Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The New Favre

I'm still holding on to shred of hope for another Brett Favre comeback. In fact, as long as he never throws another pass for the Falcons, I'm all in favor of Brett Favre continuing to retire and un-retire every year until he's dead. Is that an unpopular opinion? I'm guessing so, but I don't care. I like watching him play football, and, more importantly, when he's in the public spotlight there is a veritable planetary system of silliness and hyperbole in constant orbit around him, and I find every bit of it delightful. It's the same reason I like cable news and living in Florida.

But it's been a full year since the last time Favre took the Favre as a professional Favre,[1] and the chances of another un-retirement (which would be number five, by my count) grow slimmer each day. Someone needed to fill the void, and holy crap, did someone ever do just that, and then some.

To declare so early in his career that Tim Tebow is the new Favre would be an overreaction of Favrian proportions, so I think we should go ahead and do it. The variety and sheer mass of the nonsense drawn in by Tebow's gravitational field is greater than Favre can even dream of (and clearly Favre does dream of such things). There's the small mountain of "what if Tebow were Muslim?" commentary.[2] The actually-kind-of-plausible theory that the Broncos made Tebow their starter as part of a Major League-esque scheme to lose on purpose. This. And on and on. But my personal favorite so far is an article by's Katie Kieffer, titled "Tebow Sacks Socialism":
Tebow has All-American character. He espouses capitalistic values that are foundational to America: Competitiveness, ownership, responsibility, hard work, optimism, faith and persistence.
That's right. Tebow is a symbol of the virtues of capitalism. This is a person who, as far as I know, has never publicly weighed in on free market economics, or virtually any other political issue for that matter.[3] So, what does Tebow have to do with capitalism?
In a capitalist society, leaders—whether they are the President of the United States, the CEO of a corporation or the quarterback for a football team—take responsibility. They don’t blame Congress, their shareholders or their fans. They focus on improving themselves and working harder to compete for a winning result.

Unlike Tebow, President Obama refuses to accept responsibility for the economic destruction he has unleashed via socialist policies like ObamaCare, bailouts, net neutrality regulations and by blocking oil production.
Probably this is just poor wording, but I did wonder for a second if there was a press conference where Tebow took responsibility for the recession and somehow I missed it. It wouldn't really surprise me if he did, simply out of politeness.

Anyway, more from Kieffer:
Football is competitive. There are winners and losers. Talent and hard work win; incompetence and laziness lose. Football rewards innovative risk-takers and analytical thinkers, not sentimental whiners. By instilling capitalistic principles, football builds leaders. In contrast, by discouraging competition, socialist principles encourage people to do the bare minimum, shirk responsibility and reject leadership.

Tebow lives his life in a way that embraces capitalistic principles and he is a leader because of his strong character.
Am I reading this wrong, or is she calling Blaine Gabbert a communist? Regardless, it's fantastically twisted logic. If the point is that successful athletes personify the basic principles of capitalism, then the quarterbacks we should be exalting include Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and, ahem, Ben Roethlisberger. If the point is that "innovative risk-takers" are rewarded, then that ignores a fundamental tenet of capitalism, which is that sometimes they aren't (and nevermind that much of Tebow's NFL success can be attributed to being risk-averse).

Moreover, and I realize I'm well past the point of taking this too seriously, but football really isn't capitalistic, for the simple reason that in football there will always be an equal number of winners and losers.[4] There can be no growth—average win totals are stagnant from year to year (at least, until the league goes to an 18-game schedule). Thus, playing to win is strategically identical to playing to cause your opponent to lose. In capitalism those two things are often different, and, at least in theory, you're always better off playing to win. If your competitors manage to win too, good for them.

But I'm not here to pick apart ill-conceived analogies. Well, I am, but also to say that I'm very much enjoying this, and I'm excited to see where it goes. What conservative talking point will Tebow's unconventional brand of marginally-above-average quarterbacking be shoehorned into next? Will his fearless running style be used to justify military intervention somewhere overseas? When a replay official overturns a Tebow touchdown, will Newt Gingrich cite it as further evidence of the threat judicial review poses to American values? And how long until he becomes a pawn in the ongoing War on the War on Christmas? The sky's the limit.

1. That was an homage to (or perhaps a ripoff of) this outstanding Deadspin headline: Tim Tebow Tebows 59-Yard Tebow To Force Tebowtime.
2. Answer: The amount of inexplicable animosity he generates by being openly Christian (and the counter-animosity his fans have for his detractors, and the counter-counter-animosity his detractors have for his fans) would look quaint by comparison.
3. Oh yeah, the abortion thing, when Tebow revealed that (a) he wasn't aborted, and (b) he's happy about that. These are both things that were already self-evident, but I guess when you say them out loud you're going to turn some heads.
4. Not to mention the flagrantly Marxist nature of the draft.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Newt Gingrich's Crusade Against the Courts

As I've pointed out before, politicians love issues that allow them to exploit fears and emotions without alienating large blocs of voters. Few such issues have given conservatives as much mileage in recent years as immigration, and Newt Gingrich should be commended for breaking from the ranks. Not only has he articulated a humane, reasonable immigration policy, he has also rejected one of the most reliable tools in the conservative arsenal for scoring cheap political points. So he uses the courts instead.

Gingrich describes his attitude toward the courts in section nine of his 21st Century Contract with America, which begins with the intriguing proposition that the Constitution serves as both the framework for the federal government and a set of power rankings:
The Judicial Branch did not come until Article III because the Founders wanted it to be the weakest of the three branches.
Thus, the Legislative and Executive branches get to square off for the championship, while the Judiciary will take on the Ratification Clause in the Fiesta Bowl.

Anyway, back to Newt:
The Federalist Papers explicitly recognized that the Judicial Branch would be weaker than the Legislative and Executive Branches. In Federalist 78, Alexander Hamilton wrote reassuringly that the Judicial Branch would lose any confrontation with the two elected branches:

“the judiciary is beyond comparison the weakest of the three departments of power; that it can never attack with success either of the other two.”

The Founding Fathers felt strongly about limiting the power of judges because they had dealt with tyrannical and dictatorial British judges.
A good rule of thumb: Never take a 25-word excerpt from a 223-year-old essay at face value. Short and to the point? Just one semicolon? No pointlessly elaborate double- or triple-negations? That's not the Alexander Hamilton I know. Here's the whole sentence (and here's a link to the full text):
It proves incontestably, that the judiciary is beyond comparison the weakest of the three departments of power; that it can never attack with success either of the other two; and that all possible care is requisite to enable it to defend itself against their attacks.
Something tells me Newt didn't omit that last clause for the sake of brevity. It seems Hamilton's point wasn't that the judiciary should be weak, but that because it neither writes laws nor commands armies it is inherently weak, and therefore additional protections must be in place to ensure its equality with the other branches.

Newt's insistence that the judiciary was intended to be the weakest branch is, at best, dubious, but even more dubious is his insistence that the judiciary is now the strongest:
Since the New Deal of the 1930s, however, the power of the American judiciary has increased exponentially at the expense of elected representatives of the people in the other two branches. The judiciary began to act on the premise of “judicial supremacy,” where courts not only review laws, but also actively seek to modify and create new law from the bench. The result is that courts have become more politicized, intervening in areas of American life never before imaginable.
Really? The power of the judiciary has increased at the expense of the other two branches? We are talking about the same legislative branch that now uses the Commerce Clause to do any damn thing it wants, right? And the same executive branch that has decided it can unilaterally go to war? If anything, the courts have struggled to keep up.

