Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

Ross Douthat finally finds himself able to weep for a embryo that made it past the birth canal. Douthat thinks he's discovered that being an in-vitro baby will cause trauma and suffering, since the entire process is out of one's control. And the kid doesn't have a good time of it either, he says.

Douthat says (in part),"one grown-up donor baby quoted in the study describes as the feeling of existing entirely for “other people’s purposes, and not my own.” That pretty much describes any child ever conceived before birth control, especially in those halcyon conservative days when children were conceived by accident and with lethal regularity, and put to work as soon as their little fingers could hold a hoe or loom spindle. The Golden Age of America, the land of Corporate Titans, saw the utter exploitation of children on a daily basis, something the Progressives attempted to stop, to the conservatives' horror. How dare they interfere with a parent's prerogative!

It's odd, therefore, that on this Day of Memory in which we salute our war dead, that Douthat doesn't choose to write about the other child victims of our times, the children who wake up every morning wondering if their Dad or Mom is going to come home from our endless wars. Or the thousands of children who will wake up without a parent for the rest of their lives. Who will protect those children? Who will support them and keep them from harm? Who will listen to them weep with pain, year after year, and soothe the tearing hole of loss? Who will go to their graduations, walk them down the aisle when they marry, hold their children and look for familiar features? What about those post-fetuses? Don't they count, or does Douthat only care about American boys and girls when he can score political points against them?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Those Problem Pension Funds

Let's look at Megan McArdle's post on public pension funds, a natural enemy for our econoblogger since she dislikes seeing other people paid for their labor. It's no coincidence that Rand Paul and McArdle both are libertarians. Only one of their confused yet merry band could talk themselves into supporting segregation and organ harvesting. Conservatives are usually content to despise minorities and others who reject the authority of the white male. Libertarians must elevate their distaste to an ideology, intellectualizing their emotional reactions to absolve themselves of responsibility for their fears and pettiness.

The New York Times has a practically libertarian-sounding article on public pensions, and the strain they are putting on the state and local governments.

The article describes out-of-control costs and corruption in public pension funds. Since McArdle is libertarian, she no doubt applauds the lack of regulation that created this situation, and knows that market equilibrium means people will stop asking for pensions, which are grossly underfunded in many cases. A new pension fund will spring up like a phoenix from the ashes, to take all the disgruntled former pensioners.

Public employees rack up overtime in their last year of work, with the active encouragement of their supervisors and even local politicians, then they retire with inflated pensions that can be greater than their base salary.

Your free market in action!

New York is the understandable focus, but these problems are hardly unique to my home state.

I love New York City, but it does seem to have a bit of a corruption problem. Where are the free marketers when New York needs them? Why don't New Yorkers leave for other cities, teaching New York that if it delivers poor value, other New Yorks will spring up in New York's place, taking all of New York's business?

In fact, New York is among the better states on funding of pensions, because they actually have to do some. Other states kinda sorta haven't really bothered -- at least not at anywhere near the levels that would be needed. New York's problem is notable only because its public sector unions are unusually powerful.

Say, didn't her dad lobby against unions? And we can see why she calls herself a better writer than 90% of her fellow countrymen. That paragraph just sparkles with elegant writing and bowls us over with its fact-based analysis.

The problem is that these things are nearly impossible to change. People have worked for twenty years or more under the expectation of pensions that were calculated this way; you can't just wait until they're 58 and say "Ha, ha, just foolin'." Worse, there's no actual procedure for doing what a private company does, which is to declare bankruptcy and have a court renegotiate the obligations with other creditors. Especially when the funds are run at the state level, we seem to be stuck with them.

You mean that public workers accepted benefits in lieu of the higher pay one can get in the private sector and now they expect to actually get those benefits? My god, the nerve!

One thing the New York Times article mentions, but doesn't highlight, is that these problems exist in part because the funds badly miscalculated the investment returns they could expect. It's commonplace to hear conservatives complaining that politicians just handed out these goodies to political supporters because terrible government accounting made it seem "free," and they'd be out of office when the bill came due. This is true, but it misses a couple of things:

Politicians in many cases really believed that these promises were free; they didn't understand the accounting problems.
These pension funds weren't the only ones using unduly rosy projections, though they may have been among the worst offenders. Private funds have had similar problems as equities underperformed this decade.

In other words, the bankers lied about the return the funds would get. Just like they lied about everything else. It's strange that McArdle doesn't emphasize this important fact.

Financial crises often seem to get tangled up in pension problems -- it's where the gap between fixed obligation, and income, becomes most glaring. These problems have been building for a while, but we may not be able to finesse them any longer.

But I hear that the rich are richer than they've ever been before, so at least the important people are happy. The newly poor will have to be content with being even poorer, since all their problems are the result of being fat and lazy.


Megan McArdle discusses popular culture. When even your most devoted followers all point out you're dead wrong, maybe you need to spend a little more thought on your columns and a little less thought on shopping. Unless she is shopping for her honeymoon, in which case I say bring on the wedding blogging! I could use a laugh.

You Get What You Pay For

In her never-ending concern trolling against Obama's industry-friendly health insurance reform, our Megan McArdle focuses her razor-sharp analytical abilities on the constitutionality of the bill.
This weekend, I had a conversation with someone non-crazy who thinks there is a not-insignificant chance that the Supreme Court will overturn health care reform, or at least the individual mandate (it's not clear what happens to the rest of the law if the mandate goes down; there's some possibility that this would invalidate the entire law). Mind you, this person was not suggesting that the chances were, say, 85%; more like 25%.

But in a case like this, 25% is a big chance.
So what was P. Suderman's argument? Let's look at McArdle's analysis to find out.
So we spent a bit of time speculating about what would happen next.
I'm sorry, what?
So we spent a bit of time speculating about what would happen next.
Didn't McArdle forget something here? Like her argument against the constitutionality of health care reform? Or anybody else's argument? We're not picky. We'd consider a constitutional law professor's ideas. Or the Virginia state government's argument. Or even Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal.

I guess she felt it wasn't necessary to actually discuss the merits of the case, and so she skipped right on to the imagining that all her fluffy dreams had come true. What else is a Libertarian to do when faced with a real world instead of a science fiction world, a world with messy things like "facts" and "logic" and "consequences." So, let's make her argument for her.

