Category Archives: politics

The Coordination Problem of DJT

I haven’t written much about Trump because, mostly, it upsets me that he matters. (The frequent reader knows that one of the things I hate the most are people who feel good about themselves when they have no reason to.) Unfortunately I have to care a little because we’re entering Super Tuesday with Trump mattering, which leads me to wonder “why?!”

It’s hard to remember now, but the Republican field was actually quite solid at one point, representing multiple strands of conservative thought – even my favored libertarianism was represented – and a solid mixture of successful legislators and executives. Then Trump entered and everything went to hell. It wasn’t until the 10 debate in late February that some of the front runners finally attacked Trump, and very effectively, too. Why did it take so long to make the move?

Mostly, I think, it was a coordination problem. As I tweeted earlier today:

Tweet re Trump

Trump was the proverbial guy with 6 bullets and something like 16 enemies – 10 if you limit it to the main stage. At the time he ruled the polls because he had name recognition, not because he had any policy ideas (still doesn’t). Any combination of sustained attacks would have taken him down with relative ease then. Why didn’t anyone go after him?

Well, why would they?

Six bullets will protect you from ten enemies because none of them want to be one of the first six. There was no incentive for any individual candidate to go after Trump and draw his attention.* Better to wait for others to take the hit, or let Trump fade away on his own, rather than risk one’s candidacy to take Trump down for the good of all. If you rewatch the early debates (and I suggest you don’t) you can see an air of “it might be dangerous; you go first” among the non-Trumps, especially as Trump rebuffs the occasional uncoordinated attack.

*”Never argue with a fool. People might not know the difference.”

Of course, coordination problems can lead to disaster. Trump now has more ammunition than enemies and is now on a level playing field with legitimate candidates. Whatever the benefits of his unmasking the press for the weak partisan wannabe elite that they are, the mainstreaming of populist nationalist authoritarianism is too high a cost to pay.

Now pardon me as I go dust off the Mad Dog chapter from my Game Theory class.

McArdle on Scalia

Blog-favorite Megan McArdle has a column on replacing Justice Scalia, which largely tracks what I wrote yesterday. The reason she’s a blog-favorite, though, is the insight she adds about the political process:

But [getting your way through the court rather than legislature] doesn’t fix the political problem. It only moves it to the question of how the justices are picked, a question that is about to catapult our political system into a new, and more dangerous, level of crisis. For if you leave people no way to work through the system, they are apt to start working against it instead.

I failed to point this out yesterday, but she’s right that the fights you would normally have in the legislature through voting and lobbying (on abortion, gay marriage, campaign finance, etc) are now fights about stacking the federal courts. Getting your way on an issue here or there is nice for the people involved, since it’s difficult to pass constitutional amendments on a contentious issue, and also rare that SCOTUS overrules an important precedent quickly. However, The same goes on issues you lose on, so for most people in the political mainstream it’s a wash. (Worse, making something constitutional law is an inflexible approach, while democratic legislating is at least adjustable.)

Now, instead of having to lobby for a law, you have to make sure to elect senators who will approve judges you like. All the issue-specific voting and lobbying is now transferred to the legislative level. This has led to higher and higher polarization as all issues, effectively, are handled this way, rather than one-by-one. Meanwhile, the energy and money spent on lobbying has to go up because each election is so much more consequential.

Basically, this is a stupid system.

Commentary on SCOTUS

I’ve mostly ignored the commentary on the Supreme Court’s blockbuster cases the past couple of days (most of it is not interesting, legally speaking) but I suppose I should offer my thoughts, having followed the court more intensely than ever before this term. (I’m serious. My pump-up mix contains the Scalia dissent from Maryland v. King.) I’ll comment in general, though you’ll see a theme.

King v. Burwell (The Obamacare subsidies case)

The outcome was predictable, of course, and I can’t get too worked up about the result. A few million people get subsidies, which is a rounding error for the bloated federal budget, so whatever; it’s not like forcing the Democrats back to the legislative table would have taken us very far. (Yay politics.)

