something to be avoided at all costs. Before I read Rubin’s piece earlier today, Simon Hawkins, an anthropology professor at Franklin and Marshall, was kind enough to chat with me about Tunisian politics and history.

Hawkins, whose dissertation was about Tunisia, has been coming and going from the country since the late 1980s. He recounted (unprompted) how the word “democracy” had been given a bad name among many of the Tunisian youth (the same sorts who led the uprising against Ben Ali) because of the Iraq experience, “That’s democracy,” a group of Tunisian youths said to him in 2006 of Iraq. “No thanks.”

The Obama Administration’s policies towards the Arab world, largely focused on counterterrorism cooperation and avoiding pushing hard for political reform in autocracies like Egypt, are in fact an almost straight continuation of President Bush’s approach, particularly in his second term. It’s true that Bush made a ringing call for freedom in the Middle East a centerpiece of his inaugural address, but soon came up against the hard reality that close regional allies like Egypt, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia weren’t much interested in tolerating challenges to their rule.

After the Muslim Brotherhood tripled its share in Egypt’s parliament in one of the fairest (but still fraud marred) Egyptian elections in decades and the Islamist group Hamas swept free and fair Palestinian elections in 2006, the US took a big step back from Arab democracy promotion. That’s a situation that persists today.

More Rubin:

While those in Tunisia tell me there is no specific sign of an Islamist presence yet, it remains a real concern for those pressing for a secularized, democratic government.

One final note: while Muslim autocrats in the region have reason to worry, Elliott Abrams of the Council on Foreign Relations makes a convincing case that regimes do not face the same threat of instability. In Jordan and Morocco, for example, the kings in those countries enjoy a “perceived legitimacy.”

Nevertheless, George W. Bush must be pleased to see the debate breakout over the best route to Middle East democracy. It was only a few years that the liberal elite assured us that Muslim self-rule was a fantasy.

Daniel Larison:

I don’t know about “the liberal elite,” but people opposed to the Bush administration’s illegal war in Iraq and ruinous “freedom agenda” actually argued that it would be extremely difficult to construct Western-style liberal democracies in countries that had no political tradition of representative or constitutional government. This is true. It is extremely difficult, it doesn’t seem to be worth the effort and resources devoted to it, and it remains a foolish thing for the U.S. to pursue as a major foreign policy goal. What we also said was that it was outrageous and wrong to invade another country, trample on its sovereignty, wreck its infrastructure, and impoverish its people. What was even worse was to claim that we had liberated it, when we were actually handing it over to the tender mercies of sectarian militias and establishing what turned out to be a repressive government that often resorts to police-state tactics. In 2003, Muslim self-rule was already a reality in Turkey, Bangladesh, and Indonesia. The fantasy was the idea that the U.S. could forcibly topple an authoritarian government and readily install a functioning liberal democratic government in Iraq, and that this would then lead to regional transformation. Except for the first part, none of this happened. So far, the Tunisians seem to be managing much better on their own than Iraq did under the tutelage of U.S. occupiers.

Greg Scoblete:

Rubin does raise a significant question, however, regarding U.S. policy towards Tunisia. It could be, as her source suggests, that there exists a wellspring of knowledgeable people in the U.S. federal government who understand Tunisian society and have a keen grasp of how to ensure that the country’s revolutionary tumult is channeled toward a stable, sustainable representative democracy (provided it’s not too Islamist, of course). If that is the case, telling whatever government does emerge “what we expect” makes some sense, as it presumes we know what we’re talking about.

If, however, we don’t actually know what’s best for Tunisian society going forward, outside of a general desire for it to have a representative and relatively liberal government, should we really be butting in?

More Rubin:

Now a final note: The left blogosphere seems to have wigged out over the suggestion that George W. Bush and the successful emergence of a secular, democratic Iraq has anything to do with all this. For starters, it is amusing to see that those voices, fresh from the smear on conservatives regarding the Arizona shooting, are now all about “causation.” But more seriously, had democracy failed in Iraq, had the country descended into chaos, and had Iraqis laboring for a secular, democratic Muslim country been killed and exiled, do we imagine this would have been good for the prospects of democracy elsewhere? Recall that it was the left that said that democracy was alien to the Middle East. Bush was right; they were wrong. And the notion that democratization and rebellion against despotic regimes do not spread regionally after a successful experiment is belied by history (e.g. Central America, Eastern Europe).

Larison responds:

Well, the country did descend into chaos, Iraqis laboring for a secular country were killed and exiled*, and that wasn’t good for the prospects of democracy elsewhere. These also happen to be the effects of the Bush administration’s Iraq policy, which involved invading and devastating a country for bogus national security reasons and then trying to dress up the entire debacle as an experiment in democratization. The outward forms of democracy didn’t entirely fail in Iraq, but what those forms did was politicize ethnic and sectarian divisions and fuel years of inter-communal violence. Looking at the chaos unleashed by what war supporters kept insisting on calling “democracy,” nations throughout the region associated “democracy” with foreign occupation, civil strife, and constant violence. For that matter, there has been no “successful emergence of a secular, democratic Iraq.” There is an elected government with increasingly authoritarian and illiberal habits governed by sectarians pretending to be secular nationalists.

Rubin continues:

Recall that it was the left that said that democracy was alien to the Middle East. Bush was right; they were wrong.

No, Bush’s critics understood, usually better than his supporters, that Iran had some measure of constitutional and representative government before the Pahlavis, and Turkey has been gradually developing as a democratic republic since WWII. Opponents of the disastrous war and the “freedom agenda” said that democratic and representative government was alien to almost all Arab countries. Lebanon was and remains the exception. That was true. Maliki’s semi-dictatorship in Baghdad does little to change that assessment. Bush based his conviction that the U.S. should install democratic government in a predominantly Arab country on the general lack of such governments in Arab countries, which democratists concluded was a principal source of jihadism. To the extent that Bush and his allies were serious in wanting to democratize Arab countries, they were taking for granted that democratic government was alien to these countries, which is why the U.S. had to introduce it directly through active promotion. What Bush and his allies also said was that democratic government was part of a “single model of human progress,” and that therefore every society should be governed this way, and furthermore that every society was capable of governing itself this way. That was the far-fetched claim that most of Bush’s critics couldn’t accept, because it is nothing more than an ideological conviction.

Will at The League:

The analytical gymnastics Jennifer Rubin is forced to perform here to defend the invasion of Iraq are pretty impressive. If the Tunisian revolution spurs reform in neighboring countries, her line of reasoning goes, Iraq’s quasi-democratic political process must be having a similar effect in the region. I know little about the Middle East and less about Tunisia, but let me suggest one important distinction: If the “Jasmine Revolution” inspires emulation in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, it will have something to do with the fact that Tunisia’s political upheaval was a genuinely organic, popular movement that isn’t perceived as the result of outside meddling. Whatever the merits of Iraq’s new government, it will never enjoy that type of currency in the region, which is why overblown claims about the positive regional consequences of our invasion remain so unpersuasive.

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Bloggers Contemplate A Door That Revolves

James Fallows:

Last night, on the “Virtually Speaking” discussion about the media with Jay Rosen of NYU, we talked about the phenomenon of things that everyone in the press corp “knows” but that don’t make their way into news stories or broadcasts. One such category involves things that everyone suspects but can’t quite prove — for instance, how involved Dick Cheney and Karl Rove were in the Valerie Plame case. Or, to make it bipartisan, about Bill Clinton’s sexual behavior over the years. But another category, which I think is even more important, involves things that everyone “knows” but has stopped noticing. This is very similar to what is called “Village” behavior in the big time media.

An item in this second category has just come up: the decision of Peter Orszag, until recently the director of the Office of Management and Budget under Barack Obama, to join Citibank in a senior position. Exactly how much it will pay is not clear, but informed guesses are several million dollars per year. Citibank, of course, was one of the institutions most notably dependent on federal help to survive in these past two years.

Objectively this is both damaging and shocking.

– Damaging, in that it epitomizes and personalizes a criticism both left and right have had of the Obama Administration’s “bailout” policy: that it’s been too protective of the financial system’s high-flying leaders, and too reluctant to hold any person or institution accountable. Of course there’s a strong counter argument to be made, in the spirit of Obama’s recent defense of his tax-cut compromise. (Roughly: that it would have been more satisfying to let Citi and others fail, but the results would have been much more damaging to the economy as a whole.) But it’s a harder argument to make when one of your senior officials has moved straight to the (very generous) Citi payroll. Any competent Republican ad-maker is already collecting clips of Orszag for use in the next campaign.

– Shocking, in the structural rather than personal corruption that it illustrates. I believe Orszag (whom I do not know at all) to be a faultlessly honest man, by the letter of the law. I am sorry for his judgment in taking this job,* but I am implying nothing whatsoever “unethical” in a technical sense. But in the grander scheme, his move illustrates something that is just wrong. The idea that someone would help plan, advocate, and carry out an economic policy that played such a crucial role in the survival of a financial institution — and then, less than two years after his Administration took office, would take a job that (a) exemplifies the growing disparities the Administration says it’s trying to correct and (b) unavoidably will call on knowledge and contacts Orszag developed while in recent public service — this says something bad about what is taken for granted in American public life.

More Fallows:

I made a mistake several days ago when lamenting Peter Orszag’s decision to take a senior job with Citibank, reportedly for several million dollars per year, so soon after leaving a senior Obama Administration post. Over the past two-plus years, Obama (and GW Bush) policies played a crucial role in saving Citi — and in not holding its executives (or other senior financial-world figures) accountable for polices that brought on the world financial crisis or reining in top-end pay as profitability has returned. Now a senior member of the Obama team — Orszag was budget director — was going straight to one of those top-end jobs, even as his former colleagues in the administration have their hands full fighting the social, economic, and political effects of the crisis on “ordinary” Americans who can’t find jobs or are losing their homes.

My mistake was not in pointing out this problem, nor in identifying it as the kind of thing that is notable precisely because no one even stops to remark on it any more. It was in the sentence that said, “Objectively this is both damaging and shocking.” That’s the difference between one-draft web postings and many-times-edited print articles. What I meant was, “Politically this is damaging and should be shocking.” Because the real point is that official Washington should notice this instance of structural corruption — but won’t.

If you’re wondering just how taken for granted such arrangements are in today’s Washington/ Versailles, here’s a data point. The Washington Post, still aspiring to be official journal of politics, has not published a single story about Orszag’s new job. Here is what its search function shows just now:
WaPo3.png

“Please try another search” indeed. How about “things that are depressing”? To their credit, the Post’s Ezra Klein and Ed O’Keefe each had one-line links on their sites, pointing to (respectively) the NYT “Dealbook” and Reuters stories on Orszag. (And those links come up if you search the Post’s site for “Orszag Citigroup.” Otherwise there appears to have been no “news” coverage by the Post. Klein also had this follow-up link to an item called “Our Peter Orszag Problem” on the Economist’s site.) The gap between the things the Post considers “scandals,” and a development like this, so taken for granted as not to merit mention, says too much about our politics.