1. Declare health care reform unconstitutional.
2. ??????
3. Success!

My goodness, being a pundit is easy. Can I have a check for $25,000 too?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Happy Daze

Fonzie, Joanie and a friend, be-bopping at the hop.

The kids at Al's Malt Shop are all riled up. It seems that someone is calling Fonzie and his little band of libertarian buddies a bunch of nerds while criticizing "Ayn" Rand Paul, and the gang leaps to their own defense.

Warren "Potsie" Weber says, "Will his opponents be able to saddle him with his radical libertarian position that private discrimination shouldn’t be the government’s business?" Potsie is just joking about the "radical" part. He believes that private discrimination is simply an unavoidable side effect of private liberty. His freedom depends on others' lack of freedom, so what is a Libertarian "nerd" to do but support prejudice? It's only fair. And libertarian.

Richie Cunningham is pissed as well. What about all the other people who have principles and fight for them? Are they nerds too?
As for the main argument here–that libertarians and their policy preferences are "out of touch with reality"–the same could be said, at minimum, of Glenn Greenwald's principled fight against ever-expanding executive power, and Salon's long-running critique of the War on Drugs. (Each of those categories of government abuse, by the way, are often defended precisely on grounds that "someone else really is looking out for your best interests by saying no.") When reality is unconscionable, and you are an opinion-journalism outfit with principles (or just a human with a functional spine), you tilt at the goddamned windmills, without first vetting it through a reality check.
If fighting for the right to deny people rights is wrong, then by golly libertarians don't want to be right! And fighting the encroaching police state and wasteful, racist War On Drugs is exactly like fighting for the right to be bigots. The gang at Salon might disagree, but they don't understand that being a libertarian means never having to say you're sorry answer for the consequences of your actions. As Joanie Cunningham says:
You seem to be under the mistaken impression that I have a workable political program. I'm a libertarian. My political ideas are always unpopular.
Fonzie and the gang don't care about popularity, they care about principle. And if others have to suffer for their principles, that's just the price other people will have to pay.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Megan Twits

Megan McArdle twitters:

Okay, markets, now STOP WITH THE CREEPY PARALLELS TO THE GREAT DEPRESSION. You're really harshing my mellow.
about 6 hours ago via TweetDeck

She should have thought of that when she was saying that banks have learned to manage risk and financial innovation was a good thing. Present conditions are a consequence of past decisions. Bad decisions based on elite worship and vicarious greed.


End of school activities are keeping me busy. Posting will be light for a few days. Meanwhile, Megan McArdle informs us that because New York can't solve its school problems, teachers' unions are preventing school reform. When people talk about reforming parenting, then we'll know they are serious about school reform. Everything else is about busting Democratic union power and privatizing schools. And, since we are depending on anecdotal evidence, we can see how well that turns out. Also.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Pill And The Single Woman

Forget Megan McArdle. Kathryn Jean Lopez is talking about sex again, and I know where I want to be!

Raquel Welch has written a beauty guide/rehash of her personal failures, Raquel, Beyond The Cleavage. Evidently the 70-year-old former sex symbol is without a man, and therefore the sexual revolution was bad. Kathryn Jean leaps at the chance to get some personal affirmation from someone who's actually had sex.

In an article that coincided with her book’s launch, she wrote: “Margaret Sanger opened the first American family-planning clinic in 1916, and nothing would be the same again. Since then the growing proliferation of birth-control methods has had an awesome effect on both sexes and led to a sea change in moral values.”

Wow. Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood have been mainstreamed — and federally funded — to such an extent that it is only the most pro-life members of Congress who tend to question our relationship with Sanger’s group and her dangerous, delusionally permissive, and eugenic legacy.

Go, Raquel!

Further, what she writes knocks the glimmer off the rose of so-called “sexual freedom.” The concept, ushered in by the pill, she says, “has taken the caution and discernment out of choosing a sexual partner, which used to be the equivalent of choosing a life partner. Without a commitment, the trust and loyalty between couples of childbearing age is missing, and obviously leads to incidents of infidelity. No one seems immune.”

Know what else leads to infidelity? Marrying a rich guy fifteen years your junior. Evidently, according to internet gossip pages that keep crashing my browser and have probably given me viruses, Raquel is finished dating younger men because they cheat. But now that Welch's career of living off of her beauty and marrying four times to agents, publicists, directors and millionaire businessmen is nearly over, the Pill is the source of her problems and sex with more than one partner is unhealthy. Now that she's made a small fortune parlaying beauty contests into tv gigs and modeling jobs, then spending her peak years wearing little clothing in movies and on stage, then writing beauty books and selling wigs and jewelry, Welch is having second thoughts on the whole sex symbol business. Kathryn Jean Lopez says:

The feminist movement has a lot to answer for when it comes to the open and enthusiastic embrace it gave the contraceptive mentality, which interferes with a woman’s relationship with her own body, never mind her relationships with men. Of course, many of the women of the “sexual revolution” generation paid the price in their own lives — they found that their best fertility days were gone by the time they realized they wanted to be women, not women suppressing that which makes them most creative.

Welch and Matalin’s message stood in contrast to the spin that was predominant this Mother’s Day, which happened to be the 50th anniversary of the contraceptive pill, in an ironic twist of the calendar. Among the pile-on parade of pill celebrations was an item from the AFP newswire that read like a press release from the memberless group “Catholics for a Free Choice,” known more for being successful at getting press attention than for representing anyone or any principled “Catholic” position. The AFP dispatch from the pill PR agency betrayed its ignorant agenda by making stale jokes about “the rhythm method” — a term that has been, for decades, used by no one but critics of the Catholic Church. It also slammed the late Pope Paul VI for not prioritizing suggestions made by an advisory panel over the teachings of the Church when writing his searingly prescient 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, which warned about, basically, everything Raquel Welch regrets in our oversexed culture.

Like this?

Or perhaps this?

It's just horrible what the Pill has done to oversexualize our culture. But you can't blame the Pill for one thing--sometimes even when you do everything right, like deny yourself a sex life, refuse to take contraceptives, and pray reallyreallyreally hard, you can still end up one of those sad career women with no children.