The real disaster, and there’s really no other way to phrase this, is the precedent this sets for the future. It encourages sloppy legislation at the very least, with the understanding that courts will give you a break if you get it wrong. It will probably encourage intentionally vague drafting with the hope that a court will give you more than you could have gotten in the political process. (Lawyers will sometimes leave a contractual provision vague for the same reason. …I hear.) This has been a trend in legislative interpretation for decades, with doctrines of “saving constructions” and “constitutional avoidance” going out of their way to invalidate or otherwise restrict bad laws. (Bond v. US and Canning v. NLRB are recent examples of this.)

Also, on a personal note, I hate the idea that “established by the State” can also refer to things “not established by the State.” Words have meanings. Please stick with them.

Obergefell v. Hodges (The Same Sex Marriage case)

This wasn’t exactly a stunner, since Kennedy has been telegraphing his desire to be the one to address this issue, but I admit I was surprised by the reasoning of his majority opinion. It’s perhaps the least useful opinion written in the last few years, worse than this year’s Elonis v. US (which passed up an easy chance to pick a mental state requirement rather than saying “the lowest one isn’t it.”). While he can count on being quoted at weddings for the next few decades, the opinion offers very little in terms of legal reasoning that can be translated to any other context. Equivocating between Substantive Due Process and the Equal Protection Clause, Kennedy ultimately concludes that the constitution requires all states and territories to recognize same sex marriages mostly because it would be a good thing to do.

In many ways, Obergefell could be similar to Brown v. Board of Education, another important opinion that suffers from the same legal infirmities but has obviously had a tremendous legal impact. (I would argue, however, that all the hard work for Brown had been done by Justice Harlan’s famous dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson, as tremendous a piece of legal writing as you’ll ever see.)

The four dissents don’t offer much in terms of rebuttal, although I imagine they didn’t really bother to. Thomas and Alito do provide a decent constitutional analysis that makes me think this should have gone the other way, but this was not anyone’s finest writing hour.

I should say, I’m very happy about the outcome, and I definitely think it’s the correct social policy. I’ve voted in favor of SSM in all elections I’ve participated in, and I would have liked to see it go national this way, rather than through a very dodgy legal ruling that could undermine the rule of law and trust in the court as an institution. That said, if I were denied a right, I know I couldn’t care less about those other things if the court ruled my way. So this decision is a good thing.

That said, be worried. Burwell and Obergefell have made the Supreme Court more important than ever. Control of the court will become essential, and it’ll make presidential and senate politics even worse than it is now. (Yes, it’s possible.) It opens the doors to constitutional rulings on religious freedom or gun laws, for example, that should have been left to the states and people. In fact, some early analyses wonder if the court’s reasoning in Obergefell translates to the rights under the Second Amendment. Watch for that fight in the near future.

I’ll skip the other decisions of this term, although there have been some interesting ones, but I will note that the court has not impressed with clarity this year. I’d imagine the early October cases next year being tamer than usual to offset the acrimony of the last few weeks.

Recommended For Cuba

Cuba is going to be free.

If you’re a fan of human flourishing, this is a good thing. The loosening of the US embargo is on net a very good thing, but the final nail in the coffin of tyranny is going to be a relatively little-noticed development: the availability of NetFlix in Cuba. The company announced today that it will sell subscriptions to Cuban residents, although given the pricing (same as in the US), spotty internet access in Cuba, and the need for a non-Cuban electronic method of payment will probably limit the audience at first. In the long run, though, it may be one of the biggest contributors to Cuban freedom.

I’m not exaggerating for effect here. There is a reason why countries like Cuba or (worst of all) North Korea exclude outside information: it makes it impossible to avoid change. A dictatorship, of course, doesn’t want change – they have everything to lose and little to gain. (On the other end, a well-functioning democracy is the institutionalization of constant change.) That’s why repressive regimes have to keep out new ideas, and that’s why NetFlix is so important. TV and movies are, at their core, reflection of ideas.