More Fallows

Will Wilkinson at DiA at The Economist:

Mr Fallows hits the nail on the head, but what this structural injustice means, politically and ideologically, remains unclear. In my opinion, the seeming inevitability of Orszag-like migrations points to a potentially fatal tension within the progressive strand of liberal thought. Progressives laudably seek to oppose injustice by deploying government power as a countervailing force against the imagined opressive and exploitative tendencies of market institutions. Yet it seems that time and again market institutions find ways to use the government’s regulatory and insurer-of-last-resort functions as countervailing forces against their competitors and, in the end, against the very public these functions were meant to protect.

We are constantly exploited by the tools meant to foil our exploitation. For a progressive to acknowledge as much is tantamount to abandoning progressivism. So it’s no surprise that progressives would rather worry over trivialities such as campaign finance reform than dwell on the paradoxes of political power. But it really isn’t the Citizens United decision that’s about to make Peter Orszag a minor Midas. It’s the vast power of a handful of Washington players, with whom Mr Orszag has become relatively intimate, to make or destroy great fortunes more or less at whim. Well-connected wonks can get rich on Wall Street only because Washington power is now so unconstrained. Washington is so unconstrained in no small part because progressives and New Dealers and Keynesians and neo-cons and neo-liberals for various good and bad reasons wanted it that way. So, what is to be done? Summon a self-bottling genie-bottling genie?

The classically liberal answer is to make government less powerful. The monstrous offspring of entangled markets and states can be defeated only by the most thorough possible separation. But public self-protection through market-state divorce can work only if libertarians are right that unfettered markets are not by nature unstable, that they do not lead to opressive concentrations of power, that we would do better without a central bank, and so on. Most of us don’t believe that. Until more of us do, we’re not going far in that direction. And maybe that’s just as well. Maybe it’s true that markets hum along smoothly only with relatively active government intervention and it’s also true that relatively active government intervention is eventually inevitably co-opted, exacerbating rather than mitigating capitalism’s injustices. Perhaps the best we can hope ever to achieve is a fleeting state of grace when fundamentally unstable forces are temporarily held in balance by an evanescent combination of complementary cultural currents. This is increasingly my fear: that there is no principled alternative to muddling through; that every ideologue’s op-ed is wrong, except the ones serendipitously right. But muddle we must.

So what is to be done about the structural injustice spotlighted by Peter Orszag’s passage through the revolving golden door? How exactly do we tweak the unjust structure? If the system is rigged, how exactly do we unrig it? In which direction can we muddle without making matters worse?

Ezra Klein:

But reading the coverage, I’ve been struck by a few things.

1. I’m not nearly so sure it’s about the money as other people seem to be. Orszag is fairly wealthy already (my understanding is he sold off an economic consulting firm when he became director of the Congressional Budget Office), and his lifetime of public service positions does not suggest a man particularly motivated by income. Rather, I think people are underestimating the lure of the job itself.

Orszag has gone as high as he’s likely to go in government, and he’s 41 years old. The guy isn’t done, but there’s not much more for him in Washington. So what is left for him?

Well, he could do academia or a think tank. But that’s a pretty sedate, low-stress existence compared with the tempo he’s kept up over the past few decades. Let’s say he doesn’t want to move into a wiseman or advisory role. New York Times columnist didn’t seem like a bad gig to me, but then, I’ve chosen to devote my life to similar pursuits. I’m not really sure why anyone would want to be a university president. You sometimes hear people say that he should’ve sat around and been fairly rich and respected, but I imagine that gets boring after the first decade or so.

Citigroup is a really big, really powerful institution. Orszag’s position in it is the sort of position that could one day lead to being president of Citigroup. If you’re him, and you’re trying to figure out an interesting and high-impact way to spend the next 40 years, I can see why it’s appealing. But it’s the power and the job and the opportunity, more than the money, that make it appealing.

2. The problem is less why Orszag wanted to go to Citigroup than why Citigroup wanted to hire Orszag. In Citigroup, you’re dealing with a bank that’s simply much more reliant than other banks are on connections with the American government, and other governments. Bank of America has similar needs, and so too do a couple of others, but it’s a short list.

Whether Orszag was a smart hire on these grounds is hard to say. It’s difficult to overstate how much bad will has developed between Orszag and the White House he used to serve. Some of that comes from perceived disloyalty in Orszag’s public statements — like his first New York Times column, which called for a short-term extension of all the tax cuts when the White House was arguing for the permanent extension of most of the cuts and the expiration of the cuts for the rich — but this move, which many in the administration consider politically problematic and personally distasteful, added considerably to the anger.

What Citigroup gets in Orszag is a brilliant policy mind and a deep understanding of government, not to mention a thick rolodex that certainly still has some friendly names on it. The reasons those things are valuable to Citigroup make most of us uncomfortable, and that goes double after the government bailed Citigroup out during the financial crisis. I highly doubt that the meetings between Orszag and Citigroup left him with the impression that he was getting hired to help with governmental affairs. His portfolio, in fact, is explicitly international. But I don’t know anyone who believes that it will stay that way.

Brad DeLong:

Look: Peter Orszag believes–as do I–that the most basic principles of good governance mandate that the American government have a long-term plan in place to match its long-term projected expenditures with its long-term projected revenues. Peter Orszag believes–as do I–that requiring that every policy initiative be paid-for in the long-term so that it does not increase the projected debt, say, ten years out into the future is the minimum low bar that policy should be able to clear.

Barack Obama has not taken Peter Orszag’s advice: he has not proposed only initiatives that are paid-for in the long-term. He has not pledged to veto bills that raise the projected debt ten years hence.

Peter Orszag is no longer in the government.

Does he now have a duty to tell those who read his New York Times columns the same things that he told Obama when he was in government?

Or does he have a duty to tell lies to his readers about what he thinks good policy is in order to advance the interests of an administration that he is no longer part of?

I would say he has the first duty.

Matthew Yglesias:

As I understand it, the concern is that the the job itself is a bribe. In a super-crass version of this, Firm A says to Regulator Z “you won’t be in this job forever, but if you make a lot of decisions favorable to Firm A then we’ll hire you after you quit.” In a more realistic version what happens is that Regulator Z observes that many of his predecessors have gone on to lucrative careers in Industry A and that they probably couldn’t have had if they’d pissed off all the Industry A CEOs. This biases his decision-making in a problematic way.

Sometimes I think this problem is more apparent than real. Any conceivable set of decisions that the FCC makes is going to be favorable to some set of large corporations. So being in the pocket of “big business” as such isn’t a big problem. But sometimes the problem is very real. The entire financial reform debate, for example, has featured a lot of ideas that put the interests of the financial sector as such at stake. Many observers, including Ezra Klein, have posited that shrinking the size of the financial sector overall should be a goal of reform. Obviously, though, people with an ambition to go get jobs in the financial sector are unlikely to espouse such goals.

Will at The League:

Peter Orszag’s new job at Citigroup is one of those under-discussed stories that makes me glad I read blogs. It also makes me depressed because I’m struggling to envision a plausible solution to the problems of regulatory capture and the revolving door between government and the financial services industry. You can imagine better policies arising in a lot of areas – farm subsidies, for example – if we magically removed certain political constraints, but even if you were given free reign to remake the United States’ political system, the problem of regulating an incredibly complicated financial sector would still be pretty tough to figure out.

If you’ll permit me to simplify things for the sake of brevity, the standard progressive view of the financial sector is that we need more and better regulators. This is complicated by the fact that regulation – particularly regulation that involves opaque financial practices – is complex and therefore vulnerable to companies gaming the system. Former high-level Administration officials accepting jobs at financial institutions that were just bailed out basically exemplifies these concerns.

The libertarian/conservative rejoinder is that less regulation equals less opportunities for politically-connected firms to hijack the system. As a safeguard against future financial meltdowns, I find this unsatisfying for a number of reasons: First, attempts to describe the roots of the financial crisis solely through the lens of government intervention sound pretty silly. And second, if the regulatory and administrative superstructure of government is fatally compromised by insiders and corporate lobbyists, are we sure we  can successfully deconstruct that system from within? I think this is part of what liberals are getting at when they suggest the conservative movement is basically a front group for rich people and big business: sure, you might make election year noises about limited government, but genuinely populist conservative impulses take a backseat to corporate interests in a political and regulatory environment dominated by insiders. In other words, the Tea Party will never beat Goldman Sachs at its own game.

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The Washington Monthly Goes To College

Daniel DeVise at WaPo:

Washington Monthly, a magazine with unusually robust higher education coverage, today released its own attempt at a ranking of colleges and universities.

The magazine is a relatively new entrant to the rankings field, which has become very crowded in recent years.

The trick is to offer something different than U.S. News & World Report, whose rankings stress reputation, graduation rates, test scores and other measures that produce a fairly predictable list of well-endowed and prestigious universities. At its genesis in the 1980s, a simple formula that yielded a ranking with Harvard, Princeton and Yale at the top made all the sense in the world, a gratifying affirmation of common wisdom. Three decades later, the approach is a magnet for criticism: the rankings are seen by some as telling college customers something they already know.

Washington Monthly rates and ranks colleges “based on their contribution to the public good,” and in three categories: “Social Mobility (recruiting and graduating low-income students), Research (producing cutting-edge scholarship and PhDs), and Service (encouraging students to give something back to their country).”

(Whether those criteria ought to be the basis for choosing a college is a topic for another day.)

The ranking yields unusual results. Public universities fare well, because of their strength in research and fairly high marks for serving low-income students. Three University of California campuses, in San Diego (!), Berkeley and Los Angeles, rank 1-2-3 among national universities by the WaMo formula. Harvard ranks ninth, Yale 33rd.

The College of William and Mary ranks a very respectable 10th on that list, partly because of its second-in-the-nation ranking for producing Peace Corps volunteers. (Who knew?) Georgetown ranks 19th.

David Moltz at Inside Higher Ed:

The Washington Monthly has yet again irked some educators, as it did three years ago, by ranking what it calls “America’s Best Community Colleges” using openly available student engagement survey data.

Using benchmarking data from the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE) and four-year federal graduation rates in an equation of its own making, the magazine attempts to rank the top 50 community colleges in the country in its latest issue. Though the periodical’s editors say they only hope to highlight “what works and what doesn’t” at these institutions by ranking them, CCSSE officials have denounced the use of their data in this way and argue it may do more harm than good.