The feminist movement has a lot to answer for when it comes to the open and enthusiastic embrace it gave the contraceptive mentality, which interferes with a woman’s relationship with her own body, never mind her relationships with men. Of course, many of the women of the “sexual revolution” generation paid the price in their own lives — they found that their best fertility days were gone by the time they realized they wanted to be women, not women suppressing that which makes them most creative.


I understand why many in the media worked overtime spinning the pill as a good for mankind this Mother’s Day. But the truth is that motherhood is at the heart of what it means to be a woman, and, for decades now, the pill has been trying to deny that reality. Mind you, you don’t have to have children to be in tune with that great gift to the world, but you do have to know it, acknowledge it, and not pop a pill the purpose of which is to treat fertility as if it were a disease rather than a tremendous power.

If feminism and the pill have ruined the women who take them and motherhood is at the heart of what it means to be a woman, why is this anti-feminist young lady not a mother?

Kathryn Jean Lopez is 34 and her eggs aren't getting any younger. She's a career woman letting her reproductive years pass her by, instead of finding, catching, and imprisoning marrying a man, the way God and nature intended. Every minute she spends on politics is one more minute that she is not devoting herself to her higher and, indeed, only calling in life, popping out as many little Catholics as she can before her health is ruined and she's too pooped to pop. Because overbearing children is a good thing.

To groups that have for decades insisted that they represent so-called “women’s issues” and women’s interests, the truth behind Raquel Welch’s comments must be a bitter pill. So keep preaching it, Raquel! It’s a more liberating message — about the nature of life and love and men and women — than the feminist revolution ever offered.

Sing it, Sister! Quit your job, which you wouldn't have without the feminist revolution, and start birthin' those babies. What are you waiting for? You should be home, supported by your parents and spending every waking moment wondering why men don't see past the outer surface and see the inner beauty. The good old days when a woman had no choice but to marry any man who would have her and all men held women who looked like Raquel Welch to be the ideal of womanhood are gone, but Lopez has a great deal of experience in ignoring reality. And the Enlightenment. Instead she's stuck in the post-Pill era, with money of her own that she has control over, a fulfilling job, and exciting adventures like cruising to Portugal where she saw the Pope with her best buds. Who would want that when they could have nothing but rejection instead?

But there's still hope for the littlest missionary. She's recently had a makeover and looks as cute as a bug in a rug.

You go, girl!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Now He Tells Us

Ross Douthat berates liberals.

Shorter Ross Douthat: My God, the government oversteps its powers! The Elite exploit us! The economy is in a shambles! By the way, did I mention that I was born yesterday?

There's Always A Silver Lining

Pope Benedict XVI was snatched off the streets of the Vatican today by the CIA and incarcerated in a secret Federal mental hospital for the criminally insane, according to Vatican Officials.

"It was horrifying," said Cardinal Bernolotti, who was walking with the pope when the pontiff was kidnapped. "One minute he's walking beside me eating ice cream--tutti-frutti on a waffle cone, his favorite--and the next minute six men in American military uniforms descended from a helicopter on ropes and snatched him up. We were too shocked to move. They flew away with His Holiness kicking and screaming. Look, here is his shoe!" The Cardinal held up one ruby slipper embroidered with the papal crest and sporting a gold tassel and burst into tears.

American officials referred the media to a spokesperson for the Supreme Court, Maxwell Springer.

"Look, this was all perfectly legal. We have a smoking gun that he knew about the priests' child molestations for decades and was part of the conspiracy to abet the criminals' actions. Since he was part of a child abuse ring and therefore sexually dangerous, and by definition a sexually dangerous person is also insane, it was perfectly legal to practice rendition on the pope." Springer referred the media to administration officials for further comment.

An administration official who agreed to comment as long as he or she was off the record, said, "Pope Benedict has been incarcerated in a federal facility for the criminally insane. Don't worry, he'll be up for parole in ten years, in which time we'll find he's too dangerous to let go once again. But it's okay, because we have to meet legal requirements, which are that the suspect must be in federal custody, a sexual predator, and insane. Woops! We just talked ourselves into keeping him indefinitely again!"

Indefinite Detention

President Barack Obama's Solicitor General, Elena Kagan, argued successfully before the Supreme Court that the Federal government can detain anyone indefinitely, as long as they have custody of him and declare him to be a sex offender and mentally ill. From the statute:

JUSTICE SCALIA: General Kagan, you are relying on the Necessary and Proper Clause, right? You say: But necessary and proper doesn't mean it is necessary and proper for the good of society. It means it is necessary and proper for the execution of another power that the Federal Government is given by the Constitution.
Now why is this necessary for the execution of any Federal power? The Federal criminal proceeding has terminated. The individual is released. You could say it's necessary for the good of society, but that's not what the Federal Government is charged with. Why is it necessary to any function that the Federal Government is performing? It has completed its performance of the function of incarcerating this individual until he's served his punishment.

GENERAL KAGAN: The Court has always said, Justice Scalia that the Necessary and Proper Clause, the question is is it necessary and proper to the beneficial exercise of Federal powers. And so this is, that it is necessary and proper to the beneficial or, what I said before, the responsible exercise of the Federal power to operate a criminal justice system, which includes the responsibility to ensure that those people who have been in custody in that Federal -- in that criminal justice system, are not released irresponsibly.

JUSTICE KENNEDY: But the brief -- excuse me.

JUSTICE ALITO: Well, I was going to ask, is it the case that the unwillingness of States to step into this area in these instances is a consequence, at least in part and perhaps in large part, of the Federal incarceration, that as a result of the Federal incarceration the person is no longer viewed by the State as -- as having domicile within the State, the State of prior domicile has no way -- way of knowing whether that person would return to a domicile in the prior State? Do you think that is a fair understanding of the reason for the enactment of this?

GENERAL KAGAN: Just to make sure that I understand the question, that the reason for the enactment in part has to do with the fact that the Federal Government has assumed custodial responsibility and has disrupted the relationship between the State and the citizen, I think that that is exactly right, Justice Alito.
But in some sense it's not just that the Federal system finds itself in possession and custody of these people, but the Federal -- but what Congress could reasonably find is that the Federal Government knows that there is nobody else to take appropriate custody and care, and that the reason that there is nobody else to take appropriate custody and care has to do with the Federal action itself.