It’s not even important what the intended idea of a movie or TV show is. What’s important is the setting which in the West mostly reflects freedom of some kind – on any given TV show, women are relatively equal, free speech is exercised, etc. This has worked before:

In the last decade, cable television has arrived in remote Indian villages, bringing with it commercial television programming heavy on game shows and Indian soap operas. Before you laugh—a feminist Days of Our Lives?—consider that the most popular Indian series take place in urban settings. Their emancipated female characters are well-educated, work outside the home, control their own money, and have fewer children than rural women. So, Jensen and Oster asked, does the arrival of these shows change attitudes in ways that improve women’s lives?…

What’s the effect? In the places that didn’t get cable by 2003, and in the places that already had it at the beginning of the period studied, attitudes concerning women remained relatively stable. (They were more pro-women in places that already had cable.) But in the 21 villages that got cable between 2001 and 2003, women’s attitudes changed quickly and substantially.

After a village got cable, women’s preference for male children fell by 12 percentage points. The average number of situations in which women said that wife beating is acceptable fell by about 10 percent. And the authors’ composite autonomy index jumped substantially, by an amount equivalent to the attitude difference associated with 5.5 years of additional education.

TV got Indian women more cultural acceptance and more freedom. Just wait until NetFlix (and everything else) enters Cuba. It won’t be a panacea – nothing is – but the flow of ideas can’t be stopped.

This is a good thing.

The Importance Of Words, Part 381

Moreover, the demand that “The Interview” be withdrawn because it treats North Korea disrespectfully — as it most certainly does — isn’t all that different from the arguments behind the various speech codes that have proliferated in Europe and Canada of late, exposing people to fines and prosecution for speaking too critically about the religions, cultures and sexual identities of others.

So writes blog-favorite Ross Douthat.  As you know, I’m a stickler for the usage and meaning of words, and I just can’t get on board with this description. Here’s the key part I disagree with: “the demand that “The Interview” be withdrawn because it treats North Korea disrespectfully — as it most certainly does.” The question I ask is this: what is North Korea?

The answer seems pretty simple, but it isn’t. Wikipedia says that “North Korea, officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, is a country in East Asia, in the northern part of the Korean Peninsula.” If we say that North Korea is that particular territory, we’d be technically correct – but would Douthat be right? I don’t think he would, since I doubt the movie (which I’m yet to see, although I certainly will, and was always going to) hardly mocks the particular territory. It mocks – what? Certainly not the majority of people* of North Korea, who are slaves to a tyrannical regime. Certainly not the landscape, which basically a landscape.

*At least I hope it doesn’t. If it does in fact mock the innocent, then go ahead and do terrible things to Seth Rogen and James Franco.

The movie mocks the North Korean government, and it’s important to keep this distinction alive. Those who protested the current Iraq war were protesting the American government at the time, not the population, which was at best torn about the prospect. Those complaining about “Japanese,” “Chinese,” and “Greek” action in the last few years have the same complaint. Even in democracies, there is a big slack between popular opinion and government action, and saying that the latter always correctly reflects the former – and that the former is an accurate gauge of popular sentiment – is just incorrect.

So no, we do not mock North Korea – and we certainly wish nothing but the best to its people. We mock a tyrannical government that needs to disappear before I have to explain to my children why we let it exist at all.

Book Review: Left Turn – How Liberal Media Bias Distorts The American Mind

Left Turn: How Liberal Media Bias Distorts The American Mind, by Tim Groseclose

The title may be a little strong, but this book is a solid demonstration of the ideological slants of mainstream media relative to the average voter. It’s not a surprise to anyone remotely familiar with the average national journalist and the average voter, but you’d be surprised how few people understand both groups. Groseclose is a true conservative – not a libertarian like myself, but a social and fiscal conservative – in a liberal field (academia) who is very good at showing the pernicious effects of unstated ideology. Those are perhaps the most galling anecdotes in the book: journalists claiming that their strong and uniform ideology has no effect on their reporting. Wish that they were such angels, but they are not. Groseclose also quickly takes care of the usual objections to liberal media bias (corporate bosses are conservative! media just give people what they want! etc.) before measuring its effects.

Groseclose provides evidence from elections that journalists (political correspondents, specifically) vote Democratic ~93% of the time, compared to 50% for the average voter. That makes the average journalist much more liberal than the average citizen of Massachussets, or even of Berkeley, CA. The empirical evidence of journalist bias is overwhelming, and the conversion of ideological leanings onto a numerical scale is helpful in comparing magnitude of bias (although Groseclose treats the numbers as more precise than they are – there’s a big error margin around his estimates).