Community colleges are often underrecognized,” said Kevin Carey, author of the magazine’s community college rankings and policy director at Washington-based think tank Education Sector. “But there’s been a lot of attention paid to them, thanks to the president’s recent effort [with the American Graduation Initiative]. Since he supports investing and improving community colleges, we felt like it was a good time to ask, ‘What do good community colleges look like?’ If we’re going to spend a lot of money, let’s see what reflects best practices out there.”

Carey admitted that such a ranking of community colleges would not be possible without data from CCSSE, a survey run by the University of Texas at Austin that goes out to students at around 650 two-year institutions and uses the results to judge the colleges on broad categories such as “active and collaborative learning,” “student effort,” “academic challenge,” “student-faculty interaction” and “support for learners.” Though every participating college’s survey data are made public, institutional officials are encouraged to compare their benchmark scores only to national averages and those of large peer groups, such as institutions of similar size or in a similar geographic area.

Despite warnings from CCSSE officials that its data sets were never meant to be used to generate college rankings, Carey defended the decisions to do so and to have CCSSE data count for 85 percent of a college’s ranking.

“We always equate admissions selectivity with quality,” Carey said. “Well, all community colleges have the same admissions policy, but they aren’t always as good as one another. Part of this was to find a way to talk about excellence in the sector. We’re publicizing information about best practices. We’re talking about it here, and this is an interesting and long-overdue conversation that we need to have at the federal level.”

David Leonhardt at NYT:

The college guide is part of Washington Monthly’s continuing effort to build better college rankings. The biggest flaw with the famous U.S. News & World Report ranking is that it largely rewards colleges that enroll highly qualified (and, typically, affluent) students, regardless of how much those students learn while on campus. Washington Monthly instead tries reward those colleges that do a good job educating students.

The methodology is far from perfect, because the data needed to build a really good ranking doesn’t exist. But I find Washington Monthly’s approach more interesting than virtually any other ranking out there. It relies in significant part on a comparison between a college’s actual graduation rate and the graduation rate that would be predicted by the students’ economic backgrounds. The No. 1 university this year is the University of California, San Diego, and the No. 1 liberal arts college is Morehouse, in Georgia.

The magazine has also identified the 200 colleges with the worst record of graduating students. Mr. Glastris writes:

These colleges make up 15 percent of the total and disproportionately serve working-class and minority students. They are akin to the 15 percent of high schools Barack Obama and other would-be reformers have dubbed “dropout factories” for having scandalously low graduation rates — on average about 50 percent. But the average graduation rate at the 200 “college dropout factories” is 26 percent. America’s worst colleges, in other words, are twice as bad as its worst high schools.

This is an appalling waste of human talent. The students who go to these colleges are, by and large, strivers. They are the ones who made it out of the bad high schools. When they then try to improve their lives by seeking a college degree, they are steered — via relative tuition costs and geographic convenience — toward precisely those institutions where they are most likely to fail. Lest you think the fault lies not with the colleges but with the students’ lack of academic preparedness, consider this: enroll those same students in different colleges and their chances of graduating double or even triple.

One of the highest dropout rates in the nation belongs to Chicago State University, as Ben Miller and Phuong Ly explain in one article.

Ben Miller and Phuong Ly at The Washington Monthly:

It was money—or the lack of it—that determined where Nestor Curiel chose to go to college. The third of six children in an immigrant Mexican family, Nestor grew up in Blue Island, a gritty working-class suburb near Chicago’s South Side. His father worked, and still works, two jobs—machine operator and restaurant dishwasher—and his mother makes and sells crocheted gifts. Nestor, a polite twenty-one-year-old with black-rimmed glasses, graduated from Eisenhower High School with a 3.6 GPA and dreams of becoming an engineer. (As a child he was inspired by Discovery Channel documentaries about engineering marvels, and he also enjoyed helping his dad repair automobiles on weekends.) He particularly wanted to help his parents pay off the mortgage on their weathered gray house, which is two doors down from a corner store with a large “WE ACCEPT WIC” sign in the window.

Nestor was an above-average high school student who generally made the honors list, and he was diligent in his non-school hours as well, holding down a part-time job as a busboy and line cook at the restaurant where his father worked. His ACT score was 18, equivalent to about 870 on the SAT, which wasn’t high enough to gain him admission to a selective college. (This was typical for his school—41 percent Hispanic, 38 percent black—where only 31 percent of kids meet or exceed standards on state tests, versus 76 percent for the state.) And, apart from a career fair, Eisenhower High School didn’t provide much in the way of college guidance. One time, a guest speaker had urged students to expand their horizons and apply to schools out of state, but Nestor worried about going somewhere unfamiliar. Also, if he could live at home, he would save money.

Ultimately, Nestor wound up narrowing his choices down to two nearby schools: Purdue University Calumet and Chicago State University. Each seemed to have advantages and disadvantages, but Chicago State offered one extra perk: $1,000 in scholarship money if Nestor enrolled in its pre-engineering program. That sealed the deal. The stipend, combined with federal and state grants and a private scholarship from Chicago’s George M. Pullman Educational Foundation, meant that Nestor could get a college education with most of his expenses paid.

With its tree-lined campus and gleaming new steel and glass convocation center, Chicago State certainly looked impressive. But within his first month there, Nestor wanted to leave. Advisers in the engineering department seemed clueless about guiding him to the right courses, insisting that if he wanted to take programming he first needed to enroll in a computer class that showed students how to turn on a monitor and operate a mouse. (Nestor required no such training.) The library boasted a robot that retrieved books, but Nestor would have preferred that it simply stay open past eight p.m., since class sometimes ended at nine p.m. or later, leaving him without a useful place to study or do research before going home. Trash littered the classrooms and grounds, and during class many of the students would simply carry on conversations among themselves and ignore the instructors—or even talk back to them. Nestor was appalled. “It was like high school, but I was paying for it,” he says.

Several students he knew dropped out, but Nestor stayed. “I wasn’t going to give them my money and let them kick me out,” he says. For the next two years, Nestor encountered a ceaseless array of impediments to getting through school. When he wanted to get a tutor, his advisers couldn’t offer any advice about who might be available. When he visited the financial aid office to clear up what seemed like a simple clerical error depriving him of a state grant, the office told him—untruthfully, as it turned out—that getting such grant money would disqualify him from getting any scholarship money from the Pullman Foundation. (By the time the situation was straightened out, the first semester of his sophomore year was nearly over, and the financial office gave Nestor only $780 of what was supposed to be a $1,200 grant, telling him that it couldn’t give him money for a semester that was ending. “It kind of felt like they were stealing from me,” he says.) Only with the help of two dedicated instructors—Shuming Zheng, an engineering professor, and Thomas Kuhn, a physics lecturer—was Nestor able to finish his pre-engineering credits as planned. Fortunately, this allowed him to transfer to a superior school, the University of Illinois at Chicago, with a $5,000 scholarship.

[…]

Nestor’s experience of educational incompetence at the college level isn’t just a Chicago phenomenon. Nationwide, low-income minority students are disproportionately steered toward colleges not where they’re most likely to succeed, but where they’re most likely to fail.

School reformers, including President Obama, often talk about high school “dropout factories.” These are the roughly 2,000 public high schools, about 15 percent of the total, with the nation’s highest dropout rates. The average student at these schools has about a fifty-fifty chance of graduating, according to the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University. But the term “dropout factory” is also applicable to colleges. The Washington Monthly and Education Sector, an independent think tank, looked at the 15 percent of colleges and universities with the worst graduation records—about 200 schools in all—and found that the graduation rate at these schools is 26 percent. (See the table at left for a listing of the fifty colleges and universities with the worst graduation rates.) America’s “college dropout factories,” in other words, are twice as bad at graduating their students as the worst high schools are at graduating theirs.

Nearly everyone considers it scandalous when poor kids are shunted into lousy high schools with low graduation rates, and we have no problem naming and shaming those schools. Bad primary and secondary schools are frequently the subject of front-page newspaper investigations and the backdrop for speeches by reformist mayors and school district chiefs. But bad colleges are spared such scrutiny. This indifference is inexcusable now that a postsecondary credential has become virtually indispensable to anyone hoping to lead a middle-class life. If we want better outcomes in higher education, we need to hold dropout factories like Chicago State accountable in the same way the Obama administration proposes to hold underperforming high schools accountable: transform them—or shut them down.

When one examines the schools on the list of college dropout factories—the worst being Southern University at New Orleans, with a 5 percent graduation rate—one thing that stands out is their diversity. Geographically, they are all over the map. From New York to Florida to Alaska—few regions of the United States are spared a local dropout factory. Some, like Chicago State, the University of the District of Columbia, and Houston’s Texas Southern University, are located in big cities; others, like Sul Ross State University and Heritage University, are in small towns and rural areas. Nor is there a bias toward public or private institutions: it’s split fairly evenly, although the public colleges, which are generally bigger, tend to account for greater numbers of dropouts. Some are heavily weighted toward certain minority groups—historically black colleges, for instance, and tribal colleges. Others, like Idaho State, are 80 percent white and do just as poorly. Some of the schools are religious—like Jarvis Christian College, with a 90 percent attrition rate. Most are just seemingly ordinary schools that mostly fly beneath the radar of the national press.

But there are also similarities. As a percentage of their student bodies, these college dropout factories enroll twice as many part-time students, nearly twice as many from low-income families, and around 50 percent more blacks and Hispanics than the average American college or university. They mainly serve local communities, admit most of their applicants, and have much less money than colleges that are higher in prestige. Most upper-middle-class parents would never send their kids to these schools—nor have they generally even heard of them. Not surprisingly, the worst of the dropout factories are allowed to roll along in dysfunction, year after year.

Ben Miller at The Quick and The Ed:

In an article for the Washington Monthly’s annual College Guide, my co-author, Phuong Ly, and I show how legions of low-income and minority students find themselves steered precisely toward the colleges where they’re most likely to fail–these higher education dropout factories. These schools are enormous wastes of human talent, a fact that’s even sadder when you consider that they are most often the low-income students who beat the odds to graduate from lousy high schools.

It’s easy to shift some of the blame for this problem to the students. But that would be a mistake–data show that similarly talented individuals who go elsewhere have a much better chance of succeeding. An institution with a graduation rate of 13 percent, 19 percent, 25 percent, is doing a service to no one and it’s time to seriously think about reforming or even maybe shutting down some of these dropout factories.

To read more about Nestor, see the names of the 50 worst dropout factories, and learn more about what can be done to stop places like Chicago State, go ahead and read the whole thing.

Daniel Luzer at The Washington Monthly:

Welcome to today’s increasingly elite higher education system, where lavish campuses, high tuition, and huge undergraduate debt loads have become the norm. In dogged competition for affluent, high-scoring students, today’s second-tier colleges aim to achieve higher prestige by aping the superficial characteristics of America’s traditionally elite schools. Indeed, there are few alternatives for ambitious administrators. “If you want to rise, you try to do the things that make you look like Harvard,” says David Labaree, a professor of education at Stanford University. “It’s hard to take a different path.”

