192 stories

Are Democrats suckers for holding their own to high standards?

2 Comments and 3 Shares

How the right seeks to make respecting norms into a liability.

The sheer scale and sustained ferocity of the reckoning with sexual harassment since the Harvey Weinstein revelations have taken almost everyone by surprise. Events have unfolded with such disorienting speed that it’s difficult to find emotional equilibrium — giddy disbelief and nameless dread alternate and sometimes mix.

It was inevitable that the wave of charges would take down some liberal heroes. When the first charges against Sen. Al Franken appeared, it set off a predictable round of anguished debate on the left. New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg has been a key figure — in the wake of the revelations, she wrote a column saying Franken should go, only to second-guess herself the following week.

On Tuesday, academic and activist Zephyr Teachout published a column of her own in the Times, questioning whether Franken has been treated with fairness and proportionality.

Franken’s offenses seem, at the very least, of a different kind than Harvey Weinstein’s, and the proper censure is far from clear. Should Franken resign? Should Democrats allow the Senate ethics investigation to proceed? How should they weigh Franken’s long service of progressive causes, including the rights of women, against his ugly and immature treatment of individual women? How can a zero-tolerance policy be reconciled with due process?

This excruciatingly difficult intra-left debate has played out on dozens of other websites and cable shows — and it’s unlikely to end anytime soon, no matter what happens to Franken.

But I want to pull the camera back and highlight another feature of the debate, which Goldberg captured skillfully in her latest column, “Franken is leaving and Trump is still here,” and Dahlia Lithwick echoed in a piece in Slate called “The uneven playing field.”

Both wrestle with the same dilemma: While the left attempts to address this issue in good faith, the right is using it entirely as a tool to divide Democrats and win short-term political advantage. Every move Democrats make to hold their own accountable, to apply the principle without favor, is immediately used against them.

The Hollywood Reporter's 5th Annual 35 Most Powerful People in New York Media - Arrivals Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Hollywood Reporter
Still waiting for the right to unite in condemning Bill O’Reilly.

Sensitive debates are difficult under a torrent of bad-faith gaslighting

The right has taken a purely instrumental approach to the sexual harassment phenomenon from the very beginning. They ignored more than a dozen Donald Trump accusers to elect him president. They blamed Weinstein on Hillary Clinton. Though a few conservative leaders rejected Roy Moore, an extremist credibly accused of preying on teen girls, conservative leaders and media rallied around his (narrowly unsuccessful) campaign.

Conservatives have missed no opportunity to use Franken as a wedge. While he was still in office, they used him to attack Dems. And when he resigned?

“What you saw today was a lynch mob,” Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich said Wednesday on Laura Ingraham's show. The former House speaker argued that Democrats' mind-set is, “Let's just lynch him because when we are done, we will be so pure.”

They pivoted from “Dems are bad for keeping Franken” to “Dems are bad for losing Franken” without breaking a sweat, because the point was never about Franken. The point is always the same: Dems are bad.

So now the left struggles with the dilemma of how to behave honorably under a set of rules and norms that their opponents do not acknowledge or accept.

Anger over that asymmetry is what animates Lithwick’s column. “This is a perfectly transactional moment in governance,” she writes ...

... and what we get in exchange for being good and moral right now is nothing. I’m not saying we should hit pause on #MeToo, or direct any less fury at sexual predators in their every manifestation. But we should understand that while we know that our good faith and reasonableness are virtues, we currently live in a world where it’s also a handicap.

Charles Pierce at Esquire put it more bluntly: “There is no commonly accepted Moral High Ground left to occupy anymore, and to pretend one exists is to live in a masturbatory fantasyland. It’s like lining yourself up behind Miss Manners in a political debate against Machiavelli.”

Amanda Marcotte has argued that booting Franken (and replacing him with a woman) is the smart political move regardless. But even if that’s so in Franken’s case, it surely won’t always be true that the right thing is the politically advantageous thing, especially in the face of a movement seeking to exploit every weakness.