The best parts of the book take individual stories and show how reporters can put together a biased story using only true facts – by choosing the topic, the facts to show (and hide) and the experts to cite (or omit). Thus, a story of entirely true facts can tell you that the number of black students at UCLA is falling (when it is not) or that the Bush tax cuts are regressive (they were not). Of course, the audience doesn’t know what’s being omitted, so they have no way to compensate for these choices.

A similar omnipresent journalistic tactic is the insertion of qualifiers for anything that is conservative while omitting the same from liberal equivalents. You are told that someone is “the conservative regent” but not “the liberal dean” – she’s just “the dean.” Conservative viewpoints tend to get a “so-called” or “what critics call” prefix, while liberal viewpoints don’t. And now that you’re aware of this, you won’t be able to unsee it wherever you look.

The last quarter of the book is a little more speculative, purporting to show what the average American voter would be like if the information she had access to were undistorted. (Answer: Kansas.) The methodology here is a little less reliable, assuming linearities where that’s not necessarily warranted, but it’s hard to disagree with the conclusion that the average voter would be even more conservative if media were less biased.

Recommended, with the aforementioned error bars around precise measurements.

PS: If you have any doubt about the conclusions of this book, here are the stories that happened while I was reading it:

Gregg Easterbrook Makes Up Evidence For Obviously True Idea

Gregg Easterbook, ESPN’s Tuesday Morning Quarterback, is a self-involved know-it-all who makes up his mind and then fits evidence around it. My friend Ben at The Bottom Of The Barrel does an excellent job demolishing Easterbrook’s idiocy on a weekly basis. This week, however, Easterbrook went further than usual and used outright dishonesty to “prove” that conservatives are hypocrites when it comes to states’ rights:

Both Sides Use Doublespeak On States’ Rights: Last week, when the Supreme Court declined to hear petitions from those seeking to prevent Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin from legalizing gay marriage, conservative Sen. Ted Cruz called this “judicial activism at its worst.” Federal courts don’t interfere with state autonomy — that’s “judicial activism?”

…Usually, conservatives praise states’ rights — but when Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin decided to recognize gay unions (civil marriage has always originated at the state or local, not federal, level), conservatives went ballistic. Why don’t those unelected federal judges step in!

While I would never intentionally defend Ted Cruz (and I guarantee he is a hypocrite; every partisan is), Easterbook is outright misleading here. For Cruz to be a hypocrite, the following had to have happened: the states, using their state mechanism (legislature, referendum, etc) pass a rule or law permitting or recognizing gay marriage; conservatives sue to prevent the law from being enforced; Cruz sides with those suing to prevent the law from being enforced. Reading the above, that’s what one might think had happened.

It wasn’t.

None of the states listed above – Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin – “decided to recognize gay unions” as Easterbrook says. Instead, they were ordered to recognize gay marriages by FEDERAL COURTS. Click on each state to see how they got gay marriage – it was always a lawsuit in federal court. The states, as most states have, passed laws prohibiting the recognition of gay marriages, and federal courts overturned those laws and ordered the states to do otherwise. What Cruz is saying is that these underlying laws passed by the states should be allowed to stand, rather than the judge-ordered recognition of gay marriage that overturned such laws. My guess is he’d be less enthused about it if it were a state law he disagreed with, but that doesn’t make his stance on this matter a hypocritical one.

Ironically, showing a politician is hypocritical is one of the easiest things I can imagine. There’s no need to make up evidence to do it.

I’m A Doctor, Help Me Please

(Long post warning.)

Someone purporting to be a doctor posted an open letter on Quartz recently with a litany of complaints about how hard it is to be a doctor in America. This may be tough to explain to most people, given that the top nine, no, ten, no, seven, no twenty-one highest-paying occupations in America are medical professions, and doctors & surgeons average $168,650-$234,950 annually,* but our dear doctor spends many excessive words trying to explain to us how tough life is.