But that's not how Newt sees it, obviously, and his campaign recently released an issue paper detailing his fears. From the introduction:
If the Supreme Court ruled that 2+2=5, would the executive and legislative branches have to agree? Would we have to pass a Constitutional amendment to overrule the Court and reassert that 2+2=4?
Yes, we would. And while we're at it, we should also pass an amendment prohibiting toddlers from serving on the Supreme Court.[1]

Still, Newt's right that it can be scary to think about how much power is held by just nine people. And they aren't even elected, so those seats can be held by anyone! Well, anyone who can secure the nomination of the President, who is elected by a college of 538 citizens, who are in turn elected by the voters of each state, and who can then secure the approval of the Senate Judiciary Committee and at least 51 members (60 if the filibuster's in play) of the full Senate, each of whom are elected by the voters of their states.

Honestly, the more I think about it, the scariest thing about the Supreme Court isn't that the Justices are unelected; it's that they're chosen by the people who are.[2]

But that's a discussion for another time. Much of the issue paper (which, at 54 pages, could really use a table of contents) is devoted to making the case that on issues like national security and marriage (and probably others—seriously Newt, table of contents next time) the courts have abrogated their duty to uphold the Constitution. These are, of course, among the most controversial issues of our time. Legal scholars have written thousands of pages in support of a variety of approaches to the constitutional questions they present. So when Newt says "[w]ere the federal courts to recognize such a right [to same sex marriage], it would be completely without constitutional basis," he's stating an opinion, not a universally-accepted truth. 2+2=4 is an accepted truth. That the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of equal protection doesn't extend to discrimination based on sexual orientation is not.

And that's what this all comes down to. The problem he's describing—judges usurping the other branches, creating their own laws, ignoring the Constitution, etc.—is very serious. It just isn't real.[3] Clearly, Newt doesn't like some of the interpretations courts have applied to the Constitution, and in many cases neither do I, but I remain unconvinced that there's an epidemic of judicial roguery going on. There is, perhaps, an epidemic of judges interpreting the Constitution in ways Newt Gingrich disagrees with, but the solution to that is not to launch a crusade against the judiciary. The solutions are to (a) become President and appoint judges you like, and (b) calm the hell down, because there will always be people in positions of power who disagree about things.

But then he'd have to find something else to get people riled up about.

1. Of course, the Court doesn't have jurisdiction over disputes of simple arithmetic, but you wouldn't expect a toddler to know that.
2. Interesting that the officials who play a role in the judicial nominating process—the President and the members of the Senate—originally weren't elected by the people. Senators, of course, were chosen by state legislatures until 1913. The President is elected via the intermediary of the Electoral College, and a state's Electoral College delegation was, and still is, selected by a method of each state's choosing. Until around the 1820s a lot of states let their legislatures make that decision as well.
3. Well, some of it is real, but the severity is vastly overstated. Aside from the preposterous 2+2 hypothetical, the most absurd judicial overreach I've seen Newt talk about is that story out of San Antonio, where Judge Fred Biery ruled that a high school valedictorian couldn't include a prayer in her speech and that the school couldn't use terms with religious connotations like "amen" or "benediction". The ruling was overturned by a higher court two days later.
    So now Newt wants that judge impeached, which is fine, I guess—I suspect there's more to the story that we aren't hearing, but I don't care enough to find out—but how is that a major issue? (Answer: It's not. But the more Newt talks about it, the stronger the implication that this is a widespread problem, rather than a few isolated events.)

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Anti-Immigrant Republicans

In a recent column for, Bruce Bialosky took issue with a Wall Street Journal editorial on immigration:
They finish the editorial by stating – and here is where the WSJ editors join hands with the left – “Immigrants bring vitality and skills to the U.S. economy.” This clearly implies what liberals have alleged for years: that Republicans are anti-immigrant. I have never once seen a statement by a Republican presidential candidate against immigrants, and the editorial did not (and could not) cite one.
He makes an interesting point. We all know the default setting for a Republican candidate is extreme and uncompromising intolerance for illegal immigration, but is it really fair to call them anti-immigrant in the more general sense?

Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich have expressed support for establishing English as the official language, a non-solution to a non-issue that would serve primarily to reinforce the misconception that many who come here don't bother to learn English. Promoting the learning of English isn't inherently anti-immigrant, I suppose, but intentionally promulgating a false stereotype probably is, so that one's kind of a wash.

Herman Cain has been making what may or may not be jokes about lining the border with terrible death traps, but, you know, it's not like there'd be any visa-holders among the fatalities. Cain is also in favor of Alabama's new immigration law, which is a disaster in many, many ways. But, again, the law doesn't target legal immigrants—parts of it target undocumented workers, and parts of it target everyone with an accent or brown skin, regardless of citizenship or immigration status.[1]

And then there are the sins of omission. The current immigration system is woefully ineffective—many who hope to immigrate legally are forced to wait in absurdly long lines, and even more are told there's no line they're eligible to wait in—and with a few exceptions (most notably Gary Johnson), the Republican candidates have shown no signs of giving a crap. For all their talk in other contexts of market forces and supply and demand, they've been inexcusably ignorant (or willfully dismissive) of the connection between economic conditions and immigration patterns.[2]

Of course, even the candidates who use the harshest rhetoric on "illegals" are careful to avoid saying anything that can be construed as hostile toward legal immigrants—they're running for office, for Pete's sake—but they haven't said much in support of expanding the avenues for legal immigration either. Instead, they play into fears about illegal immigrants streaming across the border and having babies and taking our jobs and wallets and healthcare and whatever else isn't bolted down, offering only the occasional "first we need to get illegal immigration under control, and then we can talk about the dysfunctional visa process", as if there isn't a causal link between the two.

This is all to say that I think the Republican approach to immigration is, at best, severely misguided, and at worst, a shameful case of exploiting and exacerbating a genuine humanitarian problem for political gain.[3] But hey, that's just my opinion, and it still doesn't answer the doubly-subjective (in terms of both policy and semantics) question of whether it's fair to characterize the hard-liners as anti-immigrant.

I found my answer when I went to the candidates' websites to see what they said on legal immigration. Not a whole lot, as it turns out, other than a few vague reaffirmations of their general support for the concept, but something else caught my attention:
Rick Perry:
As part of a broader tax reform strategy, I will also ask Congress to eliminate direct subsidies and tax credits that distort the energy marketplace. My plan levels the playing field, ending Obama’s anti-growth policies and opening a competitive marketplace to benefit American citizens.
Mitt Romney:
President Obama has neglected the fundamental tasks of creating jobs and growing our economy. Instead, he’s focused his efforts on an anti-jobs, anti-growth agenda that has significantly expanded the role of the federal government.
Michele Bachmann:
Researchers, entrepreneurs and investors across America have been paralyzed by this president’s anti-business policies that have created severe uncertainty. As president, I will signal by way of leadership to innovators, that the time has come to once again unleash the genius of Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ working to create the wealth of the nation.
Newt Gingrich:
The fact is, we are not going to close the deficit and move towards a balanced budget unless we follow the policies that foster the economic growth necessary to create jobs.The first and most immediate step would be to employ the policies that encourage investment, create jobs, and reward innovation and entrepreneurship -- exactly the opposite of the Obama anti-jobs policies.
As long as the Republican candidates consider Obama anti-jobs/business/growth for favoring policies likely to be ineffective, or that betray a fundamental misunderstanding of the situation, or that come off as thinly-veiled attempts to distract and deceive voters, I'm going to go ahead and call them anti-immigrant for exactly the same reasons.

Seems fair to me.