To be sure, there was more to GW’s transformation than just a tuition hike and a campus makeover. The administration also engaged in an aggressive marketing campaign, smartly selling GW’s location in the heart of the nation’s capital as a precious asset. (A full-page advertisement in Foreign Affairs features a map of downtown Washington with GW highlighted. Also lit up are the IMF, the World Bank, the White House, the Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve Bank, the State Department, and the Kennedy Center. “Welcome to the neighborhood,” it says.)

[…]

Many GW students come from families that can’t afford high tuition. As a result, students borrow—a lot. The average borrower leaves Foggy Bottom with $31,299 worth of debt, among the highest levels in the country. That’s thousands more than the average at nearby Georgetown. Some students, like Greg Godfrey, graduate owing $100,000 or more. The son of a Cleveland single mother, Godfrey spent years living hand to mouth after graduating with a business degree in 2006, and still owes more than $75,000. “You just don’t know what you’re doing when you sign up for this stuff,” Godfrey says.

Nor is it clear that Godfrey and his fellow students got a great long-term investment in return. According to People Capital, an organization that tracks earning potential, a typical GW student (political science major, with average GW SAT scores and a 3.0 college GPA) would have almost exactly the same career earning potential if he attended significantly lower-debt schools like the University of Virginia or the University of Maryland.

If GW puts many of its students in a financially precarious situation, it’s worth noting that the school itself shares much the same plight. Like a recent graduate with a crushing loan, GW operates on the fiscal equivalent of paycheck to paycheck, covering nearly 80 percent of annual expenses from tuition revenue—much higher than the 40 percent average among private national research universities. The university generates little revenue from its endowment, and prospects of improving the situation are bleak: only 11 percent of alumni donate, compared to the average among similar universities in the 50 percent range.

Godfrey, for one, doesn’t plan to donate to his alma mater anytime soon. While he’s now making a decent salary—he recently obtained a job at World Wrestling Entertainment working on digital media products—he still pays some $700 a month to service the loans he accumulated studying at GW. “I mean, maybe if I made like $3 million a year I’d give something to GW,” Godfrey jokes.

Meanwhile, despite the high tuition, GW’s assault on the upper reaches of higher education status has stalled: the university made it all the way to fifty-first place on the U.S. News list in 2004, just short of tier one, but has fallen back a few spots since. GW seems to have found the upper limits of arriviste institution building in higher education. Other striving campuses, including Boston University, Drexel, and Northeastern, have ended up in similar circumstances. The wrappings have become fancier than ever, but the product inside tastes pretty much the same.

The GW institutional model—embracing high tuition, excessive construction projects, and massive undergraduate debt—has become the dominant one in higher education, and every university president seems to want to be Stephen Joel Trachtenberg. American University, for instance, another second-tier school just four and a half miles from GW, does exactly the same things GW does, only more so. The average borrower leaves American about $41,000 in debt. Some 84 percent of American’s operating budget is funded by undergraduate tuition. A whole host of second-tier national universities operate in the same manner: they spend on the things that U.S. News measures, and they pay for them with practices that U.S. News doesn’t care about, like student loans.

Will at The League:

I think there are two things at work here. As the authors note, it’s extremely difficult for rising high school seniors to make fine grain distinctions between elite universities. Fancy buildings and impressive-looking architecture are undoubtedly useful tools for wooing would-be undergrads.

But I also think that this is a consequence of students viewing college as something to be experienced rather than the more traditional, achievement-oriented process. Commentators who take on the “college as a life experience” approach to higher education tend to complain about partying, sports culture, and Greek life. And fair enough – none of these activities are really integral to the core educational mission of colleges and universities. But the highbrow equivalent of tailgating and keg stands is going to a college that prizes impressive facilities and mindless credentialism over academics, which is exactly the demographic GW  seems to be after. Would GW’s prestige-driven strategy work without a pool of students (and parents) eager to attend an institution whose core appeal consists of networking opportunities and squash (“A GW athletic director explained to the Washington Post that the whole point of the GW squash program was to attract students who wanted to attend an Ivy League college and couldn’t get in.”)? I think not, which is why the problems of higher education are more deeply-rooted than a few cynical administrators.

Reihan Salam:

Now, Luzer is doing middle-class parents a service by puncturing some of the pretensions that surround a university like GW. Yet given the growth in the number of upper-middle-class households, it’s hardly surprising that we’d see positional competition in this space. Of course a handful of enterprising schools would try to increase their prestige and engage in high-priced empire-building.

What’s more depressing, as Luzer notes, are the heavy debt loads taken on by students from middle and working class households:

Many GW students come from families that can’t afford high tuition. As a result, students borrow—a lot. The average borrower leaves Foggy Bottom with $31,299 worth of debt, among the highest levels in the country. That’s thousands more than the average at nearby Georgetown. Some students, like Greg Godfrey, graduate owing $100,000 or more. The son of a Cleveland single mother, Godfrey spent years living hand to mouth after graduating with a business degree in 2006, and still owes more than $75,000. “You just don’t know what you’re doing when you sign up for this stuff,” Godfrey says.

I still wonder if we should fret about the GWs of the world. After acknowledging that the quality of a GW education might one day catch up to the school’s ambitions, Luzer follows with the most biting line of the piece:

But it seems just as likely that GW could turn out to be one more overleveraged artifact of our gilded age.

Ouch. And the conclusion also packs a punch:

But above all, GW seems vulnerable to a potential change in the way we thinkabout higher education. What if we actually started measuring how much students learn at their colleges and universities? How would that change the competition among institutions? Would the schools with the blue-chip price tags and high average debt loads fall from the top ranks? Would it spell an end to the era in which a forbidding set of entrance standards and a few stone facades are enough to tell us that a school is doing a great job? Let’s hope so. It would be great if moreuniversities competed to be excellent. What we have now is schools that spend a lot of money—students’ money, taxpayers’ money—merely to look that way.

The future Luzer outlines is obviously appealing. The thought that kept crossing my mind while reading the piece was that our tax dollars massively subsidize Trachtenberg’s empire-building, and that doesn’t seem like a very sound way to distribute what is essentially a large public investment.

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“Are You Ready For Some Futbol?!?”

TNR’s world cup blog

Jonathan Last:

It’s happening again.

The most puzzling part of anti-American soccer obsession is that it’s not like Americans don’t like the game of soccer. We all play it at the youth level and–for the most part–have a good time. It’s just that we graduate up to other sports and don’t have much of an appetite for soccer played at the elite level.

And what’s wrong with that? Our interest level in soccer is the mirror image of our interest level in football, which, comparatively few people play at the youth level, but which has great popularity at the professional level.

But the thing is, you never hear football–or baseball, or ultimate frisbee, or tennis, or cycling, or hockey, or curling–or any other kind of fans railing against people who don’t share their passion as if there’s something morally and politically wrong with them. Why is it that soccer fans care so much about what American’s don’t care about?

We’ll never know.

Will at The League:

But despite the thoroughly artificial media blitz surrounding the World Cup and the obnoxious social signaling that goes into American soccer fandom, I’m really looking forward to the tournament. So I thought I’d take a stab at explaining how soccer differs from American sports and why I find its distinctiveness so enjoyable.

Lumping team sports together is a chancy business, but I think there is one important commonality between football, baseball and, to a lesser extent, basketball that distinguishes them from soccer. All three American sports are characterized by short, action-packed intervals followed or preceded by pauses – an inbounds pass that leads to an easy dunk; a pitch that results in a strike that ends an inning; an end-zone reception immediately following a thirty second pause. This is not to say there aren’t fluid sequences in American sports – witness fast-break basketball or baseball’s hallowed triple play. But American teams usually see action in short, frenetic bursts instead of the slower build-up of a good soccer match.

To an outsider, the notion that a two hour football game only consists of 11 minutes of televised action must seem absurd. At its best, however, the pauses accentuate tension and allow for more elaborate plays, more back-and-forth adjustments between the teams’ respective coaches, and a level of athletic execution that would be impossible in a less controlled, faster-paced environment. For the most part, this is a trade-off I can accept. To take another example from American sports, good pitching duels include plenty of pregnant pauses. I don’t think this detracts from the action so much as it heightens the tension of athletic competition.

Soccer has fewer pauses, fewer substitutions, and no timeouts. As a consequence, the manager (coach) has very little opportunity to pause or direct in-game play. Soccer also tends to be more spontaneous, more dynamic, and less scripted. While physical contact or bad execution will sometimes slow the game down to an unbearable pace, the rules of soccer allow for a level of fluidity that would be impossible in an American context (transition-oriented basketball is the only exception I can think of, but that’s  still broken up by frequent timeouts, inbound passes, and the tempo of the opposing team). The build-up to the first Dutch goal in the 1974 World Cup final is a classic example of soccer’s distinctive style – despite a slow start, the Dutch control the ball for over a minute before Johan Cruyf streaks through the defense to draw a penalty kick.

Maybe the contrast between the short, frenetic play of American athletes and the fluid build-up of a European soccer match offers some insight into our respective cultural psyches. But I suspect a more fluid style of play already appeals to American sports audiences. Fast-paced, transition-oriented basketball was the calling card of Magic Johnson and the Showtime-era Lakers. A quarterback-directed hurry-up offense is often the most exciting part of a football match. So if you like fast-paced team competition, give soccer a try. But if the World Cup isn’t your thing, I won’t hold it against you.

Daniel Gross at Slate:

Being a soccer fan at World Cup time in America is a little like being Jewish in December in a small town in the Midwest. You sense that something big is going on around you, but you’re not really a part of it. And the thing you’re celebrating and enjoying is either ignored or misunderstood by your friends, peers, and neighbors. It can be a lonely time. But the World Cup is much bigger than Christmas. After all, only a couple of billion people in the world celebrate Christmas; the World Cup is likely to garner the attention of a much larger audience. Yet in the world’s largest and most important sports competition, the American team, and the American audience, is a marginal, bit player. And for those of us who love the game of soccer and the World Cup, and for the few of us who followed the ups and downs of Landon Donovan’s career, these next couple weeks are likely to be bittersweet.

[…]

Oh, sure, you can find other enthusiasts. A few Slate colleagues pass around YouTube links to the latest sick goal. Urban hipsters are obliged to show some interest in the game, the same way they do in CSAs, and facial hair (for men) and yoga (for women). On the Internet, there’s the high-brow crew over at the New Republic, (which features an ad for a book from Cornell University press on Spartak Moscow), the fine blogs No Short Corners and Yanks Abroad, and a rising volume of press coverage. But there’s nothing like the volume and sophistication of stuff our frères at Slate.fr are doing. If you want to follow the game, wince with every missed shot, and question coach Bob Bradley’s personnel choices, you’ll have to venture into the fever swamps of BigSoccer.com. There you will find some people who live and die with status updates of defender Oguchi Onyewu’s knee. But they’re only avatars.