Kagan is saying that since the state sometimes doesn't care for released prisoners, the federal government has the responsibility and right to detain someone they feel is dangerous for actions they have not yet committed.

The public defender, G. Alan DuBois, says that the federal government can only detain a person for the time that they have been sentenced. The federal government can't just detain anyone indefinitely.

It effectively does require no connection between the underlying criminal charge and the subsequent commitment. You can be in custody for any crime whatsoever. It doesn't have to be sex-related, you can never have been convicted of a sex offense whatsoever.

So it really is, there is almost a complete de-linking of the crime which brought you into federal custody and your subsequent commitment. Can we imagine hypotheticals that -- that create a link, that rolls it into the punishment? Perhaps, but that is not this statute, and this statute must fail for that reason.

The statuate didn't fail. The federal government can declare anyone mentally ill and a danger to the community and lock them up forever, even if their sentence is up. The various headlines read that it is dangerous sexual predators who can be kept indefinitely, but Kagan's argument is not just for people in jail for sexual offenses.

JUSTICE STEVENS: Isn't it true that this statute applies even if a person has not been a sexual offender in the past?

GENERAL KAGAN: It -- it does, Justice Stevens. There have been 103 --

JUSTICE STEVENS: That argument doesn't take care of that --

GENERAL KAGAN: -- just to put some numbers on the table, there have been 103 people who have been certified under these laws. Eight under -- under this law. 83 of them have committed sexual offenses; 20 --

JUSTICE STEVENS: No, but my point is the law applies to a person who is convicted of armed robbery or bank robbery and just before the end of his term in prison the authorities decide he is in fact a potential sexual offender. They can detain him.

GENERAL KAGAN: Yes, yes, that's right. As I was saying, 20 of these people fall within that category, that -- that they are in prison for a nonsexual offense.


GENERAL KAGAN: All of those people have had prior sexual convictions in their history.

JUSTICE STEVENS: But that's not -- that's not a necessary element of the -- of the statute --under the statute, is it?

GENERAL KAGAN: What is necessary is two things: First, that the person in fact have engaged in sexually violent behavior or child molestation. So there is a factual predicate there. And -- and so far, the Bureau of Prisons has found that about 15,000 people whom it has reviewed meet that factual predicate.

Kagan's rebuttal:

What Congress said here was something pretty simple and very reasonable. It said if we, the Federal Government, have somebody in our custody, and we know that that person has the kind of mental illness that is going to cause grave danger to the community; and we know that there is no one else who is in a good position to prevent it; and we know that we were in part responsible for that vacuum, then we should be able to do something about it. That's what section 4248 says, and section 4248 is constitutional for that reason.
Justice Scalia has several times suggested that maybe there is no experience of this, but I think that the fact of the judicial conference committee report, stating that there were these problems with respect to mentally ill people generally, rebuts that. So, too, this Court's view in Shannon, that section 4243 was necessary because there was a gaping statutory hole where States were not willing to step forward, rebuts that as well.

Neat. The government can now kill its own people or commit them to mental institutions or prisons forever. I wonder what will be next? Notice Kagan left out the bit about being a sex offender in her rebuttal. Perhaps we'll see this ruling extend to anyone who is called mentally ill and dangerous.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

How Low Can You Go?

Everybody limbo!

Megan McArdle takes some time out from defending the NRA and bankers to defend joblessness and hunger. Nobody wants to be a one-trick pony!

Harold Meyerson makes an argument that will be familiar to readers of this blog: stimulus doesn't work the way it used to. Workers have more skills, which makes it harder to create jobs to soak up an untapped labor pool--even if we did create large numbers of jobs swinging pickaxes, many unemployed Americans wouldn't take them.

Actually, Meyerson says that "Hopkins' initiative and ambition should be a model for our response to today's Great Recession" because of its relative speed and efficacy, but some people hear what they want to hear. He says that stimulus creates fewer jobs now because of huge increases in productivity, but reading comprehension has never been part of McArdle's skill set.

There are complex reasons why we have not built 21st--century versions of these job programs. For one thing, political resistance to such policies is higher today than it was 75 years ago -- in part because today's misery is less acute, since the nation now has programs such as unemployment insurance and food stamps. America lacks the sense of existential crisis that it experienced in the depths of the Depression. Also, a resurgent American right, panicked by Obama's ascent to the presidency, has stepped up its war against government initiatives. Its efforts have been augmented by those of the deficit-phobes, who have dominated public discourse at the worst possible moment for a nation in need of all the economic stimulus it can get.


There's a further difference between today's infrastructure work and that of the New Deal: It's much more productive, and hence employs fewer people. "The work itself has changed since the '30s -- or the '60s," says Robert Balgenorth, president of the state AFL-CIO's Building and Construction Trades Council. An electrician, Balgenorth built high schools during the 1960s. "It took 15 to 20 electricians to build a high school then," he says. "It takes four or five today. Stuff that we had to assemble then comes pre-assembled today." Heavy equipment has changed as well. "You can haul more in bigger trucks today," he says. "You need fewer drivers."

Naturally, McArdle does not source her statements that workers have more skills now than in the 1930s, or that the unemployed won't take manual labor jobs. McArdle knows that the poor are poor because they are less moral and don't work as hard as, say, bankers. Because she does. So there.

Meyerson identifies a lot of the procedural barriers that I frequently talk about--the bidding and environmental safeguards that make federal projects very slow to get off the ground. But perhaps unsurprisingly, he doesn't really explore a huge barrier to a WPA-type jobs program: public sector unions. They are not going to let you hire a bunch of cheap workers and run crews without civil service protections.

That's because unions are not a huge barrier. Meyerson is far more concerned about whole areas of employment that will never recover.

What the nation needs economically, then, and what Obama needs politically, is a jobs bill that invests in home care and child care, boosts tax credits for domestic manufacturing (this is, in fact, the subject of one White House proposal), and hurls money into infrastructure spending (the kind of spending that Republicans oppose least). Obama then needs his own Harry Hopkins. The new Hopkins won't be able to dispense funds as quickly as the original, but he must convey the urgency and zeal for cutting red tape that Hopkins brought to the New Deal's job programs.