1. The provision requiring law enforcement officers to check a detainee's immigration status applies only "where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States", and officers aren't allowed to consider race, color, or national origin "except to the extent permitted by the United States Constitution or the Constitution of Alabama". This is in no way the same as saying officers aren't allowed to consider race, color, or national origin.
2. And yet, they seem to think there is a connection between the ability of people to move to where economic conditions are better and the height of the physical obstacles we put in the way.
3. Politicians love issues that (a) people are ill-informed about, (b) arouse strong emotions, and (c) allow them to blame problems on groups lacking political power, and immigration is all three. If only there were some way to depict that graphically.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Professional Football's Age Barrier

As of the 2011 college football season, the Big Ten Conference has 12 teams and the Big 12 Conference has ten teams. I point this out because, well, it's funny, but also to provide some perspective, because on the list of the screwiest things about college football right now, the Big Ten/12 situation doesn't even make the top ten (or 12).[1]

For a look at the items at the top of that list, Taylor Branch's aptly-titled Atlantic piece, "The Shame of College Sports", is required reading. This early paragraph is a nice summary of what follows:
For all the outrage, the real scandal is not that students are getting illegally paid or recruited, it’s that two of the noble principles on which the NCAA justifies its existence—“amateurism” and the “student-athlete”—are cynical hoaxes, legalistic confections propagated by the universities so they can exploit the skills and fame of young athletes. The tragedy at the heart of college sports is not that some college athletes are getting paid, but that more of them are not.
I'm also partial to this, by deceased Congolese dictator Mobutu Sese Seko (not really…probably), who skillfully deflates the "but they are getting paid, in the form of an education" argument. And this, by Clay Travis at Outkick the Coverage, which addresses the morality (or—spoiler alert!—lack thereof) of a system that not only forces people with extremely valuable skills to wait at least three years for their first paycheck, but makes sure they remain exposed to potentially career-ending injuries the entire time.

So I'm not going to rehash the argument for overhauling college football to allow the players to share in some way the profits they generate, because the case has largely been made, and I'd just be running up the score. But there's still one lingering piece of the pro-NCAA argument that, as far as I can tell, hasn't been addressed. From a comment on the Outkick the Coverage article:
I agree with most of what you say with the exception of, "The NFL's age restriction is a fundamental restraint of trade that is completely un-American." It is entirely up to the NFL to make rules regarding hiring. That is America. The right for the owner to decide when, whom and if he/she hires someone. The owner of a corporation, partnership, legal entity, etc has rights just as the college player has rights and personal liberties. The player can choose to stop playing college ball and wait for the draft status to open or he can go play in the CFL or [some other professional league]. . . . Are the universities making money off of some of the players? Hell yes, why shouldn't they be? The bottom line is capitalism in it's truest form is about profits, contracts and freedom of choice. The player chooses what he/she wants to do, no one forces them to play college ball.
It's a tough point to argue with, because I'm not sure it's wrong. It might also be the most important point in the entire debate. If 18-to-20-year-old football players really do have a viable pro alternative, then the NCAA is, while still problematic, a fundamentally benevolent organization that does a lot of good for those who choose to keep their amateur status.[2] But if players don't have a viable pro alternative, then they're essentially forced into an adhesion contract where they have to spend at least three years making money for others—receiving in return only the non-negotiable benefit of a college education they may not want, and probably won't be able to take full advantage of anyway—before they can start trying to make money for themselves. In that case, the system is every bit as indefensible as Taylor Branch and others make it out to be.

So I decided to look up the players who joined a professional team rather than attend college. The NFL's rule is well-known—you can't enter the draft until three years after your high school class graduates—but there are other pro football leagues, so at least in theory there are options available. But what kind of money are those players making? How enticing were the scholarship opportunities they passed up, if any? Are they getting attention from NFL scouts?

I went through the leagues that are currently active (NFL Europe, we hardly knew ye), looking over rosters, league rules, and whatever other information I could find.[3] There aren't many, but, sure enough, I did find a handful of athletes who went pro at age 18 or 19. There's Mikkayla Flores of the Cleveland Crush, Ciara McMillan of the Tampa Breeze, and Dominique Oro of the Los Angeles Temptation, to name a few. But if NFL scouts are hanging around at Lingerie Football League games, it's probably for a different reason.

As for the other significant (by which I mean not overwhelmingly insignificant) leagues, here's what I found:

Age Barrier
League Youngest player
(age as of Oct. 29, 2011)
Previous team(s)
Canadian Football League Zack Evans, Saskatchewan Roughriders (21 years, 125 days)

Youngest American:
Javes Lewis, Toronto Argonauts
(21 years, 323 days)
Evans: Regina Thunder (of the CJFL, an amateur junior league for Canadians only)

Lewis: University of Oregon (2008-10)
Arena Football League Will Hill, Arizona Rattlers
(21 years, 237 days)
University of Florida (2008-10)
United Football League Saalim Hakim, Las Vegas Locomotives
(21 years, 271 days)
Palomar CC (2008),
Tarleton State (2009-10)
National Football League Tyron Smith, Dallas Cowboys
(20 years, 322 days)
USC (2008-10)

Aside from the aforementioned LFL, I could only find one professional football league in North America with any players under 21. Oddly enough, it's the NFL.[4]

The NFL is also the only league without a good deal of haziness surrounding its eligibility rules. According to the never-wrong-about-anything New York Times, the CFL has no minimum age.[5] I'm skeptical, especially after going through the team rosters, but I haven't seen an official source that says otherwise. It's a similar story with the AFL and UFL—a number of questionable online sources point to a minimum age of 18 or so, but I can't find anything definitive.

There are, of course, a number of reasons a player with NFL aspirations might not want to join an alternative league, even if that league will have him. To begin with, it's rather pointless to forgo a full scholarship for a miniscule salary in an unstable organization, and, other than the CFL, which pays decent money and isn't going to fold anytime soon, it's nothing but question marks. The AFL had to cancel its entire 2009 season, and upon its return in 2010 player salaries were drastically reduced. The fledgling UFL pays its players around $40,000 a year—not NFL money, but enough to live on, and seemingly more than the league should be able to afford. In related news, the UFL just cancelled the last two weeks of its regular season, and may never return.

And then there are the differences in the game itself. Arena league games are played on a smaller field with rules designed to encourage a faster pace and lots of scoring. CFL games are played on a field the size of Luxembourg with rules that allow this to happen:

But, ultimately, it’s all gridiron football, and anyone who excels at one version has the potential to succeed at another. So why is it so difficult to find even a single player who went pro out of high school? I can think of two possible explanations:
  1. Every talented 18-year-old football player in the country independently made the same decision—to go to college instead of playing for money. And yet, while in college many (though certainly not all) of these players will (a) neglect the academic coursework they voluntarily chose to pursue, (b) accept "improper benefits", jeopardizing their eligibility and exposing their schools to NCAA sanctions (and undermining the initial decision to play on an amateur basis), and (c) leave for the NFL as soon as the rules allow, whether they've graduated or not. Or…
  2. No professional league is interested in signing players right out of high school.
One of those explanations is a bit more plausible than the other.[6]

I'm not arguing that the NCAA or the NFL are somehow illegally restricting competition (though I'm tempted to try), but this is another of the many, many signs that there's something wrong with the system. The term "slavery" has been thrown around, and that's unfortunate, because there's nothing approaching slavery going on, but it certainly looks like the choice isn't between playing as an amateur or as a professional—it's between playing as an amateur or not playing at all.