*I understand that salary goes up big time later, so young doctors tend to make less than that. That’s true of most professions, which is why they’re pretty good investments in the long run even if they make you poorer in the short run.

Keep an eye out for the repeated slamming of basically all other professions and the possibly rose-colored view of doctors’ motivations as you read this. I’ve tried to trim the fluff, but there are a lot of words here that are just unnecessary.

Dear Washington, D.C.:

I am writing this letter because I feel that our leaders and lawmakers do not have an accurate picture of what it actually entails to become a physician today; specifically, the financial, intellectual, social, mental, and physical demands of the profession. This is an opinion that is shared among many of my colleagues. Because of these concerns, I would like to personally relate my own story. My story discusses what it took to mold, educate, and train a young Midwestern boy from modest roots to become an outstanding physician, who is capable of taking care of any medical issues that may plague your own family, friends, or colleagues.

This is not going to work for me. Let’s try this again.

I am writing this letter because I feel that our leaders and lawmakers do not have an accurate picture of what it actually entails to become a physician today; specifically, the financial, intellectual, social, mental, and physical demands of the profession. This is an opinion that is shared among many of my colleagues. Because of these concerns, I would like to personally relate my own story. My story discusses what it took to mold, educate, and train a young Midwestern boy from modest roots to become an outstanding physician, who is capable of taking care of any medical issues that may plague your own family, friends, or colleagues.

Somewhat better, Mr. Outstanding Physician. But we’re not here to mock your writing ability; we’re here to mock your ideas.

I then enrolled at St. Louis University to advance my training for a total of eight years of intense education, including undergraduate and medical school. The goal was to prepare me to take care of sick patients and to save the lives of others (four years of undergraduate premedical studies and four years of medical school). After graduation from medical school at age 26, I then pursued training in internal medicine at the University of Michigan, which was a three-year program where I learned to manage complex problems associated with internal organs, including the heart, lungs, gastrointestinal tract, kidneys and others. I then went on to pursue an additional three years of specialty medical training (fellowship) in the field of gastroenterology. The completion of that program culminated 14 years of post-high school education. It was as that point, at the tender age of 32 and searching for my first job, that I could say that my career in medicine began.

I quote this in its entirety because it’ll be important later. I will just note here that the US has a shortage of primary care doctors, not specialists, so if your goal is to “take care of sick patients and to save the lives of others” you might have done that. If you were really as selfless as you claim, you’d have done in Somalia.

 For me, it began in college, taking rigorous pre-medical courses against a large yearly burden of tuition: $27,000 of debt yearly for four years. I was one of the fortunate ones. … I was fortunate to have graduated from college with “only” $25,000 in student debt. Two weeks after finishing my undergraduate education, I began medical school. After including books, various exams that would typically cost $1,000-$3,000 per test, and medical school tuition, my yearly education costs amounted to $45,000 per year.

Unlike most other fields of study,

You know, the easy ones. Like yours.

the demands of medical school education, with daytime classes and nighttime studying, make it nearly impossible to hold down an extra source of income. I spent an additional $5,000 in my final year for application fees and interview travel as I sought a residency position in internal medicine. After being “matched” into a residency position in Michigan, I took out yet another $10,000 loan to relocate and pay for my final expenses in medical school, as moving expenses are not paid for by training programs.

… I stared meekly at numbers on a piece of paper listing what I owed for the two degrees that I had earned, knowing full well that I didn’t yet have the ability to earn a dime. I didn’t know whether to cry at the number or be happy that mine was lower than most of my friends. My number was $196,000.

Rookie. I borrowed three quarters of that in less than three years.

$196,000. That was the bill, for the tuition, the tests, the books, the late-night pizza.

You don’t get to claim pizza. You’d have eaten regardless. Same for rent. Those costs apply in every other universe.

I then relocated to Michigan and moved into a small condo in Ann Arbor, where I started my residency. As a resident in internal medicine, I earned a salary of $39,000.

I wonder if you could have known what a starting resident in internal medicine earns before you started med school. Seems like there should be some sort of place where information can be looked up.

All the while, interest continued to accrue on my motherlode of debt at the rate of $6,000 per year due to the high-debt burden. Paying down this debt was not possible while raising two children. My wife began working, but her meager salary as a teacher was barely enough to cover daycare costs.

