The game

I never meant to fall in love with baseball, but I did. I learned to realize that it does what all good sports should do: it creates the possibility of joy.

— Colum McCann, New York Times

He, an Irish immigrant, tells us why, as only the Irish can do. A good read.

Buster is back. The Freak is pitching well. Go, Giants!

Crankophilia

A Krugman nugget:

For what the money of rich cranks does is ensure that bad ideas never go away — indeed, they can gain strength even as they fail in practice again and again.

Rich bastards always behave badly. Yet, we keep them gilded and their wallets fatted to enable their destructive ways. One obvious solution: deprive them of their spending money. We surely have better uses for those dollars than they do. They’re not creating jobs for the Rest of Us—only for those who lick their boots.

Say it with me, “We’re not bootlickers!” Again.

Now do everything in your power to spread that wealth around. It’s doing none of us any good in current hands.

Don’t take my word for it

Today’s Republican Party is indeed much different than when I was growing up in the 50s and 60s. It is not Ronald Reagan’s GOP.

In response to a recent post on this topic, a commenter suggested that both political parties should be brought to task for failing to reach agreements. It wasn’t just the Republicans’ fault; the Democrats were (equally?) to blame.

Then along comes this stuff out of San Diego, via David Brooks’s column this morning. Scott Lewis posts as voiceofsandiego.org. He has this to say about the local G.O.P.:

As I’ve described, the Republican Party has gone through a fantastically effective effort to enforce conformity around its principles.

That means consensus-building with sworn enemies isn’t something to champion. The activists who control the actual party are tired of existing platform principles being compromised away. At the same time, a newly rising coalition of interests, led by the local building industry and restaurants, are financing this shift.

The thing is, when a group enforces conformity, it sends off outcasts. In some species, like lobsters, those outcasts likely die. But sometimes they become leaders of their own groups.

The local party had endorsed an ideologically pure contender for mayor, eschewing the candidacy of moderate Nathan Fletcher, the subject of Brooks’s post. By all accounts, Fletcher would be an ideal candidate for San Diego and just about any other city, given his background and his views on sustainable urbanism.

But his party had no room for him. So Fletcher quit the party.

Moderate conservatism is an endangered species. But you can still find plenty of moderate Democrats (e.g., Washington state’s own Roadkill Caucus). Indeed, there are far fewer liberal extremists in the party of donkeys than there are moderates in the party of elephants.

So, when it comes to engaging in the art of compromise, the modern Republican “enforces conformity,” brooking no compromise with the presumed enemy, which could include members of their own party. It’s no wonder that things don’t get done anymore.

Profound ignorance

Chris Mooney hypothesized that Republicans are “at war with science,” and wrote a book about it. A new study (pdf) (by a scientist, of course) confirms his hypothesis. Conservatives distrust science, and the more education they have, the greater their distrust.

The difference between liberals and conservatives on this point is large and getting larger, as the following chart from the study shows. You’ll notice that both liberals and conservatives started out in the same place back in 1974, which also coincides with the beginning of the Great Divergence.

Mother Jones‘ Kevin Drum includes an excerpt from the report:

Conservatives with high school degrees, bachelor’s degrees, and graduate degrees all experienced greater distrust in science over time….In addition…conservatives with college degrees decline more quickly than those with only a high school degree[]. These results are quite profound, because they imply that conservative discontent with science was not attributable to the uneducated but to rising distrust among educated conservatives.

My first reaction was to question the definition of educated. It seems to me that one characteristic of a formally educated person is both knowledge of and appreciation for science in the broadest sense. That would include familiarity with such topics as Newton’s Laws of Motion, gravity, Einstein’s theories of relativity, evolution, and, more recently, global warming.

Now it may be the case that conservatives with college degrees are indeed familiar with these concepts. Rather, they don’t trust their underlying science or those who study them. And the more conservatives may learn, the more they distrust. From the study:

Two interesting patterns from these supplementary analyses are worth mentioning. First, the public defines “what science is” in three distinct ways: (1) as an abstract method (e.g., replication, empirical, or unbiased); (2) as a cultural location (e.g., takes place in a university or is practiced by highly credentialed individuals); and (3) as one form of knowledge among other types such as commonsense and religious tradition. Interestingly, conservatives were far more likely to define science as knowledge that should conform to common sense and religious tradition. Relating to the second pattern, when examining a series of public attitudes toward science, conservatives’ unfavorable attitudes are most acute in relation to government funding of science and the use of scientific knowledge to influence social policy. Conservatives thus appear especially averse to regulatory science, defined here as the mutual dependence of organized science and government policy [my emphasis].

I’ll offer my speculative two cents.

It’s been suggested that conservatism is a reaction to both liberalism and modernism. Liberals, as a rule, are far more likely to “trust” science; and it’s true that most academic faculty are liberals. Does the latter mean that colleges select for liberalism? Or is it the case that liberalism and intellectualism, including scientific inquiry, go together? Regardless, and I think it’s more about the correlation rather than the doubtful selectiveness, conservatives don’t like liberals. Insofar as most scientists are liberals, conservatives distrust science.