1. What does this have to do with conservatism? That's a good question, for which I have two answers. First, it's what I feel like writing about, so whatever. And second, what doesn't it have to do with conservatism? From the overly cautious on-field tactics and the attempts to eliminate victimless behavior on dubious moral grounds (e.g. banning certain touchdown celebrations), to the we-know-what's-good-for-these-kids-better-than-they-do paternalism of the college system and the anti-capitalistic shadiness of the NFL's antitrust exemption—virtually everything objectionable about modern conservatism is reflected in football.
2. Of the major American sports, baseball has by far the best system for handling the transition from amateur to professional, for the simple and obvious reason that the players have a choice. This is why nobody complains about college baseball players not getting paid. (Well, that and the relative lack of money in college baseball, which isn't unrelated to the fact that players have a choice.)
3. I made a pretty good effort to be comprehensive, but I didn't obsess over it, and it's certainly possible that I overlooked somebody. There are also a few teams (I'm talking to you, Omaha Nighthawks) that don't have rosters online, along with countless other reasons the available information might be incomplete or wrong. Suffice it to say, I might've missed some things, but I think my overall assessment is pretty solid.
    Oh, and I decided not to worry too much about the various second-tier "indoor football" leagues (for legal reasons, they can't call it arena football), or the Stars Football League, which is totally a real thing. From the SFL's Wikipedia page: "Its inaugural season began June 30, 2011 with two teams; the league phased two more teams into the schedule over the course of the 2011 season to finish the season with four teams." It might not sound like much right now, but they're on pace to have 256 teams by this time in 2013.
4. You can probably figure this out without my help (if you don't know it already), but just to be thorough: Since the NFL defines eligibility relative to a player's high school graduation, there's really no minimum age, and every so often somebody manages to parlay an atypically early graduation into an atypically early NFL debut (most notably Amobi Okoye, who was still 19 when he was drafted in 2007).
5. I'm tempted to write a whole 'nother post about the comments on that Bryce Brown article, because there are some great examples of the bizarre attitudes people have about college sports. Even at the New York Times website, of all places, the idea of an 18-year-old cashing in on a marketable skill—perfectly acceptable in every other (non-criminal) profession—brings out so much inexplicable vitriol. I especially like this one:
Send a kid to the CFL rather than college? The average NFL running back career is just over three years. Then what? Now you have to PAY for college rather than getting it for free.
That's right, after he spends three years in the lucrative world of professional football, making piles and piles of money, he'll have to PAY for college. How will he ever be able to afford it?
6. This isn't a new development, by the way. In the mid-80s the USFL adopted the same eligibility rules as the NFL, which at the time disallowed the signing of players who had yet to use up their college eligibility. (A rather controversial exception was made for Herschel Walker, who was coming off his third college season and would've been able to enter the NFL draft under today's rules.)
    Similarly, the XFL made no attempt to undercut the NFL, though there were reports that after its first season the league considered recruiting 18- and 19-year-olds. They still wouldn't have been in direct competition with the NCAA—the plan was to talk only to players who had been unable to get into college for academic reasons—but, regardless, it never happened, because the XFL's first season turned out to be its last.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Bringing America Together, One Venn Diagram at a Time

Last Monday I posted an article expressing my view that Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party are, in many ways, “raging against different halves of the same machine,” and I threw in a crude Venn diagram to illustrate my point. By Friday, the article had brought more traffic to this blog than my entire previous output combined, and the diagram had appeared on sites as prominent and ideologically disparate as The Cato Institute, Reason, The American Conservative, ThinkProgress, JoeMyGod, The Daily Beast, Time, and The Atlantic.[1]

Needless to say, this was a somewhat stronger response than I expected.[2] Almost as surprising is how overwhelmingly positive the reaction has been. I thought I was saying something controversial—something many would consider downright heretical—but instead I was met with near-universal agreement.[3] And the criticism hasn’t even been all that critical. Many have pointed out that the diagram fails to account for some key point or another, which is perfectly fair, and I acknowledged as much in the article, but few have objected to its underlying premise.

What, then, can be taken away from all this feel-goodery? Whatever you want to take away from it, I suppose (and I’m interested to hear some other opinions), but I think it’s safe to assume the diagram resonated so well because of its simplicity, not in spite of it—and with simplicity comes a certain toothlessness. In this case, the message could be expressed in simple terms because it dealt only with identifying problems, but once you start talking about solutions, ideological differences come into play and things get complicated.

If that sounds cynical, it’s…well, because it is, but it actually represents a step up for me. I started this blog, in part, because I feel like the ubiquitous left/right, liberal/conservative dichotomy has just about destroyed our ability to even agree on problems, much less solutions. There’s this tendency to associate every viewpoint with one side or the other, which is tolerable enough if it’s something like “we should reduce taxes on high-income earners” or “the financial industry should be more heavily regulated”, but it's distracting and counter-productive when the dispute is centered around contrasting interpretations of reality.

I watched this happen with the Tea Party. The Tea Party has, in many ways, become a conservative movement (and a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Republican Party), but there’s no good reason for the cause of rebelling against government excess and inefficiency not to appeal to everyone—libertarian, conservative, liberal, or miscellaneous. The frustration I expressed last week arose from the seeming inevitability of OWS lapsing into a similar affiliation with liberalism and the Democratic Party, and from my sense that I couldn't declare my support for and identification with the OWS movement without being branded a socialist (which I’m not—no offense, socialists).

But what I saw instead was a refudiation [4] of the idea that there’s something inherently “liberal” about acknowledging the role of the private sector in our current troubles, because of course there isn’t—no more than there’s anything inherently “conservative” about acknowledging the role of the government. And now I’m at least hopeful that the OWS/liberalism/Democratic Party alignment is not as inevitable as I thought—and hey, maybe there’s still hope for the Tea Party to turn it around, too.

So that’s what I’m taking away from the popularity of the Venn diagram. We’ll always have trouble agreeing on the best solution, but the crucial first step is agreeing on what the problem is, which at least gets us to the point where we can meaningfully and constructively disagree. Looks like I'm not the only one who's tired of bypassing that step.

1. I don’t want this to sound like an awards show speech, but seriously, thanks to Jeffrey Ellis and Steve Horwitz for getting the ball rolling. Thanks to everyone who commented on my article, everyone who shared the link or the diagram on Facebook or Twitter or wherever else… [“wrap it up” music starts playing] …my long-time readers for all the support and encouragement, um…thanks to JoeMyGod for showing me there's nothing wrong with having a blog with an awkward name and “blogspot” in the URL. [music getting louder] Ok, they're telling me to wrap it up. If I forgot anyone, sorry!
2. And, as the title of this post indicates, I've already let it go to my head. This is a good thing, because bitterness makes me funny, so I should be in rare form after I fall back down to Earth, which I assume will be any day now.
3. As the week went on the story sort of morphed from “OWS and the Tea Party have too many similarities to be so antagonistic” to “Could Occupy Wall St. and the Tea Party Unite?”, which is the title of this post on Time's Curious Capitalist blog. I might come up with more to say about that in the near future, but, for now, I just want to say that for all the enjoyment I've gotten out of watching the media overreact to things over the years, it makes me proud that, just this once, I was one of the causes of the overreaction.
4. What? It’s a perfectly cromulent word.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Occupy Wall Street vs. The Tea Party

If I may dig up one of my all-time favorite Onion articles:
79 Percent Of Americans Missing The Point Entirely
WASHINGTON, DC—According to a Georgetown University study released Tuesday, 79 percent of Americans are missing the point entirely with regard to such wide-ranging topics as politics, consumerism, taxes, entertainment, fashion, and professional wrestling. . . .
I've been trying to organize my thoughts about the coverage of the Occupy Wall Street protests, not to mention the protests themselves, and I keep coming back to that Onion article,[1] because any way I look at it, just about everyone is missing the point.

