Notes on a Theory…

Thoughts on politics, law, & social science

Archive for January 2013

“I cannot participate in what I consider to be a violation of the Constitution I have sworn to uphold”

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the chairNicole Flatow at Think Progress has a small bit of good news on the death penalty front.  “A newly elected Ohio Supreme Court justice who achieved the unlikely feat of ousting an incumbent without accepting any campaign contributions is not wasting any time in asserting his opposition to the death penalty.”

The opinion is short, but powerful, even as it leaves out some of “the other compelling rationales for abolishing the death penalty – its arbitrary and racially discriminatory imposition, and the alarming frequency of wrongful convictions.” I thought it was worth quoting Judge William O’Neill in full. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by David Kaib

January 31, 2013 at 5:18 pm

Put Out the Fires or Stop Fueling the Flames

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== Summary == * Fuoco. Foto di Giovanni Dall’Orto, luglio 2003. * Fire. Picture by Giovanni Dall’Orto, july 2003. == Licensing == {{cc-by-sa-2.5}} it:Fuoco

This morning’s Up With Chris had an amazing discussion of Libya and Mali, and the role of the United States and the French in North Africa.  [Update: this segment can be viewed here.] One point that came through strongly was how the decision to enter the Libyan civil war (what is commonly, and I think misleadingly, called ‘intervention’) was never litigated. That is, the US didn’t have a discussion about it in public before the decision happened.

Today’s episode included a great discussion of all this, including voices that rarely get heard on my television, and I learned a great deal as a result.  I wasn’t the only one watching this discussion who praised Up for this.

But this reminded me of another frustration I’ve had for a long time that I haven’t seen many others articulate.   Read the rest of this entry »

Written by David Kaib

January 27, 2013 at 9:53 am

Pluralism and Narratives, Left and Right

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Matt Bruenig has an interesting post addressing the problem of pluralism in the left project.

The left is a massively pluralistic segment of the political spectrum. There is no single or even dominant moral and political framework that leftists utilize. On the economic side of things alone, there are people who are primarily interested in decommodification and people who are primarily interested in distrbutive justice, among others. These are very different frameworks. The things you would say to create a decommodification narrative are very different from the things you would say to create a distributive justice narrative. So which ones do you use? Do you talk about the horror of having human interactions funneled through market mechanisms or do you talk about the horrors of inequality and want?

These two narratives are generally compatible (though not always), but the problem is that they are not unified. And that’s just two of them: there are dozens more. Conservatives have basically been saying the same unified thing for decades. It’s silly and jokish, but there is message discipline. While a pluralistic left is not that problematic in theory, when it comes to spinning a political and moral narrative in order to win, it presents a serious obstacle.

To start, I agree that it’s a serious obstacle. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by David Kaib

January 24, 2013 at 12:39 pm

What to Do About Jack Lew

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Rob Nabors, Barack Obama, and Jack Lew

By Official White House Photo by Pete Souza [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

There is a really interesting discussion going on that started on Twitter, and has since moved to the blogs, sparked by Josh Eidelson’s excellent piece on accusations of union busting against current White House chief of staff and Treasury Secretary nominee Jack Lew.

Lew, the former director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Clinton, joined NYU as chief operating officer and executive vice president in 2004. At the time, NYU was the only private university in the United States whose graduate students had a union contract. By the time Lew left two years later, NYU graduate students had lost their collective bargaining rights. In between, picketers hoisted “Wanted” posters with his face on them.

Reached over email, Andrew Ross, NYU professor of social and cultural analysis, charged that “the administration followed every page of the union-busting playbook, as instructed by the anti-union lawyers retained for that purpose.” Ross, a co-editor of the anthology “The University Against Itself: The NYU Strike and the Future of the Academic Workplace,” wrote that despite broad faculty and community support for the union, “students on the picket line were threatened with expulsion. There was no indication that Lew, as a senior member of the team who executed this policy, disagreed with any of these practices. To all appearances, he was a willing, and loyal, executor of decisions that trampled all over the students’ democratic right to organize.”