If the conservatives should gain further electoral victories in November, the nation will step closer to the following outcomes:

  • abolishment of EPA and NASA (a bunch of go-gooder scientists)
  • cuts in government funding of research (why help out liberals?)
  • repeal of environmental regulations, including EPA’s recent carbon restrictions
  • prayer and creation “science” in public education
  • a new law equating abortion with murder, with all the attendant effects
  • federal subsidies to private Christian schools (no money for Muslims)
  • repeal of Obamacare, if the Supreme Court doesn’t beat them to it
  • carbon dioxide will be declared a “good” gas, not to be curtailed

There would be lots of other crap, too. Be my guest in adding to the list.

Mitt doesn’t give a shit

Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, proposed and the House passed a budget that sticks it to the poor and near-poor, while enhancing the fortunes of the rich and the Pentagon. The New York Times editors rightfully trash it. They write:

The budget, developed by Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, would cut $3.3 trillion from low-income programs over 10 years, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, even more than the $2.9 trillion in Mr. Ryan’s first disastrous budget last year.

The Greased Weathervane quickly praised it.

I applaud it. It’s an excellent piece of work and very much needed.

Meanwhile, in hopes of capturing the votes of the Rest of Us—we still outnumber the One-percenters, although you wouldn’t know it from our voting behavior—Romney is busy with his houses.

What’s notable about Romney’s real-estate holdings, including the townhouse, is how totally they physically separate him from the rest of humanity. One can easily drop a dozen million dollars on a house in San Francisco or Manhattan, but the homeowner who walks out the front door goes cheek-by-jowl with other kinds of people. His father’s house put the family within the borders of a teaming blue-collar city. What Romney has done is create a coast-to-coast buffer zone of luxury.

Supreme questions

The New York Times broke down the Supreme Court justices’ questioning over the three-day hearing on the Affordable Care Act. Unsurprisingly, those justices appointed by Republican presidents revealed their biases as did those appointed by Democratic presidents. The nominal swing vote on the bench, Anthony Kennedy, also a Republican appointee, received most of the attention from each side of the debate, for he could well be the determining factor.

I used the Times‘ data to construct my own simple chart. Who asked the most questions?

The four “red” justices asked 108 questions in total; the four “blue” asked 99. Justice Thomas, as usual, didn’t open his mouth.

We see that Justice Sotomayor stands out as the most voluble of the bunch, even more so than Justice Scalia, who compared health insurance to broccoli.

The Times quoted a 2005 paper of Justice Roberts, wherein he wrote: “…the secret to successful advocacy is simply to get the Court to ask your opponent more questions.”  Here’s the Times graphic (click on it for a larger view):

 

If we look at Kennedy’s questioning, we see that he falls with his conservative brethren, which does not bode well for advocates of the new health care law. On the most crucial issue, whether or not the mandate is constitutional, the numbers don’t look good.

Even though the Times cites research confirming Roberts’s theory, the court could rule in favor of the mandate and leave the Act in place, proving an exception. But as I suggested in my previous post on the topic, this court could also take a quantum leap to declare government taxation unconstitutional, though I’m being a bit facetious—I hope.

Ideology baked in

The House of Representatives is currently in the clutches of very conservative Republicans. Yesterday the House passed a conservative budget, which stands little, if any, chance of gaining traction in the Senate. The budget, predictably, is all about cuts to entitlement programs and even lower taxes on the wealthy. Ideology triumphs over compassion. (What an oxymoron that was, “compassionate conservatism.” Today’s definition of conservative is precisely about imposing more suffering on the less fortunate so as to raise the fortunes of the One-percenters.)

Yet, even in the House, ideology gets tested or countered. Nor is it permanent.

Not so in the Supreme Court. Once an ideologue is emplaced, it’s baked in until he or she dies, or can’t hold it any longer while sitting on the bench.

In his column this morning Paul Krugman accuses the conservative Supremes of bad faith and willful ignorance. Krugman:

Let’s start with the already famous exchange in which Justice Antonin Scalia compared the purchase of health insurance to the purchase of broccoli, with the implication that if the government can compel you to do the former, it can also compel you to do the latter. That comparison horrified health care experts all across America because health insurance is nothing like broccoli.

Why? When people choose not to buy broccoli, they don’t make broccoli unavailable to those who want it. But when people don’t buy health insurance until they get sick — which is what happens in the absence of a mandate — the resulting worsening of the risk pool makes insurance more expensive, and often unaffordable, for those who remain. As a result, unregulated health insurance basically doesn’t work, and never has.

I was especially struck by Krugman’s quote of Charles Fried, which comes from an interview with the Washington Post:

“I’ve never understood why regulating by making people go buy something is somehow more intrusive than regulating by making them pay taxes and then giving it to them.”

But you never know. This Supreme Court is capable of leaping from a narrow judgment to an expansive ruling that gives new meaning to judicial activism. I have in mind the decision on Citizens United, which could have been narrowly interpreted, leaving essential campaign restrictions in place. No, these guys (and the conservatives are all guys) opted to use this case to: (a) affirm that corporations are persons; and (b) equate money with speech. Now we have the predictable emergence of “super PACs,” which have no limits on receipts or expenditures, provided the entities keep arms length from particular candidates. Wink. Nod.

This Court, then, could perversely respond to Fried’s argument with a decision that makes government taxation unconstitutional. If everything the government does can be related to broccoli, then surely the ability to tax us is fair game.

Krugman worries:

…But it’s hard not to feel a sense of foreboding — and to worry that the nation’s already badly damaged faith in the Supreme Court’s ability to stand above politics is about to take another severe hit.