The problem, and I suppose this was inevitable, is that Occupy Wall Street is being portrayed as some kind of anti-Tea Party. Left vs. right, blue vs. red, rock vs. country, et cetera—it's the only way we know how to draw battle lines anymore. But how are the two movements meaningfully different? I sure as hell can't figure it out. There are plenty of minor differences, mostly concerning priorities and demographics, but the similarities are much more substantial. Both are popular uprisings against powerful-but-nebulous entities believed to be responsible for America's economic struggles. Both are defined not by easily-identified leaders, but by the sum total of countless unique viewpoints, and thus are not capable of articulating their goals with any cohesiveness or specificity (nor should they be expected to). And both movements, to borrow the classification scheme created by Bill O'Reilly, are teeming with both pinheads and patriots.

And yet, over the last week or so each side has generated mountains of commentary saying, essentially, this: You know the one-sidedly [negative/positive] portrayal of the Tea Party we've been pushing for two and a half years now? Well Occupy Wall Street is totally the opposite!
  • Paul Krugman describes OWS as "a popular movement that, unlike the Tea Party, is angry at the right people." Meanwhile, Ann Coulter says the OWS protesters are angry at the wrong people (and also have poor hygiene, because why not?).
  • Keith Olbermann says OWS is legitimately a grassroots movement that, at least at first, was ignored by the media. Rush Limbaugh says the Tea Party is the "organic" one, while OWS was "manufactured" by the media.
  • ThinkProgess claims the OWS protests "better embody the values of the original Boston Tea Party." BigGovernment insists the protesters are "more aligned with Marxism; with Democratic Socialism; with Soviet Era Collectivism; with the very dangerous and elitist Progressive Movement" than with anything even remotely "American".
So it goes. It's hard to be honest and fair. It's easy to cobble together some empty rhetoric and lob it in the direction of those most inclined to assume the best about their friends and the worst about their enemies.[2]

Not that I have any special insight into who's least wrong, but I'm a big fan of the sentiments expressed in this Reason article:
Of course, the type of loudmouth gadflies who show up at all large outdoor political events, whether Tea Party gatherings, GOP coffee klatches, or Democratic National Conventions, can be found in Liberty Plaza. But to dismiss an entire movement—one that is gathering momentum in cities all around the country—based on the inarticulateness of a few teenagers is entirely the wrong response. It's far more useful to try and understand what is going on here, to grok the meaning of these protesters' motivations, before prematurely passing summary judgment.
Exactly. We should pay less attention to the individual lunatics, and more attention to what a movement is really about. Occupy Wall Street, at its core, is a reaction to the increasing power and influence of large corporations. The Tea Party, at its core, is a reaction to the government's constant interference with private enterprise. But wait a minute—aren't those things connected?

Bailouts, subsidies, tax breaks, special rights and privileges, regulations designed to restrict competition—to name a few of the many ways the government protects and stimulates corporate interests, and those things are every bit as anti-free market as, not to mention directly related to, the high taxes and excessive bureaucracy that gets Tea Partiers riled up.[3] In other words, aren't these two groups—Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party—raging against different halves of the same machine? Do I have to draw a Venn diagram here?

Oh, alright, I'll draw a Venn diagram: that's how alt-text works

Yeah, I'm oversimplifying, but only a little. The greatest threat to our economy is neither corporations nor the government. The greatest threat to our economy is both of them working together. There are currently two sizable coalitions of angry citizens that are almost on the same page about that, and they're too busy insulting each other to notice.

1. The best part is the quote at the end:
"If I want to miss the point, that's my own business," said Ernie Schayr, a Wheeling, WV, auto mechanic. "If I want to complain about having to pay taxes while at the same time demanding extra police protection for my neighborhood, that's my right as an American. Most people in other countries don't ever get the chance to miss the point, and that's tragic. The East Timorese are so busy fleeing for their lives, they never have the chance to go to the supermarket during the busiest time of the week and complain to the cashier about how long the lines are and ask them why they don't do something about it."
2. Here's a refreshing case of common sense and reason transcending partisanship: An open letter and warning from a former tea party movement adherent to the Occupy Wall Street movement. Naturally, the author is anonymous (as far as I can tell). By Reverend Vas Littlecrow Wojtanowicz.
3. By all means, leave a comment if you think I'm wrong, but it's a myth that big corporations are anti-government, right? They don't want to have to compete in a free market, they want to "compete" in an artificially restricted market.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Alright, Fine, I’ll Add a Disclaimer to My Emails

For reasons probably related to the fact that I'm now one of them, I've been involved in more and more email exchanges with lawyers lately. Their emails often include fancy disclaimers,[1] while mine are just out there, naked and vulnerable, which made me self-conscious, so I decided to write a disclaimer of my own. I was rather happy with the result, so I sent it in to McSweeney's, where it was recently published:
Alright, Fine, I’ll Add a Disclaimer to My Emails.

What does this have to do with politics and political discourse? Um…I'm still working on that. In the meantime, so that this post isn't entirely an exercise in self-promotion, I thought I'd link to some of my all-time favorite McSweeney's pieces:

What Your Favorite Classic Rock Band Says About You.
And by all means, check out the follow-ups too.

An Open Letter to the Person in Charge of New Punctuation.
Probably the most compelling punctuation-related proposal I've ever seen (and there's more competition than you'd think).

Straight Answers to Some Popular Rhetorical Riddles
"If the police arrest a mime, do they tell him he has the right to remain silent? Only if the police intend to question the mime."

Thirty-Nine Questions for Charlie Daniels Upon Hearing “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” for the First Time in 25 Years.
Actually, just go to John Moe's author page. It's all outstanding.

And, of course, Kevin Collier's Get to Know an Internet Commenter series, which I'm a little upset I didn't think of myself.

1. To be fair, some of these disclaimers, like the one about tax advice, are legally required in certain situations. I know very little about how that particular disclaimer came to be, or whether it's an effective solution to an extant problem, but the government probably knows what it's doing, right?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

There's Another Debate Tonight, and This Time the Guy I Like Is In It

What's this, a post that's just a link to a thing, with no additional commentary? That's right. I don't normally do this,[1] but I'm making an exception in order to help spread the word about Gary Johnson, who has managed to claw his way into tonight's debate,[2] hosted and televised by Fox News:
Gary Johnson, the Republican presidential candidate who has labored in obscurity, is about to get his moment in the spotlight—for one night, at least.

Johnson will be included in Thursday's Fox News debate in Orlando, the first time he will share a stage with his eight rivals—over the objections of the Florida Republican Party.
Take that, The Man!

Anyway, Johnson is my favorite Republican candidate, so I figured calling attention to this debate is (slightly more than) the least I can do. And I felt the need to do something, since I just devoted two whole articles to my second-favorite Republican candidate.

1. Not that I have anything against blogs that generate a lot of content in the hey-here's-a-link-to-a-thing format—some of them are among my favorites—but it's just not a style I'm comfortable with, in large part because I know I wouldn't be able to stick with it.
2. Are these debates—now occurring at a rate of roughly two per month, and we're still 11 months away from the convention—becoming a chore to keep track of? Absolutely. Is there a detailed chart on Wikipedia that does most of the work for you? Of course there is.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Ron Paul vs. The Lamestream Media

I've posted a number of articles here that reflect my lack of tolerance for accusations of media bias. Even setting aside the frequency with which the "Bias!" label is thrown at opinions, predictions, jokes, and other things clearly not intended to be objective, I tend to find the discussions surrounding media bias more redundant and distracting than constructive. Of course the media is biased—the liberal media has a liberal bias, and the conservative media has a conservative bias.[1] The liberal media is larger and more pervasive, while the conservative media is louder and more knowingly partisan, so it seems like it roughly cancels out, and regardless they're both pretty terrible at doing the important things we (naively?) expect the media to do.

Even worse, a lot of complaints of media bias are actually cases of the Sarah Palin Paradox (I just now made up the name, but it's something I wrote about back in April), which goes like this: If you're capable, via the printed word or some form of electronic transmission, of making it widely known that you feel your voice is being suppressed by the media, then your voice is no longer being suppressed, for you have in fact used the media to amplify it. And if you're capable of making it widely known that you feel your message is being distorted, then your message is no longer being distorted, for you have used the media to clarify it.