[snip]

By the time Jack Lew left his post as NYU COO to become COO of Citigroup Wealth Management, the six-month strike was over, and the union had lost.

When we talked last year – soon after Obama had promoted Lew from his OMB director to his chief of staff — Local 2110 president Maida Rosenstein told me that Lew had acted as “the point person” in “representing management’s position” against GSOC.

Josh’s piece generated some attention, leading Elias Isquith to question whether the Treasury Secretary has anything to do with labor unions. Shawn Gude and Erik Loomis both have responses that I largely agree with. But I wanted to add a couple of thoughts that relate to some of the themes I’ve been talking about here.
Read the rest of this entry »

Written by David Kaib

January 15, 2013 at 1:11 pm

The Claim of Representation

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Capitol-SenateI’ve been talking a lot about politics as contested claim making, and how taking formal ideas like judicial review and democracy for granted distorts our understanding of politics. Related is the idea that a lot of analytic terms are really just justifications for the status quo, and we’d be better off finding a different set of terms that aren’t tied to such justifications.

This is different from the standard story of politics science, which says that the discipline used to confuse normative ideas for empirical ones, until the behavioralists (pdf) severed the ties between the two, thus truly becoming a science. Since that time, political theory (in essence, the study of normative ideas) has been a sort of odd fit in the discipline–not unlike judicial politics, although for different reasons. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by David Kaib

January 13, 2013 at 5:41 pm

There was No Legislative Decision : The Temporary Sort of Resolution to the Fiscal Grift

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Red Cliff along US287 between Lander and Dubois in Wyoming
By Wing-Chi Poon [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

[Update: Turns out the House may not be interested in rubber stamping these deal. Also, see Matt Stoller’s Eight Corporate Subsidies in the Fiscal Cliff Bill, From Goldman Sachs to Disney to NASCAR.]

The deal to avoid the misnamed ‘fiscal cliff’ the self-imposed crisis (i.e. shock doctrine) designed to impose austerity on a public that is overwhelmingly opposed to it justified by fake concern over deficits and debt sheds important light on the state of our political system. I’ll have more to say later, but to start, I wanted to mention the sham that has become of the legislative process. The deal was negotiated between Vice President (and former Senator) Joe Biden and Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, in a process that excluded the other 99 members of the lame duck Senate and the entire House of Representatives. As the Washington Post reported:

“There are two people in a [metaphorical] room deciding incredibly consequential issues for this country, while 99 other United States senators and 435 members of the House of Representatives — elected by their constituencies to come to Washington — are on the sidelines,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.)said on the Senate floor in the afternoon.

[snip]

…Thune was right that legislators had, essentially, been cut out of the legislative process. By the time a deal was announced, about 8:45 p.m. Monday night, there was little time for anything but a vote.“At least we would have had an opportunity to debate this, instead of waiting now until the eleventh hour,” Thune said.

[snip]

Monday marked the third time in two years that a congressional cliffhanger had ended with a bargain struck by McConnell and Biden. The first time came in late 2010, during a year-end showdown over the expiring Bush-era tax cuts. The second was in August 2011, during the fight over the debt ceiling.

It should go without saying that when all those high level federal officials are cut out of the process, the people are too. But for the moment, I want to point out how our models for understanding politics are often inadequate. Members of Congress aren’t deciding anything here – they are ratifying a decision made elsewhere. Now it’s true that Biden and McConnell were not free of political constrains, but then again, no one ever is.  It’s generally a bad idea to assume that those who hold the power according to civics textbooks are those who actually hold the power.  The Constitution was supposed to make the House the main driver of fiscal policy, secondarily the Senate, and lastly the President.  (The Supreme Court was intended to have little to no role, yet that didn’t stop Chief Justice Roberts, a ‘neutral umpire,’ from making it the main theme of his report [pdf] on the state of the judiciary.)

I’m not sure what this is, but it’s not representative democracy. And it’s not legislative decision-making.

Written by David Kaib

January 1, 2013 at 12:18 pm

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