Following the U.S. national team in the World Cup is a somewhat solitary endeavor in part because the scheduling doesn’t lend itself to social or family watching. Unlike the Olympics, the World Cup is not scheduled or televised according to U.S. preferences—the last time the quadrennial tournament was staged in the Western hemisphere was 1994. To watch the United States’ opening game in the 2002 World Cup, I had to go to the Irish pub across from my New York apartment at 4 a.m. This year the schedule is only slightly better: this Saturday against England at 2:30 p.m. ET, Friday, June 18, against Slovenia at 10 a.m. ET, then Wednesday, June 23, at 10 a.m. ET, against Algeria. Yes, pubs and sports bars will be showing the games. But how many people will leave work, or take the day off, or skip the Little League game or pool party, to sit indoors and watch a soccer match? My guess is that when the U.S. plays England, the bars in New York and Los Angeles will be like Condé Nast in the 1990s—overrun with Brits.

I won’t be there. On Saturday afternoon, I’ll be at a family gathering, one at which I’m confident nobody will be checking scores or talking about the potentially epic matchup with England. I’ll have to tape it and watch it later, most likely alone. At least I’m confident none of my close friends or family members will call, e-mail, or text me with scores or updates, and that I can safely listen to the radio without the result intruding. On the other hand, I might have to shut off my Twitter feed. I follow a few foreigners.

Matthew Philbin at Newsbusters:

Time magazine is leading the “Ole’s” for soccer this year, putting the World Cup on its cover and dedicating 10 articles to the sport in its June 14 issue.

One of those articles proclaimed in the headline, “Yes, Soccer Is America’s Game.” Author Bill Saporito argued that “soccer has become a big and growing sport.”

“What’s changed is that this sport and this World Cup matter to Americans,” Saporito asserted. “These fans have already made the transition from soccer pioneers to soccer-literate and are gradually heading down the road to soccer-passionate.”

Soccer is even in the White House, Saporito pointed out. President George W. Bush was a former co-owner of a baseball team. And although President Obama played basketball, his daughters play little league soccer, and current White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs played soccer in high school and college.

On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on June 3, host Joe Scarborough noted the importance of the World Cup to other countries, but explained that Americans just don’t understand “what a huge sport this is.” Still, he said hopefully, “It is a growing sport in America as well, isn’t it?”

Growing, but not “huge” by any standard. The final game of the 2006 World Cup drew 16.9 million viewers in the United States. While that number may seem respectable, it pales in comparison with the 106 million viewers that tuned in to watch the 2010 Super Bowl. The final 2009 World Series game drew 22.3 million viewers, and 48.1 million tuned in to watch Duke beat Butler in the 2010 NCAA men’s college basketball championship.

A look at game attendance figures is instructive, as well. According to Major League Soccer’s MLS Daily, as of June 7, 2010, the highest drawing pro soccer team, the Seattle Sounders, averaged 36,146 attendees over seven home games. Conversely, the Seattle Mariners baseball team has averaged 25,314 over 32 home games.

The Mariners are dead last in the American League West division, and 24th in the league in batting average, 30th in home runs, 27th in RBIs and 25th in number of hits. In short, they’re horrible. With a record of 4-5-3, the Sounders aren’t very good either, but they play in a very liberal city, are currently benefiting from World Cup year interest in their sport, and they play a schedule that allows far fewer opportunities for fans to attend.

Another number is Hollywood box office. John Horn of The Los Angeles Times contemplated on June 6 about Hollywood’s lack of a mainstream movie about soccer. In “Why is There No Great Hollywood Soccer Movie?” Horn pointed out that each sport has its own hit movie except soccer.

Robert Costa at The Corner:

When it comes to soccer, I’ll quote Churchill: America, it seems, still has “sublime disinterestedness.”

Michael Agovino at The Atlantic:

During this World Cup, I know there will be kids like me from the Bronx—a soccer wasteland in 1980s; a wasteland period, to some—watching this strange new game and devouring it. Where is Valladolid? Vigo? Bilbao? Cameroon? El Salvador? Algeria? Why does Algeria wear green, Italy blue? Why is it Glasgow Celtic and not the Celtics? Where’s this team Flamengo? Or Corinthians? Why is that skinny man with the beard named Socrates?

They’ll be some curious 14-year-old or 12-year-old or 10-year-old (kids seem so much smarter these days) and maybe they’ll start by bugging their parents for a Kaizer Chiefs jersey. Then, better still, they’ll get the atlas off the shelf, or more likely online, and trace their finger on the computer screen and look for Polokwane and Bloemfontein and Tshwane. Maybe it will take them to the photography of David Goldblatt or to the music of Abdullah Ibrahim (no room for him at the concert last night I suppose), or of the late Lion of Soweto himself, Mahlathini. (Don’t laugh, my first encounter with Joan Miro and Antoni Tapies were from 1982 World Cup posters.) Maybe they’ll learn that the “word,” long ago, was “Johannesburg!”

And they’ll ask questions—why is this stadium named for Peter Mokaba, that one for Moses Mabhida, and who is Nelson Mandela? And they’ll learn and they’ll be obsessed for life.

And that makes me do one thing: smile. Now, may the games begin.

UPDATE: Dave Zirin at NPR

Jonah Goldberg at The Corner

James Fallows

UPDATE #2: Daniel Drezner

UPDATE #3: Stefan Fatsis at Slate

Jonathan Chait at TNR

UPDATE #4: Marc Thiessen at Enterprise Blog

Matt Yglesias on Thiessen

UPDATE $5: Bryan Curtis and Eve Fairbanks at Bloggingheads

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Pearl Harbor, Pom-Poms, And Popcorn

Jim Manzi at The Corner:

Jonah notes Ross Douthat’s very interesting post, in which Ross had this to say:

Conservative domestic policy would be in better shape if conservative magazines and conservative columnists were more willing to call out Republican politicians (and, to a lesser extent, conservative entertainers) for offering bromides instead of substance, and for pandering instead of grappling with real policy questions.

I thought some about this over the past few days, and took this as a direct challenge.

Here goes.

I started to read Mark Levin’s massive bestseller Liberty and Tyranny a number of months ago as debate swirled around it. I wasn’t expecting a PhD thesis (and in fact had hoped to write a post supporting the book as a well-reasoned case for certain principles that upset academics just because it didn’t employ a bunch of pseudo-intellectual tropes). But when I waded into the first couple of chapters, I found that — while I had a lot of sympathy for many of its basic points — it seemed to all but ignore the most obvious counter-arguments that could be raised to any of its assertions. This sounds to me like a pretty good plain English meaning of epistemic closure. The problem with this, of course, is that unwillingness to confront the strongest evidence or arguments contrary to our own beliefs normally means we fail to learn quickly, and therefore persist in correctable error.

I’m not expert on many topics the book addresses, so I flipped to its treatment of a subject that I’ve spent some time studying — global warming — in order to see how it treated a controversy in which I’m at least familiar with the various viewpoints and some of the technical detail.

It was awful. It was so bad that it was like the proverbial clock that chimes 13 times — not only is it obviously wrong, but it is so wrong that it leads you to question every other piece of information it has ever provided.

[…]

But what evidence does Levin present for any of this amazing incompetence or conspiracy beyond that already cited? None. He simply moves on to criticisms of proposed solutions. This is wingnuttery.There are many reasons to write a book. One view is that a book is just another consumer product, and if people want to buy jalapeno-and-oyster flavored ice cream, then companies will sell it to them. If the point of Liberty and Tyranny was to sell a lot of copies, it was obviously an excellent book. Further, despite what intellectuals will often claim, most people (including me) don’t really want their assumptions challenged most of the time (e.g., the most intense readers of automobile ads are people who have just bought the advertised car, because they want to validate their already-made decision). I get that people often want comfort food when they read. Fair enough. But if you’re someone who read this book in order to help you form an honest opinion about global warming, then you were suckered. Liberty and Tyranny does not present a reasoned overview of the global warming debate; it doesn’t even present a reasoned argument for a specific point of view, other than that of willful ignorance. This section of the book is an almost perfect example of epistemic closure.

Andy McCarthy at The Corner:

There will be more to say about this, and I imagine I won’t be the only one to discuss it when time allows. But for now I would just observe that Jim Manzi’s post on Mark Levin’s widely acclaimed book is beneath him. No one minds a good debate, but Jim’s gratuitously nasty tone — “awful,” “Trilateral Commission,” “wingnuttery,” etc. — is just breathtaking. I’ve read a number of Jim’s articles and posts over the years, including more than a few involving exchanges with other writers. He has always struck me as a model of civility, especially in his disagreements with the Left. Why pick Mark for the Pearl Harbor treatment?

Kathryn Jean Lopez at The Corner:

I love debate, as people here know, but to treat Mark Levin as a mere “entertainer” who was just looking for a bestseller is to not know Mark Levin or have taken his book seriously. Besides being entertaining, he’s been a laborer on policy, legal, and political battles that have made substantive differences in the battle to preserve liberty from tyranny. There is heart and soul and years of experience in his book — and a heck of a lot more than cut-and-paste Google searching (!). He’s heard a lot worse and can handle his own battles, but as one who has followed Mark’s career, I found Jim’s tone deeply disappointing. Especially at a time when Liberty actually is endangered and Mark Levin is not to blame.

Via Sullivan, Anonymous Liberal:

First, notice that neither Lopez nor McCarthy bother to address any of Manzi’s substantive points. They’re simply taking issue with the fact that he dared to use strong terms in critiquing the work of a member in good standing of the conservative media. McCarthy’s call for “civility” is particularly rich given that McCarthy himself has made a career out of posting totally off-the-wall and unhinged rants against his favorite left of center targets. The reference to Levin’s “widely-acclaimed book” is also unintentionally hilarious. The only acclamation the book received, of course, was from other members of the epistemically-closed community that Manzi’s describing, people who simply accept whatever a clown like Levin says at face value.

Lopez’ response is even more telling. In short, she says that Levin is defending the world against Tyranny and that’s all that matters. At a time when Freedom itself hangs in the balance, it makes no sense to go after one of the good guys. This kind of tribalism epitomizes everything that is wrong with the right wing approach to politics. First, it’s totally crazy. The notion that somehow the current political debate involves a pitched battle between Good and Evil, between Freedom and Tyranny, is something that only someone deeply ensconced in Bubble World could casually work into a paragraph-long post. Second, the clear implication is that the ends justify the rhetorical means, that it doesn’t matter whether an argument is truthful or empirically supportable as long as it has the end result of helping your team “win.” Lopez’ defense of Levin is not that he’s right, but that he’s “making a difference.”