I say all this primarily to establish some credibility. Now, when I spend the rest of this article doing exactly what I can't stand—griping about media bias—it should be that much more meaningful. Or hypocritical.

Anyway, last week I wrote about a question Ron Paul was asked in whichever of the last half dozen Republican debates was moderated by Chris Wallace: "Are you suggesting that heroin and prostitution are an exercise of liberty?" Paul's response—that things like that should be decided at the state level, and, by the way, maybe we should have more faith in our ability to not do things that are dangerous, regardless of legality—was reported on with all the nuance and subtlety of a Michael Bay-directed action sequence. For example, here's a quote from a Time article about Obama's re-election chances:
[F]ive of the Republican candidates for President gathered in South Carolina for their first official debate. It was a weird show, newsworthy only because Congressman Ron Paul came out in favor of legalizing heroin, cocaine and prostitution.
And an editorial by Dana Milbank of the Washington Post, which discussed the debate via the condescending premise that none of the "adults" attended, leaving the "juveniles" on their own:
At Thursday night’s debate in South Carolina, Libertarian Rep. Ron Paul explained why heroin and prostitution should be legal and why the Department of Homeland Security should be eliminated.
And a Mother Jones piece listing "Ron Paul's 15 Most Extreme Positions":
7. Let the Oldest Profession Be: Paul wants to legalize prostitution at the federal level.
8. Legalize All Drugs: Including cocaine and heroin.
As I pointed out last week, Paul didn't argue for legalization; he argued for leaving it up to the states, which is very different, but whatever. The knee-jerk reaction to the idea of legalizing heroin makes a little bit of sense to me, as far as knee-jerk reactions go (talk about setting the bar low), but the righteous indignation over prostitution couldn't be more absurd, because prostitution is legal at the federal level. Apparently it never occurred to these journalists to ask themselves (or, even better, a knowledgeable bystander) just what the hell is going on in Nevada.[2]

So there's your media bias. A Republican presidential candidate—who, it should be noted, is doing alright in the polls—is widely ridiculed for, really, nothing. Especially in terms of the prostitution issue, where he merely offered an unemphatic defense of the legal status quo. And he wasn't even the one who brought it up.

Fortunately, there's a watchdog group out there combating anti-conservative bias with so much zealotry, they've been known to confuse bias with the mere asking of a difficult question.[3] Here's what NewsBusters had to say about the media's treatment of Ron Paul after that debate:
That's right, nothing.[4] And nothing from Media Matters either. Or Politifact. Or just about anyone else. The most prominent media outlet I can find that consistently sticks up for Paul's more socially libertarian views is, which is one of my favorite sites, but it's not exactly a media juggernaut.

Remember the Sarah Palin Paradox from earlier? How her portrayal of herself as the victim of an antagonistic media is undermined by her success in cultivating that image? Ron Paul is the person she's pretending to be. He's the one who says things the "lamestream media" doesn't want you to hear. He's the one who has to take his message straight to the people, because the media can't be bothered to simply report the facts fairly and objectively. He's the one whose voice is being suppressed.[5] And does he spend even half as much time complaining about how he's treated?

Really, I'm asking. Does he? If he does, I never hear about it.

1. That people can't seem to agree on even that much is an endless source of frustration. As is the closely-related inability to recognize that whatever your favorite source of commentary happens to be, it's still almost definitely biased in some way or another. In fact, that's probably why you like it.
2. This is as good a place as any to rant about Harry Reid's bizarre decision earlier this year to call on the legislators in his home state to ban prostitution:
Describing a meeting he had with a firm that would have opened a data center in the state—"a move that would have created desperately needed jobs"—Reid said the executives balked because prostitution remains legal in Nevada.

"Nevada needs to be known as the first place for innovation and investment—not as the last place where prostitution is still legal," he continued. "When the nation thinks about Nevada, it should think about the world's newest ideas and newest careers—not about its oldest profession."
So…the way to create jobs is to shut down an industry that employs thousands of people and exists (legally) only in Nevada, thereby enticing a handful of (possibly fictional) investors who want to do business in a place that's just like the other 49 states, except more desert-y. Whatever Reid's ulterior motive was (and I'm sure he had one, because there's no other reason to lazily advocate something with no chance of happening), I hope it backfired.
3. For example, there was this NewsBusters' article from January, which I had started to write about, but then the Tucson shooting happened and made it seem even more pointless than usual:
NBC's Meredith Vieira seemed baffled by the concept of taking a principled stand against Obamacare, as she repeatedly pressed Michele Bachmann, on Thursday's Today show, why Republicans would bother to vote to repeal the health care bill in the House if it wasn't going to get passed in the Senate or signed by the President? Vieira's very first question to the Republican Minnesota Congresswoman set the aggressive tone for the entire interview as she demanded: "Given the fact that the Democratic-led Senate will never go for that and the President has veto power, why make that the first big thing on your plate?"
So…House efforts to repeal healthcare reform were virtually guaranteed to have no tangible effect, which raises the obvious question of why House Republicans felt this was a worthwhile use of their time. It's not bias that Vieira asked Bachmann to defend the repeal effort. It would've been unprofessional not to ask. (Bachmann's defense of the repeal, in part: "Because it's not symbolic. It's real." She keeps using that word, "real". I do not think it means what she thinks it means.)
4. Granted, NewsBusters is supportive of Paul from time to time, like after the most recent debate:
On Tuesday, Chris Matthews wrongly accused Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul of saying during the previous evening's debate he would let a critically ill person die if the patient didn't have health insurance.

Exactly how does Matthews and others on his so-called "news" network continue to get away with such blatant misrepresentations?
So…it's not like they refuse to come to Paul's defense altogether. They just don't do it unless they agree with him. Have I mentioned before that the overall level of respectability of America's various media watchdog organizations is distressingly low? (Yes, I have.)
5. Wow, I tried to hold it together, but it's really hard to complain about the media without sounding like a crazy person. Let me try those last three sentences again: He's the one who says things that, while defensible, are out of the mainstream, and thus not conducive to the simplified reporting people have grown accostomed to. He's the one who has to rely less on traditional media and more on Internet-facilitated grassroots organizing, which, even in this increasingly digital age, probably puts him at something of a disadvantage. He's the one whose voice is being…well, not suppressed, really, but a little harder to find than it should be. Is that better?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Ron Paul, the Media, and Dangerous Opioids

As a libertarian with a wide range of opinions on both stuff and things, I suppose it's a little odd that I've never talked about Ron Paul here (a site search brings up only one reference, and it was very much in passing). I don't know why that is. My best guess is that I rarely find him objectionable enough to write about, but I have too many reservations to really get on board with his campaign. Also, his supporters have a reputation for being obsessive, Internet-savvy lunatics. I'm not sure this reputation is entirely undeserved. (Prove me wrong, lunatics!)