The point is not that the left is pure on sexual harassment, or anything else. Far from it. Everyone faces the temptation to treat friends and enemies differently. But there is debate, struggle, made more difficult by the fact that there is none remaining on the right.

It is genuinely difficult to know how to respond to bad faith. Acting as though rules and norms still apply just seems to make Dems vulnerable, but abandoning them entirely doesn’t sound great either.

I don’t have an answer (maybe there isn’t one). All I can offer is a closer look at the two main tools the right uses to weaken and degrade the norms that hold American public life together. They are familiar from the sexual harassment debate, but many other debates as well.

Dentons NAFTA 2.0 Summit Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Dentons

Whataboutism to show that no one really cares

The first is whataboutism. Even if you haven’t heard the term, you’ll recognize it:

  • “Trump admitted to sexually assaulting women, and more than a dozen have accused him of it.”

“What about Bill Clinton?”

  • “The Trump administration is trying to bail out failing coal plants with billions of dollars, to no credible end.”

“What about Solyndra?”

  • “Republican legislatures in numerous red states are passing laws deliberately designed to reduce voting turnout among Democrats, especially minorities.”

“What about ACORN?”

  • “Roy Moore is a lunatic creep.”

“What about Al Franken?”

And so on, forever. For any violation of norms or rules, there is a “what about.”

Though it is a response to a moral accusation, it is not really a moral argument at all. Even if you believe the worst and most fevered charges against Bill Clinton, for instance, his behavior cannot justify Trump’s. Nothing Al Franken or Democrats do can justify Roy Moore. Morally, their behavior stands or falls on its own.

The point of whataboutism is not to justify anything — it’s to show that nobody really cares. Nobody really puts principle above tribe. Everyone is out for their own team, and people who pretend otherwise are liars or hypocrites.

“Don't be fooled by any of this,” Sean Hannity said on his show the night Franken resigned. “This Democratic decision today obviously was coordinated, and to turn on Franken, it's purely political.”

In other words, Democrats are faking. They don’t really care about sexual harassment. They’re just out to help their tribe.

Shared norms only exist to the extent people believe they exist. They have only the force we ascribe them. The more people believe that a norm is just a sham, tribal warfare through other means, the more they will behave accordingly. If “everybody does it,” then anybody can do it.

Whataboutism isn’t meant to justify anything; it’s meant to permit everything.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney And His Daughter Liz Cheney Visit FOX News' 'Hannity' Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images

Delegitimizing the referees

The second key tool of tribal morality is to weaken or degrade any claim of authority that transcends tribe — to disqualify any referees with the ability to constrain tribal behavior.

The right has gone after government, journalism, science, and academia in turn, in each case doing at a social scale what whataboutism is meant to do at the individual level: show that all claims of transpartisan authority are fraudulent. The message right-wing media relentlessly delivers to the base is that these institutions are in thrall to the left, that there is only tribe versus tribe, no shared authorities or referees. (I wrote a much longer post about this earlier this year.)

This tool, interestingly, hasn’t worked very well for the right on sexual harassment. Insofar as there is any official authority to discredit, it is the mainstream media that’s breaking the stories. They certainly attack media at every opportunity, but the victims themselves are the real authorities, and there are too many of them, coming from too many directions, to discredit at once. (Though Moore’s campaign tried.)

But the tool is hard at work in other cases. Take Robert Mueller’s investigation of Trump’s ties to Russia. Mueller is, by everyone’s pre-2017 estimation, the very definition of a straight-shooter, an authority trusted on all sides. Here’s what Newt Gingrich had to say back in May:

But then Mueller started looking like a threat to Gingrich’s friend Trump. So by June, it was this:

And by late October, Gingrich was calling Mueller an “out of control prosecutor.” Mueller was Good until he threatened the tribe; now he is Bad.

When the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said negative things about the Republican tax bill, they went after the CBO. When the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation reported that the tax bill would increase the deficit — an indisputable fact supported by every single analysis of the bill — they went after the JCT.