I commend Manzi for his unexpected candor, but I’m not sure he truly realizes what he’s up against. Like Truman Burbank discovered when he started pointing out the various flaws in his artificial world, no one around him cared. They were all invested in the success of the Show. Manzi’s colleagues at The Corner have a similarly vested in interest in the perpetuation of conservative Bubble World. Facts don’t matter. Winning does.

Daniel Larison:

The other day, Ross called for other conservatives to be more critical of Republican politicians and conservative “entertainers,” and Jim Manzi made the mistake of taking up this challenge and applying intellectual rigor and honesty to a prominent conservative radio host’s book on a subject he understands fairly well. The inevitable circling-of-the-wagons that has followed illustrates perfectly the problem Manzi was trying to address in Levin’s work. Not only do Manzi’s colleagues automatically defend Levin’s sub-par arguments, but they regard it as horribly bad form to dare criticize those arguments with the vehemence that their poor quality would seem to merit. Small wonder that there are so few “magazines and conservative columnists…willing to call out Republican politicians (and, to a lesser extent, conservative entertainers) for offering bromides instead of substance, and for pandering instead of grappling with real policy questions.”

One need only quickly read Levin’s chapter “On Self-Preservation” to find that the sloppiness Manzi skewers so effectively is not limited to the discussion of climate change. In the early part of the chapter, Levin begins by misrepresenting the content of Washington’s Farewell Address:

The address makes clear he did so not because neutrality was an end in itself, but because he feared that taking sides could split the country apart. (p.177)

This is a good example of a deeply misleading half-truth. Washington was concerned about passionate attachments to other countries partly because of the domestic political effects, but he also explicitly argued that the American interest dictated that we remain free of foreign political attachments for many other reasons:

Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld. And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation), facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.

And again:

The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible [bold mine-DL]. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop. Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none; or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.

Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course. If we remain one people under an efficient government. the period is not far off when we may defy material injury from external annoyance; when we may take such an attitude as will cause the neutrality we may at any time resolve upon to be scrupulously respected; when belligerent nations, under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon us, will not lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when we may choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel.

Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor or caprice?

Why, indeed? In other words, President Washington made it quite clear that neutrality provided many goods that Americans would be foolish and unwise to throw away for the sake of taking sides in foreign conflicts in which we had no real stake. Levin badly misinterprets and distorts the meaning of the Farewell Address because Washington’s genuine support for neutrality as the obvious policy that takes advantage of our unique geographical position is deeply at odds with the aggressive interventionism he lauds later in the chapter. Central to Levin’s vision is the maintenance of American superpower status, when this is impossible without the permanent alliances that Washington specifically rejected.

John Cole:

Someone failed to do their audience analysis before trying to argue with, well, facts and data and actual arguments. Manzi should understand by now that all the Corner expects from their contributors are pom poms and the occasional starbursts. And no, you sick bastards, not those pom poms

Will at The League:

There you have it, folks. No arguments, no substantive responses to the original post, nothing more than assurances that Levin’s heart is in the right place and a reminder that we’d best train our fire elsewhere. Maybe I’m over-generalizing from a sample that is too small and too skewed, but the knee-jerk quality of National Review’s response to a challenging and level-headed post on global warming seems pretty damning to me.

E.D. Kain at The League:

I love debate, as all of you here know, but when someone picks on Mark Levin – the most gentlemanly scholar and scholarly gentleman I have ever known, a veritable light in a sea of darkness, the very man whose conservative courage has liberals running for the coasts and whose work has inspired countless millions to the conservative cause – whose calm soothing radio voice has lulled billions of wailing infants to sleep while driving in the car with their parents – well…well…

Well.

It just won’t stand. It won’t stand I say. It will not stand. It might sit or even recline a bit, but it will not freaking stand.

Furthermore, that a man who has a popular radio show and writes pop-conservative bestsellers could be called an “entertainer” is frankly beyond the pale. And not just any pale. Not taupe or off-white. No – it is beyond The Pale. Ivory white. Crest white. Porcelain. Nay, paler than porcelain. Yes, we are entering Michael Jackson territory here. That pale.

I mean, true, Levin is a big boy and he can handle his own battles but really I think he needs us to handle those battles too. It wouldn’t be a pile-on otherwise. I mean, you don’t write at The Corner if you plan on criticizing other conservatives – at least not if those conservatives hate David Frum but still support the Iraq War.

It really is just breathtaking that anyone at The Corner would resort to name-calling or would use such frankly disturbing words as “awful” or – and this might not be safe for work – “wingnuttery”.

I know. Pretty scary stuff. (Bomb Iran!)

He said – in reference to Levin’s opus – the word “wingnuttery” and let me just say that I’m floored. And offended. My preconceived notions about the way the world works have been perhaps irrevocably shaken. That anyone at this fine blog would use words like that to describe a conservative is just – I don’t know. Awful. It’s not nice. It really isn’t. It’s like Pearl Harbor. Or no – no – no it’s like Hiroshima.

I mean, it’s not as though Manzi was attacking a filthy socialist fascist wimpy anti-American atheist liberal or anything. It’s not like he was claiming our president was trying to undermine freedom or was born in Kenya – you know, basic sensible conservative stuff. He was attacking one of his own. And not just one of his own, but Mark Levin. The guy who wrote the best book since Liberal Fascism, hands down.

I don’t know what ‘epistemic closure’ is but I do know Mark Levin, and you sir – you are no Mark Levin. You aren’t even fit to read his book let alone criticize it as some sort of vacuous propagandistic piece of poorly researched garbage.

Wonkette:

Sane Conservative Person Jim Manzi of the National Review, out of nowhere, has gone and stone cold eviscerated the dickens out of his colleague Mark Levin’s stupid bestseller book of lies. “It was awful. It was so bad that it was like the proverbial clock that chimes 13 times — not only is it obviously wrong, but it is so wrong that it leads you to question every other piece of information it has ever provided.” We think he has been holding this one back for some time. Uh oh, Andy McCarthy is first to spittle back! POPCORN

Let me suggest an alternative theory — namely, that the only way to defend a book like “Liberty and Tyranny” against Manzi’s critique is to argue that Levin should be judged primarily as an entertainer, rather than as a rigorous political thinker. There’s nothing wrong with politically-inflected entertainment, whether it’s right-wing or left-wing or something much more unclassifiable. There’s nothing wrong with appreciating these entertainers, admiring their success, and enjoying the way they skewer people and causes you dislike. But to insist that they’re also worth taking seriously as political and intellectual actors in their own right, worthy of keynote speeches at CPAC and admiring reviews in highbrow journals, is to make a category error that does no favors to the larger causes that you and they support. It sets up contrasts that redound to the benefit of your opponents (Rush Limbaugh versus Barack Obama, or Glenn Beck versus Obama, are both binaries that favor liberalism), and invites a level of scrutiny that the entertainers’ work simply can’t support. Both politically and intellectually, American conservatism would be better off if Levin’s fans responded to Manzi’s post, not by objecting that he didn’t take “Liberty and Tyranny” seriously enough (he did take Levin’s arguments seriously, and that’s precisely why his criticisms were so scathing), but by saying “relax, it’s only entertainment.”

hogan at Redstate:

Look – reasonable people can disagree about dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s. And I would, prior to yesterday, have said I was glad a guy like Manzi was out there trying to sift through some of the nonsense out there on global warming to put it all in context, even if I thought him a little squishy for my taste. But, I am sorry there Jim, no matter how much research you’ve done or no matter the extent to which I might even agree with you at times, while you are sitting in your little circle with a bunch of other self-indulgent asses that no one else in the world gives a rip about putting out posts like yesterday’s nonsense, Mark is out on the front lines inspiring a generation of Americans to fight back against statism.

Mark recognizes that when you are at war, while it is important to get facts right (and I think Mark did a darned fine job sourcing his book, giving you the chance to criticize it), it is also important to inspire the troops and to do so by distilling the realities of the fight into useful information. I frankly don’t know if every statistic in Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative was correct or not. Nor do I know if every statistic or number in Reagan’s A Time For Choosing speech in 1964 was correct. I DON’T CARE. I know the facts were in the ballpark, and more importantly, the principles were timeless and correct. I have read Mark’s book, and I know a little about the topics in question – and it’s a good book, with good citations and a lot of good facts.

The entire global warming debate is one of hysteria and deserves the mocking it gets from Mark. It’s filled with lies and scare-mongering, resulting in less freedom, higher taxes, more expensive energy, a worse economy and a lower standard of living for tens or even hundreds of millions of people – for absolutely no good reason. Those who want to make nice on this topic – be it Newt Gingrich sitting on a couch with Nancy Pelosi, be it Lindsey Graham yet again saddling up with democrats to pass a misguided and disastrous cap-and-trade bill, or be it “intellectuals” trying to appear reasonable on the subject – are setting conservatives up for failure cloaked in compromise.

Come 2014, I will continue to use the stockpile of incandescent bulbs I plan to amass in the coming 4 years – and will gladly pay the electric bill so I can have the light I prefer to have. Forgive me for wanting the freedom to have a frigging light bulb of my choosing. I will continue to drive a gas-guzzling Jeep Wrangler if I have to hand-build an engine to replace it, because I freaking like to drive it. I will continue to flush my toilet however many times it takes to get the job done – and I will continue to take a long hot shower.

More McCarthy

Mark Levin responds at The Corner:

I don’t know Jim Manzi, but given his out-of-nowhere rant, you’d think I ran over his dog or something. Feel free to read my book, and the chapter Manzi distorts and cherry-picks, yourself. You don’t need Manzi to interpret it. He’s no true expert on the subject, nor is he logical or coherent in his post. Indeed, he’s a very, very angry advocate of open and well-reasoned debate!

His style of argument here reminds me of that of Andrew Sullivan, for whom Manzi has the highest regard. Which makes me wonder: Since Manzi has appointed himself the umpire around here, will he call out Sullivan for his continuing obsession with Trig Palin in equally harsh terms? Call it the lunacy it is, or even call it “wingnuttery”? At the very least, Manzi is guilty of “epistemic one-sidededness.”

Here are the facts: There is an enormous amount of fraud and politics involved in global-warming science, some of which I mention in the chapter, much of which I didn’t have room to, and none of which Manzi acknowledges. But the research and evidence are available and extensive. I touch on it as best one can in a book that is not focused exclusively on the subject.

I would also encourage you to look at the petition Manzi disparages, having, I’m sure, carefully reviewed the qualifications of each and every expert listed, as he dismisses the entire lot of them. He mentions that 20,000 of the signatories don’t have doctorates. But more than 9,000 do.