But screw it, those aren't good reasons, and so far his presidential candidacy has been way too interesting to ignore, so brace yourselves, because here comes a two-part series about Ron Paul. If it helps, part one is about drugs and part two is about sex, sort of. Both parts, in keeping with my commitment to timeliness and big picture analysis, are about a brief exchange from a debate that happened over four months ago:
Chris Wallace: Are you suggesting that heroin and prostitution are an exercise of liberty?
Ron Paul: Well, you know, I never used those words. You probably put those words someplace, but, yes, in essence if I leave it up to the states, it’s going to be up to the states. Up until this past century, you know, for over 100 years they were legal. What you’re inferring is, “You know what, if we legalize heroin tomorrow, everybody’s going to use heroin.” How many people here would use heroin if it was legal? I bet nobody would… “Oh yeah, I need the government to take care of me. I don’t want to use heroin, so I need these laws!”
Wallace threw prostitution into the mix just for fun, but it was heroin that caught a very small portion of the media's attention. Here are some of the points made over and over, all in the name of providing fair and accurate coverage of Paul's debate performance, by reporters and commentators in bizarro world:
  • He didn't say heroin should be legal, he said its legality should be decided by each state rather than the federal government. Which state do people think is eager to legalize heroin? Besides California, obviously.
  • He's not campaigning on this. There's nothing about heroin on his website, and, as far as I can tell, he's never mentioned it in any context other than answering a direct question.[1]
  • He's not necessarily wrong.[2]
In this universe, however, it was all "Ron Paul wants to legalize heroin!" and "that's enough of that, let's talk about Rick Perry now."

So what should Paul have done differently? He could've lied. He could've given the answer Romney, Bachmann, or Perry would give if they were asked a question like this (which, it should be noted, has never happened). Oh, no, of course heroin shouldn't be legal. It's dangerous. But he won't say that because it's not what he believes. Just as importantly, everyone who understands libertarianism knows it's not what he believes.

That's the thing about having an ideology—there aren't going to be any major surprises. I could come up with a question none of the Republican candidates have ever weighed in on—like, say, whether the FCC should regulate the obstacles on Wipeout,[3] which have very gradually evolved from "looks fun, I'd go on that show" to "holy shit, they're actually trying to break her neck!"—and with most of them, I have no idea how they'd answer. Would one of the frontrunners defend the rights of business owners without really sounding sincere about it? Or throw around terms like "wholesome" and "values" in a muddled critique of reality TV? Or somehow turn it into a question about job creation? I have my guesses, but the point is, until the question is asked and answered, I don't know. I already know Ron Paul's answer, because I know how his ideology works. And if he said something he didn't really believe, I'd be able to tell. How is that a bad thing?

And yet, as Chris Wallace made abundantly clear in that debate, it totally is. You're just asking to be confronted by the extremes of your ideology. It doesn't matter that those extremes are such a low priority as to be politically irrelevant, and it definitely doesn't matter that your views aren't indefensible, you're still forced to choose between alienating your most devoted supporters or repelling the rest of the voting public. Mitt Romney never has to make that choice, because he has no ideology.

One of the criticisms I've made of Ron Paul is that he doesn't do a great job of making libertarianism sound reasonable to non-libertarians, and I still think he could do better,[4] but it's becoming increasingly clear that there's a lot more going on, and not all of it is within his control.

1. As far as I can tell, the "Ron Paul wants to legalize heroin" thing first became a medium-size deal in 2007, when John Stossel interviewed Paul for 20/20. The interview was made available online, but never aired on television. The reason for this, depending on who you ask, is either that Paul had a sizeable Internet following at the time but was relatively unknown otherwise, or that The Man doesn't want you to hear what Ron Paul has to say. Because when The Man wants something suppressed, he puts it on the Internet where anyone can see it at any time, including right now, almost four years later, and from probably unauthorized sources, since The Man apparently can't be bothered to enforce his rights under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
2. I'm getting a headache just thinking about what this footnote would turn into if I tried to be thorough, so I'm going to limit it to two over-simplified points. First, consider marijuana, which should be legal for more reasons than I can keep track of. The only arguments for legalizing pot that don't translate over to heroin are those having to do with pot being relatively harmless compared to other drugs. So, if we can agree that marijuana legalization makes sense (and we're getting close), then the heroin debate should be about how much it matters that heroin is more addictive and more dangerous. It does matter, obviously, but enough to overcome everything else?
    Second, I'd just like to point out that there has been approximately one (1) time in American history that the federal government claimed a broad new power, only to have that power rescinded by popular demand after everyone collectively realized they had made a huge mistake. It involved prohibition of a drug. Meanwhile, there have been approximately zero (0) times in American history that the federal government prohibited a drug, and then all the problems associated with it went away. So how about we stop acting like it's insane to suggest that drug prohibition doesn't work?
3. I'm pretty sure the FCC doesn't have that power, but it's more than a little distressing that I can't say so with more confidence. If nothing else, it's not clear to me how the Big Balls pass the "serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value" test.
4. You know who's better than Ron Paul at making libertarianism sound reasonable? Gary Johnson.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Prosecutorial Discretion

Nobody really knows how many unauthorized aliens are in the United States, but most studies put the number in the 10-12 million range.[1] What we do know is that the deportation rate is currently at an all-time high—about 400,000 per year. Meanwhile, estimates suggest that, even accounting for deportations and voluntary departures, the unauthorized alien population has been increasing at a rate of about 500,000 a year.

In other words, we're clearly well on our way to resolving the problem. If current trends continue, by my rough calculation, we should have immigration under control right around the time the sun becomes a red giant and destroys all life on Earth.

However, if we want a solution that might take less than five billion years, we can, in broad terms, do one or more of the following:
  1. Grant some form of general or limited amnesty.[2]
  2. Commit more resources to deportation efforts and border protection.[3]
  3. Allow the economy to degrade to the point that the problem takes care of itself.
#1 isn't going to happen anytime soon. #2 might be theoretically possible, but lately Congress has been rather stingy about throwing money around. Honestly, #3 is most likely to work, and is probably why the rate of illegal immigration appears to have slowed in recent years, but let's assume nobody wants to go any further down that route. So we're stuck with the deadly-ball-of-hydrogen plan for now.

That being the case, it would make sense for the Obama administration to put some thought into how they allocate their limited resources. If one alien is a convicted rapist, and another is a college student with above-average grades and no criminal record who was brought to the U.S. by his parents at age 10, they may be equally deportable under the law, but I think it's obvious who the taxpayers want the government to deal with first. Two weeks ago, the White House announced just such a policy:
Under the President’s direction, for the first time ever the Department of Homeland Security has prioritized the removal of people who have been convicted of crimes in the United States. And they have succeeded; in 2010 DHS removed 79,000 more people who had been convicted of a crime compared to 2008. Today, they announced that they are strengthening their ability to target criminals even further by making sure they are not focusing our resources on deporting people who are low priorities for deportation. This includes individuals such as young people who were brought to this country as small children, and who know no other home. It also includes individuals such as military veterans and the spouses of active-duty military personnel.
While the long-term effects of the new policy remain unclear, the immediate consequence was undoubtedly a heap of torn menisci and strained ACLs, given the intensity with which knees were jerked:
This step by the White House amounts to a complete abrogation of the President's duty to enforce the laws of the land and a huge breach of the public trust. Never, in the history of federal immigration enforcement, has an administration willfully and so egregiously usurped Congress's and the people's role to decide immigration issues. In essence, the administration has declared that U.S. immigration is now virtually unlimited to anyone willing to try to enter and only those who commit violent felonies after arrival are subject to enforcement.
What if citizens would stop paying taxes, or refuse to participate in Social Security? If the executive branch can countermand a law of Congress, why can’t the voters – those who grant Congress its authority – do the same?[4]
President Obama is once again over-extending his hand to implement his political agenda previously struck down by Congress. The message to those thinking about coming to the United States illegaly is clear: come here, break the law by entering the United States, a sovereign country, without permission, use public services while burdening American taxpayers while not paying into the system, burden our schools and health care system, all without consequences to the illegal immigrant population.
An increasingly desperate Barack Hussein Obama, in a treasonous attempt to pander to foreigners at the obvious expense of America’s interests and security, has imposed amnesty for illegal aliens by fiat.
Aside from a few basic points of grammatical structure, almost all of that is wrong. It's not amnesty—no one is being legally absolved of their transgressions. It's not a usurpation of Congress—all immigration laws remain in effect, and all aliens who find themselves deportable under those laws are just as deportable today as they were two weeks ago. And it's not unconstitutional—the executive branch is perfectly within its power to decide how to enforce a law, especially when equal enforcement across the board is a practical impossibility. If anything, it's silly that this wasn't already the policy.