“Public statements and messaging documents obtained by The New York Times,” Jim Tankersley writes, “show a concerted push by Republican lawmakers to discredit a nonpartisan agency they had long praised.” The JCT was Good until it threatened the tribe; now it’s Bad.

They’ve gone after the mainstream media (“MSM”), the academy, courts, climate science, government agencies — virtually any institution assigned with establishing a shared base of facts or arbitrating factual disputes. A month ago, Trump’s administration released an incredibly detailed account of climate change and its dangers, written by federal climate scientists and researchers. The administration ignored or dismissed it. (See Ezra Klein for more on how deeply intellectual rot has penetrated the GOP.)

The point of all this is to convince a captive right-wing base that the only sources they can trust are partisan conservative sources — that the only other choices are partisan left sources. There are only tribes, no referees, no constraints.

So they can dismiss a series of Washington Post stories on Roy Moore’s creepy history as “fake news,” despite dozens of sources. Federal climate scientists, the CBO, the JCT, the MSM — it’s all fake news. Any bearer of bad news for the tribe is against the tribe and thus can’t be trusted. It’s a closed loop.

(One of their own got busted in a ham-handed attempt to swindle the Post, but that didn’t seem to count against his credibility in their eyes at all.)

Whataboutism and rejection of transpartisan authority translate to a simple message: No one cares about anything but their own tribe, and only our tribe can be trusted.

While the left wrestles with tribalism, the right has given into it completely. And it sure looks like that puts the left at a systematic disadvantage.

Is respecting rules and norms a handicap?

When Obama was president, trying to pass the economic recovery bill and the Affordable Care Act, Republicans took to the press constantly complaining about transparency, due process, and giving lawmakers time to read legislation before they vote on it. The phrase “rammed down our throat” is used with disturbing frequency in reference to the ACA.

But since Trump took office, Congressional Republicans have hastily assembled and attempted to rush through, with virtually no hearings, analysis, or bipartisan outreach, two radical, unpopular bills in the past year.

Their supposed procedural principles were just a tool for partisan advantage, a convenient way to bash Obama and justify total opposition.

Under Obama, Republicans used fears about the deficit as a weapon to oppose any and all spending. Now, they are trying to pass a tax bill that would increase the deficit by more than a trillion dollars, almost entirely for tax cuts on the rich (and then promising, with astonishing chutzpah, to subsequently cut Medicare and Medicaid because of the deficit). Their supposed principles on the deficit were just a tool for partisan advantage.

Under Obama, Republicans were forever crying “executive overreach” and impending tyranny. Now Trump has used his office to enrich himself, he fired Comey (by his own words) to shut down the Russia investigation, and all day long Fox is running authoritarian wish fulfillment like this:

They said they cared about “the swamp,” but they have stood by mutely as the administration packs itself with cronies, lobbyists, and amateurs. They said they cared about family values, but they elected a bullying, misogynistic swindler. They said they cared about sexual harassment, but, well ...

It was all bad faith, the language of principle deployed purely for partisan advantage.

Now they are busy bashing mainstream media errors that were, without exception, caught and corrected by the media sources in question. The president is calling for the firing of individual journalists.

This is Trump, who gets more things wrong before breakfast — literally — than Dave Weigel has in his entire career. According to the (ahem) Washington Post, as of November 13, Trump has made 1,628 “misleading claims” this year alone.

The right-wing media outlets around which conservatives increasingly huddle — Fox, Breitbart, and Facebook shares of dubious origin — swim in fantasy, paranoia, and conspiracy theories all day, fairy tales about their opponents smuggling guns, having people assassinated, and running child prostitution rings out of pizza restaurants.

They use the principle of accuracy in media as a tool for tribal advantage.

They sense that the language of principle works. They have weaponized it, using it to jam up the other side. (Over email, historian Rick Perlstein, who has chronicled this kind of thing on the right for years, compared it to a hand grenade — they catch it and toss it back.) They know that those who do take norms seriously feel obliged to assume good faith.

But then you end up with a situation in which “only the mistakes of people who care about the truth count.” Racism and sexual harassment only count against people who care about racism and sexual harassment. Carbon emissions only count against people who care about climate change. Partisanship only counts against those open to compromise.