A lot of people I know believe that poor people are at fault for having children they can’t afford. You probably know those people, too. You’re probably also one of those people, then.

During residency, my costs for taking licensing examinations, interviewing for specialty training positions, and interest on the large loan ballooned my debt further, now exceeding $230,000, all before I began my career as a “real doctor.”

Occupational licensing is a pest indeed, but I feel less bad for you than for people forced into debt to be permitted to braid hair.

Relatives and friends often ask me, “Now that you are a ‘real’ doctor, aren’t you making the big bucks?” While I am fortunate to now be making a higher salary, some basics of finance make my salary significantly less than meets the eye. First, I was 32 years old as I began training and I now had over $230,000 in debt. Had I invested my talents in other pursuits such as law school, I would not have built up this level of debt.

You clearly weren’t paying attention up there, or to the world around you.

In addition, as physicians, though we make more money than many others, we are not reimbursed for many of the services that we provide.

“We make lots of money, but it should be more.”

We, as physicians, are always available for our patients no matter the time of day. We do not record time spent with patients as a means to our reimbursement as other professions do. No, we listen to patients and answer their questions, however long it may take. Even if it is the 30-second straight hour of work, which happens very often, we listen, respond, and formulate a logical plan.

Yup, this is exactly the experience we’ve all had with doctors. Always available and endlessly patient. I see nothing to object to here.

And if we don’t do our work well, we don’t just lose business, but we can lose our livelihood through lawsuits.

Don’t you just hate it when you’re held accountable like literally everybody else (outside of government officials)?

You may ask why do we do all of this? It’s because we have pride in what we do. We truly care for the well-being of the human race. We have been conditioned to think, act, talk, and work as a very efficient machine, able to handle emotions, different cultures, different ranges of intellect, all to promote the health of America. We are doctors.

That seems accurate.

In reading this letter, one may think that one has to sacrifice a significant amount to become a great physician. You may think we face physical and mental stress that is unparalleled. You may begin to think that doctors not only have to be smart, but they have to know how to communicate with others during very emotional times. You may think that we must face adversity well and must develop very rough skin to handle all walks of life, especially when dealing with sickness and death on a daily basis.

No, I think you should not have skipped English and math class.

Now that you see this additional aspect to our career, you may think that we have a tough job to tackle several tasks at once, demanding much versatility. You may think someone needs a great work ethic to do what we do. You must think that not only do we have to know science extremely well, we also have to know other areas such as writing, history, math, even law given the multiple calculations we go through in our heads on a daily basis and conversations we have with families. And finally, you must think we know finance, as we have to try balance a $230,000 loan while making $50,000 at age 30.

Ballsy, to claim knowledge of “writing” and “math” given this letter and your shock that borrowing money causes debt to rise. Also, you make way less than the average doctor. Maybe that’s because you’re still young, or maybe that’s because you’re a terrible doctor. Either way, the problem solves itself.

Now imagine, if you would, having $230,000 dollars in debt with two young children at age 30 and listening to the news with lawmakers saying that doctors are “rich” and should have their pay cut. Or that “studies show that doctors lack empathy.”

Ugh, studies. Don’t get me started. No doctor worth his salt would pay attention to a study.

Unfortunately, we physicians do not have much of a voice on Capitol Hill. There are not enough doctors in Washington, D.C., who can give the insight of this letter while you in Washington, D.C., discuss healthcare reform. … Many of the loudest voices in the healthcare debate are those of lawyers and lobbyists for special interests. They do not care about the well being of patients; that is what doctors do.

Well, yes. Everyone but you is an asshole. They only lobby for themselves, whereas you, the selfless caregivers, only wish you were better at lobbying for yourselves.

I want to make it clear that this letter is not just another story about the difficulties of becoming a doctor and being successful in medicine. I do not want you to think I am complaining about how hard my life is and used to be. In fact, I love my job and there is no other field I would ever imagine myself doing. My true wish is to illustrate the sacrifices doctors do make because I feel we are not represented when laws are made. These sacrifices include a lack of quality family time, our large student loan debt, the age at which we can practically start saving for retirement, and the pressure we face with lawyers watching every move we make. Yet we make these sacrifices gladly for the good of our patients.

