The media is making us stupider

Real story from Politico. Not The Onion.

What an embarrassment.

Paul Krugman on Cantor’s defeat

Krugman nails it.

How big a deal is the surprise primary defeat of Representative Eric Cantor, the House majority leader? Very. Movement conservatism, which dominated American politics from the election of Ronald Reagan to the election of Barack Obama — and which many pundits thought could make a comeback this year — is unraveling before our eyes.

House Leader Cantor loses primary, steps down as Majority Leader

Act II in the GOP Civil War for the 2016 Presidential Nomination.

Just when Boehner seemed to have mitigated the risk of a party splintering before the nomination, this news lays the stage for a House leadership battle between the Establishment and Tea Party that could very well set off conflict that will create an irreparable divide. I said it last year, but 2016 looks for the Republicans to be a mirroring much of the lead to the 1968 election for Democrats. We shall see.

Voicing disapproval of speakers is free speech

A cockamamy argument by Hadley Arkes suggesting that when students voice moral outrage if their college invites commencement speaker (who will be paid to speak), that, in his or her past, violated human rights or possesses other similar résumé deficiencies, it is tantamount to denying this commencement speaker his/her First Amendment rights

When our sensibilities were fed from different sources, it used to be said that, with spring, “the voice of the turtledove has been heard in the land.” But in these recent weeks the landscape has been filled with the sounds of “disinvitations” to speak and receive degrees at what used to be called our “better” colleges and universities. Colleges of the second rank may now be seeking to lift their standings by seeking out prestigious speakers to “disinvite.” The shock of this year has been that the protests have forced from the podium even figures of impeccable liberal stamp such as Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund (at Smith College) or Robert Birgeneau, the former chancellor of Berkeley (at Haverford). What is apparently not worth noticing any longer—or any longer subject to indignation—is that these colleges have long since screened from their parade of honorees any notable figures on the conservative side.


The Court had fashioned one of those rare “rights,” so exquisite that it extinguishes itself: The move to bar speakers from the podium is itself the imposition of a political orthodoxy, and those who oppose it would have ample grounds then for closing it down.

But why do we suspect that this lever will not be available to the conservatives? It has been Scalia’s genius and his curse that he sees, more clearly than some of his colleagues, just how the logic of their decisions will unfold. His consolation, in many cases, is that most of his colleagues and the public do not.

Just to state the obvious, conservatives (as a blanket term) are not being excluded from commencement gigs. A few conservatives with somewhat less than attractive credentials have been excluded, sure, but a hand full is not all.

But more to the point, what Arkes seems to advocate is a kind of fairness doctrine for college speakers. That is, that each viewpoint should have an equal amount of time dedicated to the opposing viewpoint. So, if there are 50 liberal speakers, there must be 50 conservative ones as well. I suppose you’re entitled to advocate for such a policy, but it cuts right at the heart of his argument for free speech. Free speech, as others have so eloquently put it, “…is better reached by free trade in ideas — that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market.”

Thoughtful students, at least in the cases Arkes seems to be hinting at, vocalized their refusal to accept speakers who endorse ideas that are utterly offensive to our society (such as the disgusting acts at Abu Ghraib) and requested that the college not endorse such ideas.

What a great marketplace it is that we’re not forced to buy into bullshit.

Obama delivers commencement speech at West Point

Huge foreign policy speech by the President today.

In fact, by most measures, America has rarely been stronger relative to the rest of the world. Those who argue otherwise — who suggest that America is in decline, or has seen its global leadership slip away — are either misreading history or engaged in partisan politics. Think about it. Our military has no peer. The odds of a direct threat against us by any nation are low and do not come close to the dangers we faced during the Cold War.
Meanwhile, our economy remains the most dynamic on Earth; our businesses the most innovative. Each year, we grow more energy independent. From Europe to Asia, we are the hub of alliances unrivaled in the history of nations. America continues to attract striving immigrants. The values of our founding inspire leaders in parliaments and new movements in public squares around the globe. And when a typhoon hits the Philippines, or schoolgirls are kidnapped in Nigeria, or masked men occupy a building in Ukraine, it is America that the world looks to for help. (Applause.) So the United States is and remains the one indispensable nation. That has been true for the century passed and it will be true for the century to come.


Here’s my bottom line: America must always lead on the world stage. If we don’t, no one else will. The military that you have joined is and always will be the backbone of that leadership. But U.S. military action cannot be the only — or even primary — component of our leadership in every instance. Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail. And because the costs associated with military action are so high, you should expect every civilian leader — and especially your Commander-in-Chief — to be clear about how that awesome power should be used.