As Goldberg wrote, “Democrats, by and large, want their politicians held accountable. Republicans, by contrast, just want Democratic politicians held accountable.”

It’s a fundamental asymmetry, shaping everything in US politics, but it’s just not clear what mainstream institutions and/or the left should do about it.

Brian Beutler has been arguing for a while that journalists are simply failing to do their job when they take demonstrably bad-faith actors like Steve Bannon or Kellyanne Conway at their word. Enabling them to deliver falsehoods to large audiences, even in the rare instances when the falsehoods are accompanied by rebuttals, does the public a disservice. Treating their contempt for journalists and factual accuracy as normal politics, just the typical spin that both parties engage in, creates the illusion balance where there is none.

“The longer it takes us to develop new norms for addressing demonstrable bad faith,” Beutler writes, “the likelier it becomes that this tide of propaganda will swamp us.”

But as I asked in my post on tribal epistemology, what would those new norms look like? If mainstream journalists assume bad faith on the part of dissemblers on the right, they’re going to lose a lot of guests, sources, and viewers. If right-wingers don’t see their conspiracy theories represented back to them in mainstream news, it will merely hasten their ongoing alienation from mainstream sources of fact and information. Their epistemic closure will only grow more closed.

It’s not clear that democracy can survive having a third of the population hived off into its own insular world, with its own institutions, authorities, and facts.

In the meantime, Franken is leaving, but recent experience suggests that more women will be coming forward, implicating lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. The left, because it cares (or at least some of it cares) about sexual harassment as such, must navigate its own conflicting impulses and interests to determine what’s fair to everyone — while under a hail of bad-faith fire from those who see it as just one more way to divide and demoralize them.

It is a frustrating dynamic, but we seem to be stuck in it.

Read the whole story
34 days ago
The optimistic take on this is that Moore shows the limits of this strategy of disregarding norms in the hope of victory.

But, at the end of the day, the thing to remember is that we only have a Democracy so long as enough people care about the rules of the game more than they do about winning. If Democrats care about maintaining our Democracy, and if maintaining it means they 'lose' some weekly news cycles or even some elections or policy battles, then it is still worthwhile.

Because the persistence of our Democracy means that there will always be another chance to correct some injustice or fix a bad policy. And if our Democracy falters, we all lose forever regardless of which party the winners originally come from.

This is why the Republicans pushing of norms is so caustic. Not because of any particular loss. But because it jeopardizes the very system that grants them power and legitimacy. They are the proverbial cartoon character sawing away at the branch they stand on.
Share this story
1 public comment
34 days ago
The selective application of the truth is the symptom. The underlying disease is that Republican officials and media elite simply do not view people who are different from them as being fully human.
Washington, District of Columbia

Bitcoin fees are skyrocketing

1 Comment and 2 Shares

Enlarge / Rising demand has caused Bitcoin's transaction fees to skyrocket. (credit: Timothy B. Lee, using data from Blockchain.info)

The cost to complete a Bitcoin transaction has skyrocketed in recent days. A week ago, it cost around $6 on average to get a transaction accepted by the Bitcoin network. The average fee soared to $26 on Friday and was still almost $20 on Sunday.

The reason is simple: until recently, the Bitcoin network had a hard-coded 1 megabyte limit on the size of blocks on the blockchain, Bitcoin's shared transaction ledger. With a typical transaction size of around 500 bytes, the average block had fewer than 2,000 transactions. And with a block being generated once every 10 minutes, that works out to around 3.3 transactions per second.

A September upgrade called segregated witness allowed the cryptographic signatures associated with each transaction to be stored separately from the rest of the transaction. Under this scheme, the signatures no longer counted against the 1 megabyte blocksize limit, which should have roughly doubled the network's capacity. But only a small minority of transactions have taken advantage of this option so far, so the network's average throughput has stayed below 2,500 transactions per block—around four transactions per second.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read the whole story
35 days ago
A 'currency' that costs as much as a nice meal to process any transaction, deflates so fast that nobody actually uses it to make purchases, and is so inefficient that it uses more energy per transaction than a household uses in a week? It is hard to imagine a construct less suited to being a currency.