The globalization (and the attendant overcapacity) of production and the long-term effects of the financial crisis mean that the manufacturing and construction sectors, which have provided decent-paying jobs to millions of workers and economic vibrancy to the nation, aren't likely to recover on their own. Obama needs to talk to Americans about the constrained economic future they will face if those sectors don't revive, as well as the benefits of more early childhood education and senior care -- and why the nation needs a massive government commitment to those sectors to recapture its economic vibrancy.

McArdle attacks unions for all the usual reasons. They are the opponents of the elite. They take money out of the pockets of CEOs and bankers and real estate speculators and CDO salesmen and that cannot be allowed in a just and Godly world. It's sacrilege, and who needs proof when you have religion? But like fundamentalists everywhere, she grossly exaggerates the strength and power of her enemies.

Union membership had been steadily declining in the US since 1983. In 2007, the labor department reported the first increase in union memberships in 25 years and the largest increase since 1979. Most of the recent gains in union membership have been in the service sector while the number of unionized employees in the manufacturing sector has declined. Most of the gains in the service sector have come in West Coast states like California where union membership is now at 16.7% compared with a national average of about 12.1%.[6]

Union density (the percentage of workers belonging to unions) has been declining since the late 1940s, however. Almost 36% of American workers were represented by unions in 1945. Historically, the rapid growth of public employee unions since the 1960s has served to mask an even more dramatic decline in private-sector union membership.

At the apex of union density in the 1940s, only about 9.8% of public employees were represented by unions, while 33.9% of private, non-agricultural workers had such representation. In this decade, those proportions have essentially reversed, with 36% of public workers being represented by unions while private sector union density had plummeted to around 7%. Recently, workers have increasingly chosen union membership. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics most recent survey indicates that union membership in the US has risen to 12.4% of all workers, from 12.1% in 2007. Private sector union membership has rebounded as well, increasing from 7.5% in 2007 to 7.6% in 2008. [7]

Looking at the survey data, it's easy to see why organized labor seeks the legislation and why Democrats support it. Unions, while still popular, have lost ground in recent years in workplaces and in public opinion. Just 7.8% of private sector workers are union members today, down from 17% a quarter-century ago.

Either McArdle has absolutely no idea what she is talking about (always a possibility), or she indulges in union-bashing because they are Democrats.

Election Day last November, 11% of voters checked a box on the exit poll indicating they were union members, and they voted for Barack Obama over John McCain by 61% to 38%, making them one of the Democrats' strongest groups.

Once again, unions stand in between something McArdle wants: big business-friendly government. She assumes that the Democratic party, which just handed over $ to banks, is anti-business and stands between money and the elite to which it rightfully belongs.

There's something ironic in the fact that the legacy of the New Deal is the inability to reproduce it.

And that irony would be...? The point of the New Deal was to prevent another economic disaster, not to prevent the labor market from changing. The New Deal has been under constant attack since it was passed, and has been substantially weakened. That is the fault of the Randian conservatives and venal politicians, not the New Deal.

On the other hand, it's not so necessary, either. People are richer now, and though it isn't perfect, our financial regulation is better.

We're in the middle of a global meltdown due to, among other reasons, lack of financial regulation, but it's "better." No numbers, no facts, no cites. And people are "richer now." How are they richer? If she means income inequality, yes, the rich are richer. But that doesn't help the family with few assets and no more unemployment insurance. They're still poor and they can't move back in with Mom and Dad like certain other people.

We're not at much risk of people starving to death. So there's no urgent need to create low-skilled jobs for them to fill.

That's a mighty high bar to set for the poor. Either they starve to death or McArdle doesn't care about them.

The Facts About Hunger & Poverty

Domestic Hunger Facts

49 million people—including 17 million children—live in households that experience hunger or the risk of hunger. This represents more than one in ten households in the United States (10.9 percent).
4.0 percent of U.S. households experience hunger. Some people in these households frequently skip meals or eat too little, sometimes going without food for a whole day. 11.1 million people, including 430 thousand children, live in these homes.

6.9 percent of U.S. households are at risk of hunger. Members of these households have lower quality diets or must resort to seeking emergency food because they cannot always afford the food they need. 24.4 million people, including 12.2 million children, live in these homes.

Research shows that preschool and school-aged children who experience severe hunger have higher levels of chronic illness, anxiety and depression, and behavior problems than children with no hunger.

Shrugging off the hunger pains of a child is a new low, but in this eternal game of Moral Limbo, McArdle's a champ, with the trophies to prove it.

Tribes, Again

What the hell, as long as I'm quoting other people instead of writing--Chris Floyd discusses Digby's authoritarianism, although he does not call it that.
I just want to note one comment I ran across in reading about the story. It's from a leading progressive voice, Digby, who does, to her credit, go through chapter-and-verse on the gulag hell-hole.... [Digby quote]... Yet after her admirable recitation of the facts, and their dire implications, Digby comes out with this surprising confession:
I've held off on this issue because of the unequivocal denial by the military that the prison existed and I was willing to give the new administration the benefit of the doubt. Now that the Red Cross has confirmed that the prison does exist, we know for sure that the military was lying --- and the benefit of the doubt goes to the former prisoners.
She "held off" on the matter, which had been thoroughly reported by the BBC, NYT, WP ... because the Pentagon had denied it. And why would she do such a thing, given the ceaseless flow of lies that has issued forth from that many-sided militarist monument squatting out in the swamplands of Hell's Bottom? Because she wanted to "give the new administration the benefit of the doubt."

The benefit of what doubt? Did she really believe that the Pentagon had somehow been born again through the soul-cleansing election of Barack Obama? The man who, er, retained the leadership of the Pentagon that George W. Bush had put in place? The man who placed a master of black ops and dirty war in charge of the entire "Af-Pak" campaign? A man whose military machine has been caught lying over and over and over and over again about a ceaseless flow of atrocities it has committed -- under his command?