Cutting Unemployment benefits only hurts the economy

Great coverage from Ben Casselman over at FiveThirtyEight.

Laurusevage, 52, is one of more than a million Americans who lost payments when Congress allowed the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program to expire at the end of last year. The program, which Congress created in 2008, extended jobless benefits beyond the standard 26 weeks provided by most states; at its peak, the federal government provided an unprecedented 6 million workers with up to 73 weeks of benefits. The Senate earlier this year voted to renew the program, but House Speaker John Boehner hasn’t allowed the measure to come to a vote in the House.

The case against extending unemployment benefits essentially boils down to two arguments. First, the economy has improved, so the unemployed should no longer need extra time to find a new job. Second, extended benefits could lead job seekers either to not search as hard or to become choosier about the kind of job they will accept, ultimately delaying their return to the workforce.

But the evidence doesn’t support either of those arguments. The economy has indeed improved, but not for the long-term unemployed, whose odds of finding a job are barely higher today than when the recession ended nearly five years ago. And the end of extended benefits hasn’t spurred the unemployed back to work; if anything, it has pushed them out of the labor force altogether.

For years now, conservatives have been arguing that the unemployed are addicted to unemployment insurance and would rather lazily receive less-than-half pay than look for work (despite the near universal requirement of searching for work while receiving unemployment insurance). But their thesis hasn’t proven correct.

Criticism for extending unemployment insurance because it hurts the economy is now, ironically, demonstrably the opposite of the truth. Recipients spend this money on actual needed goods and keep the gears of the economy turning. These individuals also were (definitionally) part of the work force (though still seeking work). Now a large percentage have dropped out of the workforce completely and are no longer looking for work, putting them into new categories, typically of the government dependent or retired variety. Such a reality creates new problems, many which we likely cannot fully foresee.

But a more central question to this entire discussion is this: is our society better off abandoning the long-term unemployed (who continue experiencing employment difficulty the longer they are out of work) or do we have some basic responsibility and interest in ensuring that these once hard-working Americans are not thrown to the gutter (and tangentially, don’t inflict further economic harm through foreclosure, amassing consumer debt, bankruptcy, etc). Now that we have findings that cutting unemployment insurance for the long-term unemployed is hurting the economy more than extending them would, I don’t think there’s a real argument to be made that abandoning them makes any sense. Unless you’re simply trying to be a dick. Ripping off a band-aid only makes logical sense when you’re no longer gushing blood.

EZ-Pass is good for the environment

Such technology results in less pollution because cars drive right through toll plazas rather than stopping and starting. In one location within the study area, nitrogen oxide fell by 11 percent after the implementation of E-ZPass.

Obama Administration sends Transportation bill to Congress

For the first time, the Obama administration has proposed a substantive transportation plan.

The bill includes $206 billion for the highway system and road safety over its four year duration, and transit gets $72 billion. That brings the current 80-20 ration for highways and transit to something closer to 75-25. Rail — a new addition to the transportation bill — gets $19 billion, including nearly $5 billion annually for high-speed rail. The proposal also sets aside $9 billion for discretionary, competitive funding, including $5 billion for the popular TIGER grant project.

Increasing the transit funding ratio is a huge deal and suggests priority changes, even if they are slow to develop. Return On Investment is typically much greater for transit investment than it is for highway investment, so even small changes could lead to shifts in commuter habits and efficiencies of scale.

Solving Penn Station

Outstanding overview at Urbanophile on the current state of Penn Station and how to fix some of the problems it presents for commuters and the City.

Welcome to Comcast Country

If you have any doubts that the recent McCutcheon v. FEC decision was myopic in its holding, check out this NYT piece on Comcast’s lobbying efforts that have made them increasingly more powerful in US Politics.

“Good God!” Mr. Rendell recalled telling RCN, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. “We have to tear up the streets so you can come in here and compete against one of our best corporate citizens?”

Mr. Rendell reportedly suggested that RCN move its headquarters to Philadelphia and “get involved” with the mayoral campaign of John F. Street, who later succeeded him in office. RCN executives donated, but Comcast gave more.

Politicians here express their corporate loyalty in the tribal terms typically reserved for the city’s professional sports teams. (In fact, the Philadelphia Flyers and their hockey arena are owned by Comcast-Spectacor.) But many customers in Philadelphia demur: Comcast service here is expensive and poor, as customers everywhere complain. The company consistently receives among the lowest ratings of any major cable TV or Internet service provider.

The thing that strikes me is just how benign each part of this process seems, but taken all together, especially with an ability to donate unlimited funds, is so obviously dangerous to a democracy.