It is things like this that make me think that the next recession is just around the corner. I'm not looking forward to a second lost decade for our economy.
Share this story

The Receptionist Test

1 Comment and 2 Shares


The receptionist test: how does someone treat the receptionist?

Alternative: a person with power or authority is someone’s first interaction with a company, e.g. by staffing the front desk. How are they treated (i.e. do people assume they are the receptionist).

In the modern era there are three ways to pass the receptionist test.

  1. Look the person up, discover they are not actually the receptionist.
  2. Ask that person anything about themselves or what they do, discover they are not actually the receptionist.
  3. Treat everyone you encounter with respect.

Personally, I prefer 3 or 2 to 1. But it’s amazing how many people don’t pick any of them.


Read the whole story
40 days ago
Part of what is crazy to me about this 'test' is that whenever I encounter a new organization in any respect, the receptionist always seems like something of an authority figure to me. They don't have the power to get me what I want directly, but they are the gatekeeper to everybody who can. And they are even a minor authority just by how much they know that I don't about the area I'm in. I can't even reliably find the restroom without the help of the receptionist.

Because of this, I think it is even more telling if a prospective employee fails the 'receptionist test'. Are you the kind of person who bristles under even the small authority of a receptionist and must prove yourself somehow 'greater' by demeaning them? Or are you a professional who can smoothly deal with everyone without trying to demonstrate dominance?
Share this story

cixitas: cixitas: cixitas: most of the metric system is great and all but honestly fuck...

1 Comment and 2 Shares




most of the metric system is great and all but honestly fuck celsius

lemme explain smthn: farenheit is human-centered.

in celsius, you have to use the dumb fucking scale of “0 = ???, 40 = hot as shit” like damn that’s some exponential curve stuff

but with farenheit it’s simple af. 0 is v cold. 100 is v hot. the end.

celsius makes sense for water, but am i water? no, im human.

stop being smug for using a shit temperature system.

Read the whole story
42 days ago
No. Farenheit is broken here. If you wanted a reasonable '0-100' weather temperature system, you should have '0' mean water freezing and '100' mean very hot heatwave. Because those are the two most important thresholds.

Water freezing is important because you want to be able to know instantly whether it will snow or be icy. The fact that we have all memorized an arbitrary number as that threshold shows how it is much more important than the current '0' in Farenheit.

As for a heatwave, you want a temperature that tells you whether you need to be careful outdoors and stay hydrated to avoid heatstroke. Farenheit is pretty reasonable. Though you could make a good argument that a better threshold is 95 F instead of 100 F.

So Celcius is good about one of these bounds being easy (0 means freezing). Farenheit is good about the other bound being easy (100 means heatwave). And this makes them equally good (or equally bad) when used as meteorological temperature systems.

What this really boils (haha) down to, then, is the argument from familiarity. We have memorized and are familiar with the quirkiness of Farenheit. To the point where it is easy to forget that it really is quirky. And we are not familiar with the quirkiness of Celcius. So we see clearly that Celsius has warts while forgetting that in reality if you are raised with Celsius, it will be as obvious and familiar as Farenheit is to us.

You can see this clearly if you compare metric lengths to US lengths. It is clearly complicated to have 12 inches in a foot, 3 feet in a yard, and I don't even know how many yards in a mile. While centimeters, meters, and kilometers is simpler. But since we are used to inches feet, yards, and miles we usually don't notice the extra complexity. Very few people would credibly argue that people in the US are more confused about length than people elsewhere in the world. Being raised with it makes a huge difference.

The main argument for switching to the metric system is really not about how 'efficient' or 'good' or even 'consistent' the metric system is. It is about the simplicity of having one standard in the world instead of two. Of not needing two sets of wrenches and two sets of hex keys and so on.