And what is this "new administration" she speaks of? Obama will soon have been in power for 17 months. (He had been in power for 16 months when the BBC issued its first report on the prison). When does an administration cease being "new," with its leaders and agents regarded as genial greenhorns, fumbling their way, learning as they go -- "ya really gotta cut 'em slack on this, they haven't hit their stride yet." In any case, Obama has been intensely involved in the Afghanistan war since the very beginning of his term. Indeed, he has already masterminded not one but two "surges" of the conflict, as well as greatly expanding the murderous campaign of assassinations in Pakistan, killing hundreds of people, terrorizing hundreds of thousands, and exacerbating hatred and extremism at every turn. Afghanistan is Obama's war -- he asked for it during the campaign, and he has willingly made it his own. He has his own hand-picked commander in charge (plucked from the pool of Bushist brass, of course), and he -- he alone -- made the decision not only to keep Bush's Pentagon warlord, but to make him one of his closest advisers.

So I ask again: why would anyone feel compelled to give the Obama Administration the "benefit of the doubt" when it comes to atrocities in Afghanistan -- especially those reported by "respectable," mainstream media institutions?

Digby goes on to make what is, in some ways, an even more surprising statement:
I should have known better. Any administration which declares that it has the right to unilaterally order American citizens to be assassinated obviously isn't going to be squeamish about a little torture, is it?
Yes, exactly. How on earth could someone be cognizant of this universal murder program -- openly announced by Obama's security chief -- and still think that this "new administration" deserves the benefit of the doubt when mainstream media outlets release highly credible stories detailing the continuing atrocities of America's bipartisan gulag?


Yet still, after this, leading liberal voices can say, "Well, the Pentagon says that the BBC, the NYT and WP are all wrong about this nasty secret prison thing. And this new administration -- which I know full well is committed to killing people, even my fellow citizens, without the slightest pretense of due process, and which I know full well still has the proven liars of the Bush War Machine in charge of its operation -- deserves the benefit of the doubt." It boggles, as they say, the mind.

This is not a personal slam at Digby, whose diligent work in continuing to expose the creeping "taserization" of American society I find particularly valuable. Nor am I entirely without understanding of the way that tribal political loyalties can pull strongly on one's reasoning, like the moon working its power on the tides. But at this late date, for this in-no-way new administration, which has laid out its true corporatist-militarist-imperial nature with glaring, painful clarity, it is still striking, even shocking, to see the contortions of accommodation that so many are still willing to put themselves through, in the hope of keeping at least a scrap of obscuring cloth over at least a portion of the naked horror that confronts us.

Digby has grown tremedously in understanding the past year, but a life-time habit is hard to break. I think that the refusal to look at what we do--torture, murder, exploitation--is half horror, half ego. We are Exceptional! We didn't invade a foreign country and murder its citizens because we grew up in a freedom-loving country and are freedom-loving people. We don't rape, murder and torture because our god is the One True Loving God and we are his people. We don't steal everything we can get our hands on because we are rich. While the truth is that we are rich because we steal, we torture because we justify everything in the name of religious solidarity, and we don't murder because we're spreading freedom, we murder because we want to take it away.

We are not special. We are not better than anyone else. We are not exceptional. Those are lies we tell ourselves to feel better about ourselves. I don't want to have to constantly measure myself against the world around me, deciding who belongs to the Special Club of Me and who doesn't. I just want to be the best Me I can be. And that better be enough, because it is all that we really have.

The Socratic Method

I was not going to continue with the issue, but this post by Paul Campos at Lawyers, Guns & Money is too good to ignore and I really, really hate the Socratic Method. He quotes a former law student of Elena Kagan who related that she liked rules and used the Socratic Method of teaching. The Socratic Method is:

The basic form is a series of questions formulated as tests of logic and fact intended to help a person or group discover their beliefs about some topic, exploring the definitions or logoi (singular logos), seeking to characterize the general characteristics shared by various particular instances. To the extent to which this method is designed to bring out definitions implicit in the interlocutors' beliefs, or to help them further their understanding, it was called the method of maieutics. Aristotle attributed to Socrates the discovery of the method of definition and induction, which he regarded as the essence of the scientific method. Perhaps oddly, however, Aristotle also claimed that this method is not suitable for ethics.[citation needed]

The method can be used by one side to steer the opponent into accepting the authority of the questioner. One person asks the questions, the other must answer. One person decides the direction of the argument and decides which points are relevant or not. One person is in control of the argument at all time, the assumption of knowledge rests in him, and he can easily ignore any point or fact that might damage the questioner's argument. By answering the questions, the opposing side must accept the framing of the questioner.

Campos quotes a Duncan Kennedy critique of the Socratic Method.

The classroom is hierarchical with a vengeance, the teacher receiving a degree of deference and arousing fears that remind one of high school rather than college. The sense of autonomy one has in a lecture, with the rule that you must let teacher drone on without interruption balanced by the rule that teacher can’t do anything to you, is gone. In its place is a demand for pseudoparticipation in which one struggles desperately, in front of a large audience, to read a mind determined to elude you. It is almost never anything as bad as The Paper Chase or One-L, but it is still humiliating to be unsure of oneself, especially when what renders one unsure is a classroom arrangement that suggests at once the patriarchal family and a Kafkalike riddle state. The law school classroom at the beginning of the first year is culturally reactionary.

Campos says:

Indeed that’s what the classic Socratic “method” is all about — it’s a performance designed to demonstrate that the performer is In Charge Here and a Very Serious Person who you had best defer to if you know what’s good for you. In short, it’s authoritarianism at its most straightforward and distasteful — and anyone who currently practices it in 180-proof form in an American law school at this late date should be viewed with suspicion: not merely as an educator, but in terms of that person’s fundamental orientation towards hierarchy, authority, and social power. Which is another way of saying, in terms of her politics.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Chutzpah McArdle

Megan discusses journalism ethics with a colleague.

Megan McArdle, who faked data about innovation to claim that reforming health care will lead to mass deaths, exclaims that she can't believe someone who faked data is still considered respectable.

I have a hard enough time believing the guy got a book published--I mean, maybe this book is 100% on the level, but who has the time to check all his footnotes to make sure. And when he has the gall to complain--or allow his publishers to do so in his place--that his previous work was unjustly prosecuted, well, both my sympathy and any willingness to suspend my disbelief sort of evaporate. It's like his real academic project is doing case studies of chutzpah.

Projection is apparently one of the pillars of conservatism, the others being obedience, sexual dysfunction, and bow ties.