What does it say about our collective understanding of immigration that Obama does something not only reasonable on its face, but also likely to address and alleviate one of the more incendiary conservative talking points (i.e. that "illegals" are a bunch of dangerous criminals), and this is the reaction he gets? I wouldn't even call it a backlash, because it's too ill-informed. It's just an excuse. People care enough about immigration to react emotionally, but not quite enough to demand analysis that at least borders on honest and fair, which gives commentators free reign to ignore reality and be as vitriolic as they want.

1. Bear Stearns conducted a study that put the number at over 20 million. This is because the researchers made their "Money Ball" shot, which makes the results count double.
2. Of course, many would argue that "amnesty" would be entirely counter-productive, as it creates a precedent that will lead to increased illegal immigration in the future. I'm not going to get into that now, except to make the point that, as is so often the case, it's probably not that simple.
3. I suppose there's always a case to be made for doing more, but this recent Washington Post editorial makes the case that our border is considerably more secure than Republicans make it out to be. I highly recommend reading it, because it reinforces what I already believe.
4. A little off-topic, but here's the best part of that RedState article, and by best I mean most infuriating:
Secretary of Homeland Insecurity Janet Napolitano proclaimed in a letter to the Senate that she will suspend deportation proceedings and grant amnesty to those who ostensibly fit the criteria of the Dream Act – a bill that was defeated with overwhelming bipartisan support of Congress.
In December 2010 the DREAM Act was passed by the House, 216-198. It was subsequently rejected by the Senate, 41-55. That's 41 voting against passage—or, more precisely, against cloture, because the filibuster has morphed from a rarely-seen act of desperation into a thing that we just have to deal with now.
    There are 535 members of Congress. Fewer than half of them (45%) voted against the DREAM Act. Of the Democrats in Congress at the time, only 14% voted no, compared to 89% of Republicans. And this is "overwhelming bipartisan support" for rejecting the bill. It must be a lot easier to write when you don't care what words mean.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The "Evil Rich"

I was skimming over one of Neal Boortz's recent diatribes on the subject of class warfare—skimming, not reading, because I've seen it all before, but he said something a few paragraphs in that caught my attention (emphasis added):
Let’s take a moment to look at these selfish, cold-hearted rich people, shall we? In November of 2010, Bank of America and Merrill Lynch released a study on philanthropy among high net worth households .. or as the progs like to call them, the evil rich.
My immediate impulse wasn't to wonder if he's wrong, but to wonder just how wrong he is. I did a Google search for "evil rich" (in quotation marks),[1] and I scanned through page after page of results until finally, at hit #68, I found the first non-facetious use of the term. It's a post on a forum called Surfing the Apocalypse, arguing (sincerely, as far as I can tell) for some sort of class action suit "against the evil rich people to stop them from doing the evil deeds they do to everyone else."

Pressing on, I found one more at #90: A post on a gaming forum that refers to Rupert Murdock as a "Super evil rich guy".

And…that's it for the top 100.[2] Two. Neither of which come from sites overflowing with influence and credibility, to put it politely. In the remaining 98 results—excepting a four-year-old New York Post article about the arrest of an "evil rich" Syrian arms dealer (who, by all accounts, is in fact both evil and rich), a handful of cases where "evil" ends a sentence and "rich" begins the next, and one baffling LinkedIn profile—the term is used exactly as Boortz used it. Not to denounce the wealthy for perceived immorality, but to mock and criticize those who support progressive policies.

Moving on to a more inherently political setting, I found four cases of the term being used on the House or Senate floor in the last 20 years. One is off-topic for the same reason as that Post article.[3] Here are the other three:
Representative Jack Kingston (R-GA), Dec. 20, 1995
Here are 89 percent of the people in America who will benefit from the $500 per child tax credit, and almost 90 percent have a family income of $75,000 or less. These are the rich people. So I guess what the extreme left is telling us is that if you make $75,000 or less, as the gentleman from California said, if you got a job, they do not like you. You are one of those big, bad, evil rich.
Representative Cliff Stearns (R-FL), July 22, 1997
Madam Speaker, the Republican Congress has passed real tax relief for all middle-class taxpayers at every stage of their lives, from child tax credits to estate tax reform. We are doing the right thing. Meanwhile, the President is trying to change the debate with this new `imputed rental income formula.' But the truth is in the numbers; and no amount of imagined, imputed income will turn hard-working middle-class Americans into what the President calls the evil rich.
Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), July 29, 2011
To suggest that a debt crisis triggered by $14.3 trillion in debt can be fixed by taxing the luxuries of evil rich people is so childish and lacking in seriousness that the President should have been called out on it immediately. But he wasn't. He was allowed to get away with it.
All Republicans, all conservative, all mocking their ideological opponents—none of whom, as far as I can tell, actually called rich people evil. So yeah, I think Boortz is wrong. It's a little overwhelming, really, how flagrantly wrong he is. And I haven't even brought up all the times the phrase has been used by Boortz himself on his own site.

Not to get all this-seemingly-minor-thing-is-a-microcosm-of-a-much-more-serious-problem here, but this seemingly minor thing is a microcosm of a much more serious problem. And it's not the shameless strawmanning—that's just a regular-size problem. The bigger problem is that I'm not sure conservatives even realize they're doing it anymore. It's like they've forgotten that these strawmen aren't real.

Liberals, for their part, portray conservatives as inhabitants of a fantasy world where the free market always works and the rich are always job creators, and that's not entirely fair either, but it shouldn't be overlooked that the demons conservatives do battle with are often imaginary. Nor should it be overlooked that they created these demons in order to condemn the politics of class warfare—that is, the politics of fostering divisiveness by demonizing those who are different.

1. Could I have reached more meaningful conclusions by opening up the searches to slight variations in the phrasing? Probably, but I have neither the time nor the inclination to go down that rabbit hole, and I doubt the results would have been substantially different.
2. I thought I had another one with hit #70, a post on a Minneapolis-St. Paul forum:
This evil rich man has a mansion and his kids are long grown and out. He has an indoor pool that doesn't get used. So this past weekend my sister's kids wanted to go swimming so I drove all the way to Orono to use this man's pool. We get to the door and he sees us with our floats and says "what the F#ck?" right in front of the kids. I demanded since he is so rich that he needs to let us in to use his pool. We get into an argument and now the kids are crying. His wife called the police and they showed up like I was a bank robber.
That's just part of an outlandish, implausible story that reeks not of progressivism, but of a narrow-minded conservative attempting to channel a progressive's thought process. Sure enough, later in the thread:
Thank you to all that replied!

This post was created as part of a study for my class. We were told to put up similar posts on random forums - in key business markets around the country to get reactions from the masses.

When this was posted in business friendly areas (low taxes, right to work, etc) like major metro areas in AZ, FL, TX, TN, SC, etc, there was a far better rate of reply. More importantly those replies would immediately condemn the liberal entitlement mindset. . . . In areas like Minneapolis people are either to afraid to speak out against this persons illegal actions and entitled mindset, or sadly support it.
3. According to Rep. Rob Andrews (D-NJ), the people who hunted down and killed bin Laden "sent a powerful message to any other evil rich person that wants to target the United States of America that such targeting is an act of suicide." Like I said, not really what we're talking about here, though the reference to bin Laden's wealth does seem a bit superfluous. Would he have been treated differently if he had been poor?