Even so, that alone is not the standard. Reading his post, one would think they’re all a bunch of kooks and frauds. He knows this because Scientific American did the hard work of taking a small sample of the group and contacting them. Now, how scientific is that? Global-warming bloggers have unfairly attacked this petition relentlessly. Manzi simply repeats the mantra. He even refers to the phony names on the list, which he hopes will degrade the effort, without realizing that global-warming zealots are responsible for inserting them. How embarrassing.

Conor Friedersdorf at The American Scene:

Obviously I may have missed some responses elsewhere, but suffice it to say that thus far — and it is yet early, so we may see better responses today — the reaction to Mr. Manzi’s post suggest that Julian Sanchez was right, and ought to persuade Jonah Goldberg that there is indeed an epistemic closure problem on the right, regardless of whether or not the same things exist on the left.

In the aftermath of a serious, substantive post that offers specific criticisms of Mr. Levin’s writing on climate change, Mr. Manzi has been called impolite, a tool of the Obama Administration, a financial opportunist, a “True Believer,” a blathering intellectual, and a self-indulgent ass. It is glaringly evident that no one has even attempted to refute his arguments — and since the folks at National Review know Jim Manzi, his honorableness, and where he stands on climate change, it cannot escape their attention that his critics occupy a closed information loop that has misled them about the truth.

Erick Erickson at Redstate:

Now Mark does not need me or anyone else to defend him from the cocktail conservative brigade of the Trig Palin School of Investigative Journalism, but we all should. He did fine work in his book and it is disappointing to see National Review allow such a hit on their site — particularly when so many who post there have in the past had to get someone to sign off on their posts.

It makes you wonder who was asleep at the switch or, if there was no one asleep at the switch, who let it happen.

In any event, I don’t need to defend Mark though I choose to. But Mark has defended himself whereby defending himself means gutting, dicing, and mincing up this Manzi guy.

Manzi responds at The American Scene:

Kathryn / Andy / Mr. Levin,

I accept that it is fair to characterize my tone in the “Epistemic Closure” post as scathing. I apologize (sincerely) if this was offensive to you. All I can say about it is that I was calling a spade a spade as I see it.

Mr. Levin,

Thank you for the reply. I’m happy to give you the last word, and simply invite readers to review both posts and draw whatever conclusions they feel are appropriate.

Jonah Goldberg at The Corner:

Well, I stayed out of the whole brouhaha at first because I had a crazy-busy day. Then, as the argument around here played itself out, it seemed less and less necessary.

Still, since I wrote quite a bit about this “epistemic closure” business, and since Jim’s initial post cited me by name, and since some readers won’t rest until I say something, I guess I’ll say something.

I was a bit miffed at Jim for the way he used what I increasingly believe to be a pretty silly argument about conservative epistemic closure closed-mindedness to break with his well-earned reputation for civility and decorum — and in the Corner no less. If he wanted to argue with Mark about global warming, I don’t see why he needed Ross Douthat’s “challenge” to do so.

Moreover, I remain mystified how he can make this myopic and tendentious case for maintaining a “tactical alliance” with Andrew Sullivan — on the grounds that Sullivan (once?) opposed socialized medicine — but be so enthusiastic for ripping into Mark Levin and a book that came out a year and a half ago. If tactical alliances in the name of beating back bad  policies are the order of the day, Mark Levin is a far more valuable ally in that cause than the Atlantic’s gynecological sleuth.

Regardless, Jim’s apologized for seeming intemperate and I see no reason not to take his apology at face value. Lord knows, I’ve let fly around here far more often than he has. It happens. And in the grand scheme of things, I don’t think Jim’s post warranted the all-hands-on deck response from some of my colleagues.

Mark Levin’s a big boy who is certainly not afraid to dish it out. And I think it is perfectly fair to point out that sometimes he dishes it out quite harshly himself, and then hits his victims over the head with the dish and the frying pan, and then dunks the victim’s head in the lobster tank. I don’t blame him for being shocked at the tone and tenor of an attack coming from such a friendly and collegial quarter. But here’s the important thing: at the end of the day he responded with substance, and that’s as it should be.

Andrew Sullivan:

Oh, please. I still oppose socialized medicine – and the healthcare reform was not socialized medicine. I favor reforming the bill to expand its free market potential, but do not believe it was right to oppose the entire bill rather than engage and reform it. And there is no “tactical alliance.” There is an intellectual overlap. That’s all. Manzi persuaded me, for example, to oppose cap and trade and to be more skeptical even of a carbon tax. Because he offered reasoned arguments based on solid evidence.

David Frum at FrumForm:

The episode reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend a year ago, shortly after I published my piece on Rush Limbaugh in Newsweek. I won’t embarrass my friend by mentioning his name, but if I did, you’d certainly recognize it.

My friend: “You aren’t really mad at Rush Limbaugh you know.”

Me: “I’m not? I thought I was.”

My friend: “You’re not even mad at Fox News. You want to win elections, you know that the troops have to be mobilized, somebody has to get them fired up, and you don’t fire them up with Milton Friedman and James Q. Wilson. You are mad at the conservative intellectual elites. They’re the ones who are supposed to uphold intellectual standards, to sift actual facts from what you call ‘pretend information’. Rush Limbaugh isn’t any worse than he was 20 years ago. But 20 years ago, conservatism offered something more than Rush Limbaugh. Since then, the conservative elite has collapsed. Blame them, not talk radio.”

What happened to Manzi is a perfect illustration of this elite collapse.

Reading through the comments in the Corner, there’s no mistaking who’s in charge, who’s subservient. Two Corner contributors complained about Manzi’s “tone.” Levin is the most vituperative radio host this side of Mike Savage – but imagine anyone at The Corner complaining about Levin’s tone!

Conservatism has always had both elite and popular wings, and in the past they worked together productively. Fred Schwarz drew tens of thousands to his Christian Anti-Communist Crusade in the early 1960s, at the same time as Milton Friedman was publishing Capitalism and Freedom; F.A. Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty; and Edward Banfield, The Moral Basis of a Backward Society. Nobody however demanded that Milton Friedman hail Schwarz’s pamphlets as serious contributions to conservative thought, in the way that the Cornerites demand that Manzi kiss Levin’s ring.

It’s different now, to conservatism’s present shame and future detriment.

Bill Scher and Matt Lewis at Bloggingheads

UPDATE: Andy McCarthy

Manzi at TAS

More Goldberg

More Douthat

More Larison

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Filed under Books, Conservative Movement, New Media

Fido’s Bark Sounds Suspiciously Like “Activist Judges!”

Heather Horn at The Atlantic:

Robert Stevens of Virginia made videos about pit bull fights. He was prosecuted under a law banning depictions of animal cruelty–“a 1999 law intended,” in the words of the Associated Press, “to limit Internet sales of so-called crush videos, which appeal to a certain sexual fetish by showing women crushing to death small animals with their bare feet or high-heeled shoes.”

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court struck down that law, ruling that in its “overbreadth” the law violated the First Amendment right to free speech.  Of course, the Supreme Court isn’t declaring animal cruelty legal–there are still plenty of state laws banning such cruelty. But the effective re-legalization of animal-cruelty videos is sure to upset animal rights groups. So what was the court thinking? Here’s a summary of the developments, in which all but one of the justices decided this law went too far.

  • Why This Law in Particular Is Unconstitutional Determining which categories of speech can and can’t be banned, argues Chief Justice Roberts for the court, should not be a matter of cost-benefit analysis: “The First Amendment itself reflects a judgment by the American people that the benefits of its restrictions on the Government outweigh the costs.” The court decided child pornography was exempt from First Amendment protection only because, in that case, “the market for child pornography was ‘intrinsically related’ to the underlying abuse.” Though one might argue that the market for crush videos is similarly related to the underlying abuse, this law forbids far more than crush videos.

However “growing” and “lucrative” the markets for crush videos and dogfighting depictions might be … they are dwarfed by the market for other depictions, such as hunting magazines and videos, that we have determined to be within the scope of [the law in question]. We therefore need not and do not decide whether a statute limited to crush videos or other depictions of extreme animal cruelty would be constitutional. We hold only that [this law] is not so limited but is instead substantially overbroad, and therefore invalid under the First Amendment.

  • That’s Ridiculous This ruling, writes Justice Alito in dissent, “has the practical effect of legalizing the sale of such videos and is thus likely to spur a resumption of their production.” The case under discussion is about dogfighting, and the courts should be deciding “whether the videos that respondent sold are constitutionally protected.” But even if the courts do feel the need to rule on the question of the law’s “overbreadth,” he still doesn’t think this law “bans a substantial quantity of protected speech.”

SCOTUSBlog:

While the Court conceded that Congress had passed the law to try to stop interstate trafficking in so-called “crush videos,” showing the actual killing of cats, dogs and other small animals by stomping or other intensely cruel methods, it said the resulting law itself reached far more than that kind of portrayal.  Limiting the law’s reach to those depictions, the opinion said, would require the Court to give “an unrealistically broad reading” to the exceptions Congress wrote into the law.

As written, the Court said, the law “creates a criminal prohibition of alarming breadth.”  Noting that the government had given assurances that it would enforce the law only against commercial portrayals of “extreme cruelty,” the Chief Justice wrote that the Court would not uphold an unconstitutional law “merely because the government promises to use it responsibly.”

The Justice Department had defended the law by arguing that portrayals of animal cruelty, as a group, simply had no protection at all under the First Amendment, in the same way that obscenity, libel and fraud are unprotected.  The Court rejected that argument, saying that the 1999 law regulates expression of the basis of its content, its message. That makes the law invalid under the First Amendment, the Court said, unless the government can overcome that presumption.

Roberts wrote: “The Government proposes that a claim of categorical exclusion should be considered under a simple balancing test: ‘Whether a given category of speech enjoys First Amendment protection depends upon a categorical balancing of the value of the speech against its societal costs.”  Calling that “a free-floating test for First Amendment coverage” and a “highly manipulable balancing test,” the Chief Justice said the test was “startling and dangerous.  The First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech does not extend only to categories of speech that survive an ad hoc balancing of relative costs and benefits.  The First Amendment itself reflects a judgment by the American people that the benefits of its restrictions on the Government outweigh the costs.  Our Constitution forecloses any attempt to revise that judgment simply on the basis that some speech is not worth it.”

Recalling its precedent putting child pornography outside the First Amendment, the opinion said that the Court had done so because the depictions of such pornography was necessarily linked to actual abuse of children in the production of such materials.  That approach, and other cases discussing what the First Amendment does not protect, the Court added, “cannot be taken as establishing a freewheeling authority to declare new categories of speech outside the scope of the First Amendment.”  While there may be some categories of speech not yet identified that could be placed outside the First Amendment, “there is no evidence that ‘depictions of animal cruelty’ is among them,” the Court said.