More Friedmanesque Megan

Shorter Megan McArdle: The global economic crises does not prove that market capitalism is a failure, no matter what some illogical, hysterical, ideological haters say. It proves that the welfare state is a failure.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Authoritarianism, Again

Christ on a cracker. Jonathan Turley, via Glenn Greenwald:

Few could have imagined that voting for Obama would have resulted in moving the Court to the right, but that appears to be case with the selection of Kagan.

I knew, and I'm an idiot. I have an English degree from a state school and I knew. I am a housewife and I knew. I spent the last fifteen years making pies and reading mysteries and I knew. Because I know that authoritarians side with authority.

It's not that freaking hard.

We are so screwed.

Question And Answer Session

Megan McArdle: Why should anyone care what happens to Greece?


More Holy Megan

Much Shorter and Considerably Poorer Megan McArdle: I find myself in a crises of faith. What if my God, the Free Market, doesn't reward me? What if--Markets Forbid--equilibrium is nothing but a mirage, a chimera? No, no! It cannot be! There must be market equilibrium! I believe, St. Milton! I believe! Let the market atheists cash in their 401ks--as the Free Market is my witness, I still have faith!

Meanwhile, in the vestry, the bankers are screwing over the little stock owners.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Ross Douthat: Putting the Bore in Abortion

Shorter Ross Douthat: "Conservative states may have more teen births and more divorces, but liberal states have many more abortions." Pwned, bitchez!!

(It's like the god debate--conservatives think atheists must be afraid that God will be mad at them for not believing in him, since they are unable to contemplate a world in which nobody is constantly watching, judging and punishing them. Likewise they think they score points by noting that liberal states have more abortions, since they are unable to contemplate a world in which people want to let others make reproductive decisions for themselves, instead of voting in a man to pass laws controlling their reproductive organs.)

Conservatives: Don't touch my guns, don't touch my money, don't touch my abstract concept of freedom. But my body is all yours!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Iraqi Drug Body Count

Megan McArdle and family are extremely upset that the police shot some dogs in front of a family during a drug raid. Evidently P. Suderman takes the laws against possession of marijuana quite personally.

I am waiting for her article declaring that we really can't tell how many animals and people died in drug-related police malfeasance because of the lack of scientific rigour while making the estimates, and how people who are against drug raids only want to be right and don't care about the real statistics, which are much lower than ignorant people think.

The Remains Of The Bank Account

Megan is thrilled to be at the manor but can't understand why they keep telling her to dust the drawing room.

While Megan McArdle scans the internet looking for someone to explain what happened to the stock market to her, let's take a little look at one of her recent twitters.

Yup, my 401(k) sure did lose a lot of money this afternoon
about 14 hours ago via TweetDeck

In "Remains of the Day" butler Anthony Hopkins elevates his job of catering to his rich boss to a higher calling, letting his devotion (and personal fears) keep him from having a relationship with Emma Thompson. She moves on but he never does, and the world leaves him behind. Megan McArdle, whose job is to do the equivalent of ironing newspapers and buttering toast for the financial industry's Masters of the Universe, once again is a victim of her own blind money worship. That's what happens when you think that just because you work for rich people, you are one of them.

No doubt a lot of people lost a lot of money yesterday, but not many can take pride in the realization that they helped smooth the way for their own exploitation. Kudos to Ms. McArdle.

UPDATE!: It's always nice to have confirmation.

It's a lovely Friday afternoon in May, and I know what you're doing: you're idly surfing the web and pretending to work. No judgement implied there: I'd be doing the same thing, except that idly surfing the web happens to be my job.

Also, we don't need to worry about 1,000 point drops in the stock market because the Free Hand has restored equilibrium and all is well is this, the best of all possible worlds.

The Wall Street Journal is running a poll that asks where the Dow will be by June. As of this morning, the bulk of the reponses voted for somewhere between 10,000 and 11,000. This is a good bet. As Burton Malkiel has so painstakingly elucidated, the stock market seems to move in a random walk--which is to say that at any moment it is as likely to go up as to go down. And as anyone who has analyzed mutual fund returns can tell you, almost all of the people who think that they are good at predicting stock market movements are deluding themselves--even relatively good active mutual fund managers don't consistently earn their fees. My best guess is that the market includes all currently known public information, and that therefore the most likely outcome is . . . for it to be just about where it is now.

But that doesn't mean we shouldn't speculate wildly! What do y'all think? Up, down, or sideways?

Nobody knows anything, nobody understands anything, things just happen for systemic reasons beyond our control, so you don't have to study, read, think, analyze, or explain. Is it cocktail hour yet?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Cat Fight!

The funniest thing about the "epistemic closure" baloney is watching the conservatives tell each other what they really think. The bland mutual congratulations for partisan drivel passing for journalism and scholarship and constant praising of what they claim are their mutual values disappear in a pouf! of spite and passive aggressive insults. From The Corner:
In the Levin-Manzi Crossfire [Kevin D. Williamson]

So, over at the New York Times, Ross Douthat had something nice to say about my tax-cuts article:
When I suggested recently that “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 advancing bad ideas and bogus arguments, I didn’t expect to summon up anything quite as controversy-generating Jim Manzi’s evisceration of Mark Levin’s views on global warming. For an example of what I did have in mind, though, read Kevin Williamson’s fine piece on supply-side economics from the last National Review, in which he goes after the panglossian misinterpretation of supply-side theory that’s become dogma among too many Republican politicians and activists — namely, that tax cuts generate so much economic growth (and with it, increased government revenue) that they more than pay for themselves.

I suspect it was the presence of the words "Jim Manzi," rather than the presence of the words "Kevin Williamson," that inspired Mark Levin to take notice of Douthat's post, and to comment:
A small group of hacks repeatedly quoting each other and linking to each other? This is pseudo-intellectual incest. And Douthat relies on it to spread his self-indulgent ramblings. Oh, do we miss William Safire. Instead, we get this crap.

When I first read Manzi's much-remarked-upon remarks re: Mark, I thought them unduly harsh. I am revising that opinion, just a little.

Why yes, they are hacks who repeatedly praise each other for self-indulgent ramblings.
Re: In the Manzi-Levin Crossfire [Mark R. Levin]

Okay, Kevin, I should have said “the hysterical ninnies” writing and linking to each other, but you already used that one. But my opinion of you remains unaltered, despite what these nasty folks think about you. Carry on and link away.