And the main problem with the US system from a consistency standpoint isn't even about inches vs centimeters. It is that we have R drill bits, #8 screws, 5/16" bolts, #18 brad nails, 20 gauge aluminum (which is a different thickness from 20 gauge steel, btw), and plans that call for a hole that is 0.313" in diameter.

In the metric world, you have an 8mm Drill bit, M2.5 (which means 2.5 mm) screws, 3mm thick sheets of steel (which is the same thickness as a 3mm thick sheet of aluminum), and a plan that calls for a 3.4mm hole.

The US system is a collection of arbitrary and completely different systems that work in different ways. 2" is bigger than 1" but 24 gauge is thinner than 12 gauge.
42 days ago
I think we can safely say that all of the temperature scales have good and bad points. The most amusing part about these nonstandard vs metric debates is that all of the other units in the US are legally defined by how they compare to the metric system, and the US was one of the earliest countries to do that. We just never got around to phasing out the other units. If you look at other countries around the world, all of them still have customary measures to some extent even if most of their units are metric.
Share this story

Won’t Get Foiled Again

1 Comment and 4 Shares

The Trump administration has just put crippling tariffs (97-162%) on the import of aluminium foil from China. Making America great again? It’s doubtful. Far more American firms use aluminium foil than make it. Indeed, only two US-based firms make it and one of them is owned by Swedes. Virginia Postrel has the details:

Only two companies have U.S. mills making the thin-gauge foil affected by the duties. The ones owned by Sweden-based Gränges are already selling all they can produce; the company has announced plans to expand capacity at its Tennessee mill by 2019. Converters say that JW Aluminum Co., the Mt. Holly, South Carolina-based company that lobbied strongly for the duties, isn’t offering them much, if any, additional supply.

Most of the ex-Chinese sales won’t even go to US firms but to firms in countries not affected by the tariffs, including Russia, Bulgaria, South Korea and Taiwan. Yes, Russia.

Conspiracy or coincidence? I want to say coincidence. On the other hand:

Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, is under investigation for involvement in an alleged plot to kidnap a Turkish dissident cleric living in the US and fly him to an island prison in Turkey in return for $15m, it was reported on Friday.

So who can say anymore? Excuse me while I go put on my hat.

The post Won’t Get Foiled Again appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Read the whole story
62 days ago
This is the reality of how tariffs impact business. As a manufacturer, my biggest advantage in the US is that I have access to suppliers all over the world for parts. I can get the cheapest parts at the best quality. Trump's policy directions strangle my business by threatening that key advantage. I don't use a lot of aluminum foil, but to the extent that prices on my raw goods go up to benefit some crony or other in his inner circle, my manufacturing business becomes less competitive.
Share this story

brutereason: I wonder from where so many Americans get the idea that voting is supposed to be some...

1 Comment and 5 Shares


I wonder from where so many Americans get the idea that voting is supposed to be some expression of your deepest, most beloved values and virtues rather than a pragmatic, political move meant to shift your country as much closer to your ideal as possible. This strikes me as another example of extreme individualism. Voting isn’t about *you*. It’s about your city, state, and/or country. It doesn’t have to feel transcendently good deep down in your bones. It just has to *do* as much good as you can do, in this particular moment in time.

Read the whole story
64 days ago
This is a good question. I think it is because voting is a civic ritual that affirms an emotional attachment to our community rather than a pragmatic act. Not voting is usually the pragmatic answer. The real world impact of a single vote is negligible. You will create more of a visible impact on the world by petting a cat than by voting.

Instead, voting maintains the connection that we have to our government and society. It legitimizes government action because it is done in our name. It amounts to a consent to be governed, not in a legal sense, but in a personal sense. It is a symbol of our ideals.

So perhaps it is not surprising that when people vote, they do so based on their ideals more than on their pragmatic self-interest or pursuit of concrete policy. Because voting is a statement of connection with both the broader community and with the particular party you most connect with.

This idealism can lead to manifestly bad outcomes (like if a senile rapist becomes president, for example). But the act of voting together, binds us into a society and makes democracy work in a way that no amount of technocratic pragmatism can achieve alone.
Share this story
Next Page of Stories