Well, “gladly” seems out of place in this paragraph.

I want to challenge our leaders

I don’t have leaders. Stop saying that.

to address the points I have made in this letter, keeping in mind that this is an honest firsthand account of the personal life of a newly practicing physician. It is a letter that speaks for almost all physicians in America and our struggles on our arduous yet personally rewarding life. It is not just a letter of my own journey, but one that represents most physicians’ path on our way to caring for America’s sick.

I have no doubt that it’s an honest account of one man’s view of his own life and his importance to the world. I doubt it’s a worthwhile to contribution to any discussion worth having.

Miscellaneous

Slow posting these last couple of days as a result of plentiful World Cup games to watch, a flurry of important Supreme Court decisions to wade through, and that full-time job I have. I’ll have a review of the WC group stage tomorrow and new knockout stage predictions on Saturday, but in the meantime, a few thoughts on miscellaneous topics from the past few days:

  • It’s been extremely pleasant to watch soccer culture grow stronger in the US by the day, even if a certain shrieking witch thinks otherwise. (I do not link to trolls.) I’m more reserved than the average American about US potential in the short term, but there’s something pleasant about universal joy and pain in a relatively harmless endeavor. I’ve written in this space before that there are plenty of reasons to dislike organized sports, and FIFA is a major reason why, but if I had to choose, I’d prefer the US be united by Fabian Johnson than by bombing campaigns abroad.
  • Relatedly, “guy famous for biting opponents bites an opponent” was a real story this week, so that’s something we all have to live with now.
  • I haven’t commented on the ongoing IRS email scandal (in short, a top IRS official claims her email relevant to the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups was lost in a computer crash days after an investigation into that began) because it’s still early, and because it’s unlikely we can ever definitively know many things I’d need to know before making judgments. Obviously it’s possible that this is an innocent mistake, made possible by the government’s awful IT policies, and it’s also possible that it was staged to avoid some embarrassing emails from emerging. What you believe probably has more to do with whom you voted for in 2012 than the evidence, so I won’t get into it. I do like that the country seems to be noticing the hypocrisy involved – the IRS wouldn’t let anyone get away with a story like that – and perhaps the abuse of the office for political purposes will make more people realize that we shouldn’t entrust a whole lot of power to these agencies.
  • There was a massive downward revision to the first-quarter US GDP estimate, and everyone is revising what it all means. All you need to know is that everyone was right initially and everyone is right now.
  • Can’t forget to congratulate my Vanderbilt Commodores for winning the NCAA baseball championship (which I refuse to call the World Series). Great accomplishment for a great school.

Repeating The Past

Came across the following paragraph over at the Volokh Conspiracy:

The first article, accusing the President of obstruction of justice, was adopted by a bipartisan 27-11 vote. The second article, accusing the President of having used the IRS and other federal agencies against political opponents, and of having conducted illegal electronic surveillance, was adopted 28-10. The third article, for the President’s refusal to comply with congressional subpoenas, passed 21-17. Articles 4 and 5 (for illegally waging war in Cambodia, and for cheating on Nixon’s own income taxes) were rejected by a bipartisan committee majority. (emphasis added)

The reason this got my attention is how closely it mirrors the actions I object to most in the Obama (and to a lesser extent Bush) administration. To wit:

  • obstruction of justice: I’ll use the stonewalling of the Fast and Furious investigation here.
  • having used the IRS against political opponents: the use of the IRS against political opponents, obviously.
  • having conducted illegal electronic surveillance: You already know what I’m referring to. And so do they.
  • refusal to comply with congressional subpoenas: apparently, all computers related to the use of the IRS against political opponents crashed and lost their email for that time frame, so the administration is very sorry it can’t produce any documents.
  • illegally waging war: Yemen, probably. Or Pakistan. Oooh, or various parts of Africa. Wherever drones go and kill American citizens without trial, too.
  • cheating on income taxes: Obama probably paid his taxes. Geithner didn’t.

There isn’t a message here. I just found it interesting.