The Court then went on to analyze the 1999 law under traditional First Amendment principles, and found it went too far.  The law makes it a crime, with up to five years in prison, to make, seell or possess a “depiction of animal cruelty,” if any of those acts is done for commercial gain.  It defines “animal cruelty” depiction as one in which a living animal “is intentionally maimed, mutilated, tortured, wounded, or killed,” provided that the action violates a federal or state law.  The law says that it does not apply to depictions if they have “serious religious, political, scientific, educational, journalistic, historical, or artistic value.”

American Constitution Society

Ed Morrissey:

The problem, as QandO’s Bruce McQuain also notes, is that the act of filming is neither violent nor criminal.  The actual violent act should result in prosecution for those who committed it, including the videographer if he was part of a conspiracy to commit illegal and inhumane acts against animals.  The videotape would make a crucial and strong piece of evidence for trial.  However, criminalizing the acts of videotaping and publishing puts other kinds of publication at risk — for instance, videos of legal hunting, among other things, or even publication of cruel acts as a means of exposing and stopping them.

However, that’s an argument that also cuts both ways.  Laws against child pornography specifically target the act of photography and publication.  The laws do not specify that a separate act of molestation or rape occur for prosecution — and most people would agree that it shouldn’t require such a basis.  Just the act of possession can result in long jail times and a lifelong identification as a sex offender.  Using the logic of this decision, wouldn’t it tend to undermine the basis for those laws as well?

Of course, the government didn’t help its case by failing to prosecute anyone under the intended purpose of the law, the purveying of “crush videos.”  The law has been in existence for eleven years, apparently resulting in no trials at all.  One has to wonder why Congress bothered to pass the law at all instead of just leaving the jurisdiction to the local and state authorities for cruelty to animals, except that it was obviously an attempt by Congress to create an artificial crisis just to look responsive to it.

Ann Althouse:

Good. This doesn’t — of course — mean that you can’t punish acts of cruelty to animals.

Balk at The Awl:

Crush videos—films in which attractive women smush small animals under their heels—are once again legal after the Supreme Court struck down a law preventing the depiction of animal cruelty. (Animal cruelty itself is still illegal in many places.) The Court, in a 8-1 decision, found the law to be an overly broad restriction that violates the First Amendment.

UPDATE: Stanley Fish at NYT

Will at The League

1 Comment

Filed under Animal Rights, Supreme Court, The Constitution

All Slippery Slopes Lead To Robert Young

Glen Whitman at Cato Unbound:

For as far back as memory reaches, people have been telling other people what’s good for them — and manipulating or forcing them to do it. But in recent years, a novel form of paternalism has emerged on the policy stage. Unlike the “old paternalism,” which sought to make people conform to religious or moralistic notions of goodness, the “new paternalism” seeks to make people better off by their own standards.

New paternalism has gone by many names, including “soft paternalism,” “libertarian paternalism,” and “asymmetric paternalism.” Whatever the name, it arose from the burgeoning field of behavioral economics, which studies the myriad ways in which real humans — unlike the agents who populate most economic models — deviate from pure rationality. Real people suffer from a variety of cognitive biases and errors, including lack of self-control, excessive optimism, status quo bias, susceptibility to framing of decisions, and so forth. To the extent such imperfections cause people to make choices inconsistent with their own best interests, paternalistic interventions promise to help them do better.

What sort of interventions? To the casual reader, the new paternalism might seem to have little to do with government at all. Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler’s Nudge and Daniel Ariely’s Predictably Irrational, for instance, often read more like advice manuals than policy manifestos.

But if you dig deeper, you’ll find a wide-ranging policy agenda at work. In seminal journal articles by Sunstein & Thaler, Camerer et al., O’Donoghue and Rabin, and others, you’ll find a panoply of policy proposals from mild to downright intrusive. The story begins with the seemingly innocuous proposal to enroll all employees in savings plans automatically (with the ability to opt out). Then it progresses to new default rules in contracts, such as a presumption of “for cause” rather than “at will” employment, again with an opt-out. And then? Default rules that can be waived only through a cumbersome legal procedure. Then default rules with some options ruled out entirely — such as maximum hours that cannot be waived for less than time-and-a-half pay. Then cooling-off periods for high-cost purchases. Then sin taxes for fatty or sodium-rich foods. Then outright bans on ingredients like trans fats.

Not every new paternalist supports every one of these policies, and they don’t advocate them all with the same confidence. But they’re all on the list, and all justified by an appeal to behavioral economics.

The Claim to Moderation vs. The Slippery Slope

New paternalists often present their position as striking a reasonable middle ground between rigid anti-paternalism on the one hand and intrusive “hard” paternalism on the other. But as the list of policies above suggests, this claim to moderation is difficult to sustain.

My claim (along with my frequent coauthor, Mario Rizzo) is that the new paternalism carries a serious risk of expansion. Following its policy recommendations places us on a slippery slope from soft paternalism to hard. This would be true even if policymakers — including legislators, judges, bureaucrats, and voters — were completely rational. But the danger is especially great if policymakers exhibit the same cognitive biases attributed to the people they’re trying to help.

The slippery slope is not, of course, the only argument against new paternalism. The slippery slope is not intended as a solo knock-out argument against any and all new-paternalist policies. In some cases, their benefits might be high enough to justify their costs. The key point is that the slippery slope risk must be counted among the relevant costs.

Unfortunately, the very manner in which the new paternalism paradigm has been advanced makes it likely that risk will be ignored.

Jason Kuznicki at Cato:

One often-cited example takes place in the cafeteria: Put fruit and healthy snacks up front, and people will be more likely to choose them. Put the chocolate cake first, and that’s what they pick instead. Paternalism, the argument runs, lies on a continuum, and some forms of it are really quite harmless. It’s not (or not only) a boot stamping on a human face forever. It’s also the nice lady at the cafeteria, who helps you pick out healthy food. Healthy food is what you really wanted anyway. So what could be wrong with that?

Whitman, however, turns the argument around a bit: Legislators, too, suffer from bias. What if paternalistic legislation proves sort of like that chocolate cake? By placing it up front, and by making it look appealing, legislators may choose it too often, and they may neglect the healthier — but to them less appealing — choice of freedom. What if a little paternalism now turns into a lot of paternalism later? And where are our “real” preferences, anyway? Whitman offers arguments for why a slippery slope may very well exist here, and examples of how the theory of soft paternalism has developed teeth in practice.

Katherine Mangu-Ward at Reason:

Small case study: Sodas in schools. Kids are fat. Bans loom. Soda companies—which generally prefer to fight to the death—collaborate to remove full-sugar sodas entirely from schools. Is this what a victory for non-coercive nudging looks like?

Will Wilkinson:

Call it “soft paternalism,” “assymmetric paternalism,” “libertarian paternalism” or whatever With Cass Sunstein as Obama’s regulatory czar, we all may be feeling the gentle nudge of the new paternalism soon enough. Whitman puts us on guard, arguing that the logic of the new paternalism sets us on a slippery slope toward plain old-fashioned not-so-gentle paternalism.

Eugene Volokh

Julian Sanchez:

I’ve been relatively open to at least some of the ideas circulating under those banners—at least as libertarians go—but Glen’s arguments certainly provide ample reason for severe skepticism.  Certainly, I share his concern that initiatives that begin as “soft” paternalism, in the form of default rules meant to steer people away from ill-considered decisions, may “harden” if people continue to make what regulators perceive as the “wrong” choices.  In particular, I think there’s an unjustified tendency to  privilege temporally later preferences—so that if someone in ill-health regrets their youthful excesses, we treat this as reflecting the “real” preference. But if we think people overvalue the short term pleasures of fatty food, drink, or tobacco, and undervalue the long-term costs, surely it’s equally possible that those costs will loom large when the bill comes due, and cause people to discount too heavily all the enjoyment they got while running up the tab.

Especially important, I think, is Glen’s argument about framing effects: Soft paternalism may currently seem like a middle-ground between a relatively more laissez-faire approach and “hard” paternalism that forecloses options rather than merely establishing defaults.  Yet, as Glen points out, once “soft paternalist” policies are implemented, the debate may shift to position some more aggressive intervention as the new reasonable middle ground.

Yet it’s this very sort of logic that has made me at least somewhat interested in the potential of libertarian paternalist arguments. My (perhaps vain) hope is that this reframing effect can be exploited in the other direction, to make reform in the direction of greater freedom more appealing, provided libertarian paternalists are primarily deployed in spheres that are already heavily regulated.  So, for instance, it seems that most Americans consider straightforward legalization of gambling or prostitution or drugs too extreme a position—though at least with regard to marijuana, the public opinion trend seems to be moving steadily in a more libertarian direction. But a proposal to combine legalization with some mechanism for permitting “problem users” to limit their own access—supposing the obvious privacy problems presented by such mechanisms could be worked out—might conceivably be presented as a reasonable compromise, recasting the status quo prohibitionist policies as the new “extreme.”  At the very least, I’d be interested to see some polling that examines how people’s responses change when a “soft paternalist” alternative is added alongside prohibition and legalization.

More Kuznicki at The League:

Among non-libertarians, there’s a strong tendency to collapse all the different types of costs together. You’re unfree if you have a family you feel obliged to support. You’re unfree if you live far from civilization. You’re unfree if you get cancer. You’re unfree if your personal tastes are expensive. You’re unfree — I infer — if you’re thrown in a prison camp. Just another type of cost to pay. Something seems way off here to me.

That’s because political unfreedom is different. Political unfreedom isn’t the result of bad luck, or your moral code, or your freely made but unwise choices. Other humans did it to you, and those other humans could stop doing it if they wanted. Whitman’s argument above is that we should think carefully about which people get to impose costs, and how, and to what end — even though other costs exist, even though the world remains full of dysfunctional markets, bad personal choices, and brute facts of nature.

Now, these cost-imposers may act with a smile on their face, or they may be brutal about it. They may have a representative government to validate their acts, or not. But political and non-political costs should never be confused. Political freedom is the freedom from arbitrary interference on the part of other people. We find it striking, and worrisome, when we see political theorists who aren’t so careful about the distinction. (For more on this idea, see Tom Palmer, writing in last month’s Cato Unbound.)

Now, the obvious rejoinder is that our decisions are continually subject to the arbitrary interference from other people. And this is quite true, even apart from the trivial example that we are all constrained equally from killing each other, in a clever little constraint-on-constraint. Other constraints abound.

mistermix:

This is what libertarians always seem to get wrong—it isn’t paternalism (or, at least, it isn’t the “bad” kind of paternalism) when the state is protecting me from direct harm caused by someone else’s actions. I can claim a direct harm from inhaling second-hand smoke: emphysema and lung cancer. I can’t make a similar claim about somebody else’s lack of a savings plan.

I’d expect better from a guy at Cato, because I’m counting on them to help get pot, gambling and prostitution legalized everywhere

UPDATE: Will at The League

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