05/05 06:00 PM Share

Consorting with the enemy, that is, anyone not in the group, is a crime in authoritarian societies.
Mark Levin, Hysterical Ninnies, Etc. [Kevin D. Williamson]

Mark, am I to understand that you're upset on behalf of the fine folks at Media Matters over my describing them as "hysterical ninnies"? Or did those words leap to mind because ... because they are the very first thing that comes up when you Google my name, and you didn't have time to dig any deeper?

I'm betting the latter, because you do not seem to know much about me. You describe Douthat and me as composing some part of:

a small group of hacks repeatedly quoting each other and linking to each other ...

But I'll bet one week of what I make vs. one week of what you make that you cannot locate, before my post today, a single instance of my linking to Ross Douthat. I doubt you can find an example of me quoting him. Nothing against Ross Douthat, but those are the facts.

I do hope you will have the courage of your convictions in this matter.

05/05 07:12 PM Share

Oh, now they want to pay attention to facts and acknowledge that you can't just make shit up and expect to be taken seriously. And of course it ends with the obligatory challenge to his opponent's courage and manhood, since that is what frat boys do.
re: ... Etc. [Mark R. Levin]

My comment on Facebook was not about you or your linking behavior. It had nothing to do with you, but with others. You were mentioned by Douthat, not by me. The Manzi post has gone viral, and I was responding to that — the constant linking to it by Douthat and others. So, I have no idea what irks you, whether you've linked to Douthat, or why you chose to come here and post what you did. You could have asked me directly, perhaps for clarification, but you did not. As for my post in response to you, you again take offense when I say, link way. But that's exactly what's been happening, what we're — or at least I am — talking about. As for Media Matters, it's a detestable group. But I assumed they had your quote right. I like the phrase. No need to be defensive about it. As for Googling your name, is that that odd?

05/05 08:09 PM Share

Williamson should have realized that Levin's ire was pointed at Manzi and let the matter drop, but let's face it, they're not very nice people and they have always encouraged and indulged each other in their constant stream of complaints and grievances. In this fight for attention from Fox and donations from the rubes the soul of the Conservative Party, the claws are coming out.

I Want The Fire Back

Everyone says if you ignore Megan McArdle she'll just go away, but they lie, the bastards. She's just back into her squishy boring stage, repeating what everyone else says and mouthing platitudes. The only bright spot is the knowledge that Megan McArdle expected housing prices to drop enough to make buying a home affordable, but because of gross income disparity, she still can't buy a house.

She also knocks Joe Leberman's views regarding American citizenship, which is a good thing because by Liberman's standards, her fellow Atlantic blogger Jeffrey Goldberg, who was a prison guard in the Israeli military, is a traitor.

And Miss Fair-Minded of 2010 now realizes that investment bankers gamed the financial industry for their own gain, something that slipped past her free-market worshipping mind while the banks were actually pulling off their crimes and manipulations. Now that they've gotten away with their crimes, Miss Megan is willing to admit that the bankers maybe aren't the smartest people in the room and the financial industry maybe shouldn't be the basis for our economic success. It's very ex post facto generous of her, but I guess that just reveals the complexity and nuance of her ability to assess failure.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Tardy Note

While we at the Snark were neglecting our duties, Megan McArdle, unfortunately, was hard at work. First, our economics blogger talked about shopping; namely, her rapturous relationship with Amazon, and how it feathers her little love nest with toilet paper.

Memoirs of the turn of the previous century are filled with the family's first automobile, its first water closet and electric lights. But I have no memory of my first interaction with an invention that is still reshaping how I live--more and more, Peter and I are now ordering groceries and toiletries from Amazon.

A Libertarian is someone lectures you on self-sufficiency while being too idle to shovel his own sidewalk or buy his own groceries.

Apparently, however, on May 21st, 1998, I decided to order two books from this newfangled Amazon thingy I'd heard about. Perhaps appropriately, they were The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Miss Manners' Guide for the Turn of the Millenium.

Miss Manners, like Miss Austen, was merciless regarding good manners based on respect and consideration for others. Hmmm, perhaps it was a present.

Heinlein was authoritarian and elitist, and advocated permissive sexual morals, which I guess makes him the writer of their Gospels, and buying his books like going to church.

Incidentally, we look forward to McArdle's article on QVC. It's nice to see her playing to her strengths.


Mark Ames discusses Megan McArdle in this article about Goldman. He has several good bits about her house hunt and Goldman tongue-bathing that I was too burned out to cover.

It's Scientific!

Shorter David Brooks:

Asians > Whites > Blacks

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Boy Stood On The Burning Deck

Little Ross Douthat performs before the Ladies' Auxiliary when it comes to his mother's house for tea. Master Ross doesn't understand why we allow all the poor brown people in the country when we could let in a rainbow of wealthy, educated people who can afford to migrate. Little Ross doesn't realize that Nanny and Cook and the gardener that Mother keeps calling Semental (even though he insists his name is Marco) are all employed at below-free market wages, or that the factories that keep Master Ross in velvet breeches and ponies is staffed by poor South Americans.

He's just a boy who knows very little about the world. It's not his fault his Mama keeps pushing him forward to lecture adults on things he doesn't understand.

Goldman Who?

Shorter Megan McArdle: We had to bail out the banks or else we would have had "widespread bank runs," but saving the auto industry is corrupt.

Longer Version:

It was sheer political theater, and incredibly corrosive to public trust in our government institutions, as well as a gross misallocation of economic resources.

The same could be said for the banks, but won't be, at least not by McArdle.

The role of the state is to prevent human suffering, not prop up failing enterprises that happen to have politically well-connected employees.

Can we all stop pretending that she's a Libertarian now? Thank you.

I am genuinely struggling to come up with what principled argument Andrew might be making in his head for what has always struck me as a pretty blatant handout to a powerful Democratic interest group.

In other words, Sullivan zinged McArdle on her lies a couple of times and McArdle gets revenge by implying Sullivan's unprincipled. Sadly, their little feud is not likely to go far. Both are too self-absorbed to be truly vicious.

(Photo from