An item today by Jonathan Chait, on New York magazine site, is as clear a dissection of "false equivalence" as you will ever see. It is worth reading carefully, for reasons of both tactics and strategy. Tactically, it is a very useful guide to the arguments you'll be hearing during Countdown To Sequester these next few days. Strategically, it explains the tics and tells that give away "false equivalence" reasoning in general.
Here's the problem with reporting on "the sequester." (I fussily put it in quotes because it's still a verb, midway through being bastardized into a noun.) What the Obama Administration is proposing is in fact very close to D.C. "centrist" opinion, including what is often expressed by the Post's editorial page. The essence of that view is (a) it would be better to avoid the sequester than to let these mindless Procrustean cuts happen, (b) avoiding it should involve both spending cuts and tax increases, and (c) just to hammer the previous point home, it is crazy to talk about deficit solutions and pretend there can be no tax increase whatsoever.
The Post and most "serious" outlets prefer this mixture to the purest Republican version, which is (a) taxes cannot go up, and (b) it is better to let the sequester happen than to violate point (a).
But, as Chait explains, the Post is uncomfortable saying that it agrees with "one side" in a dispute like this. Thus from Chait:
Respectable centrist position agrees with Obama's position. But to agree with one party is not a respectable centrist thing to do. And so a wide stream of coverage and commentary on this issue is dedicated to actively misleading Americans about what the two sides are proposing.
The sentence in bold is worth remembering through the rest of the sequester battle. It leads to headlines like this one in the editorial today:
There is a place for "both sides prefer posturing and conflict" analysis -- in most football brawls, for instance; or in the current showdown between Japan and China over the uninhabited islands whose very name is subject to dispute. But as Chait explains, the sheer attitudinal comfort of the "both sides to blame" posture trumps the force of the paper's own logic, which shows that one "side" is making unreasonable demands. You see this same reflex in laments about caused-by-no-one Congressional "dysfunction," rather than pointing out the purposeful use of filibusters, holds, and other delaying tactics. To its credit, the Post's news pages took the lead over other publications in describing the Hagel filibuster this way. And many of the Post's writers, starting with those at Wonkblog, have been laying out the realities of the budget free from the reflex to cast everything in "both sides to blame" terms.
For the record, I agree with Chait on many things, including most aspects of domestic policy, but we have disagreed on some others, as he has pointed out. The false-equivalent D.C. veteran in me is tempted to say that we're both to blame for any misunderstanding -- but of course I know who's really in the right ...
Also on sequester-ology in general, see this piece by Michael Cohen, about scare-mongering on the effects of defense-budget cuts. The sequester is a stupid way to apply cuts, but one way or another military spending is headed down.
James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne.
The passing of Antonin Scalia roils the presidential campaign and could leave the Supreme Court deadlocked until 2017. Will the Senate even consider a replacement nominated by President Obama?
The sudden death of Antonin Scalia, an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court, on Saturday morning will shake up American politics like few events in recent memory, reshaping the 2016 presidential campaign and potentially leaving the Supreme Court deadlocked for more than a year.
In the short term, President Obama will have to decide who to nominate to replace the voluble conservative jurist, and the Republican-led Senate will have to decide whether to even consider the president’s pick in the heat of the election campaign. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell immediately signaled that an Obama nominee would not get a vote this year. “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice,” the Kentucky Republican said in a statement. “Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.” CNN reported Saturday evening that Obama intends to nominate a new Supreme Court justice, setting up a potential confrontation with Republicans that would play out both on Capitol Hill and on the campaign trail.
The GOP presidential candidate—and at least two of his rivals—are acting as if the meaning of the Constitution changes depending on the timing of the next election.
Antonin Scalia is dead. Is it legitimate for the Republican-controlled Senate to refrain from confirming a replacement for the late Supreme Court justice until a new president is elected, as Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson and others on the right have urged? Or does the Senate have an obligation to approve a qualified nominee put forth by President Obama, as many on the left argued as soon as news of the death broke?
The debate on Twitter was instantaneous. “The Democrat-controlled Senate confirmed Ronald Reagan's nominee to the Court, Anthony Kennedy, in his last year in office: 1988,” the liberal journalist Glenn Greenwald observed. Jim Antle, a paleoconservative, retorted with a Robert Bork reference, writing, “And it wouldn't quite have been in his final year if first choice had been confirmed in 1987.”
Rubio, like some of his fellow contenders, says the president shouldn’t nominate someone. This debate is an important one for the Florida senator, who earlier this week blamed his weak primary results in New Hampshire on a poor performance at the last Republican debate, pledging to change his strategy. Whether he can divert from canned lines tonight remains to be seen.
Rubio presents his vision for the next Supreme Court nominee: another Antonin Scalia. "We need to put people on the bench who understand the Constitution is not a living, breathing document," who are originalists.
Fredrickson, a leading researcher of positive emotions at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, presents scientific evidence to argue that love is not what we think it is. It is not a long-lasting, continually present emotion that sustains a marriage; it is not the yearning and passion that characterizes young love; and it is not the blood-tie of kinship.
Rather, it is what she calls a "micro-moment of positivity resonance." She means that love is a connection, characterized by a flood of positive emotions, which you share with another person—any other person—whom you happen to connect with in the course of your day. You can experience these micro-moments with your romantic partner, child, or close friend. But you can also fall in love, however momentarily, with less likely candidates, like a stranger on the street, a colleague at work, or an attendant at a grocery store. Louis Armstrong put it best in "It's a Wonderful World" when he sang, "I see friends shaking hands, sayin 'how do you do?' / They're really sayin', 'I love you.'"
The number of American teens who excel at advanced math has surged. Why?
On a sultry evening last July, a tall, soft-spoken 17-year-old named David Stoner and nearly 600 other math whizzes from all over the world sat huddled in small groups around wicker bistro tables, talking in low voices and obsessively refreshing the browsers on their laptops. The air in the cavernous lobby of the Lotus Hotel Pang Suan Kaew in Chiang Mai, Thailand, was humid, recalls Stoner, whose light South Carolina accent warms his carefully chosen words. The tension in the room made it seem especially heavy, like the atmosphere at a high-stakes poker tournament.
Stoner and five teammates were representing the United States in the 56th International Mathematical Olympiad. They figured they’d done pretty well over the two days of competition. God knows, they’d trained hard. Stoner, like his teammates, had endured a grueling regime for more than a year—practicing tricky problems over breakfast before school and taking on more problems late into the evening after he completed the homework for his college-level math classes. Sometimes, he sketched out proofs on the large dry-erase board his dad had installed in his bedroom. Most nights, he put himself to sleep reading books like New Problems in Euclidean Geometry and An Introduction to Diophantine Equations.
Does his faith influence his judicial decision making?
March was a hugely important month for religion and the Supreme Court, and a pivotal moment for Justice Antonin Scalia, the subject of a fat new biography. Too bad we couldn’t talk plainly about what was, and is, at stake. In a country historically averse to political debates about competing faiths, nowhere is frank discussion of religion more taboo than at the U.S. Supreme Court. “Religion is the third rail of Supreme Court politics. It’s not something that’s talked about in polite company,” as Jeff Shesol, the author of a book about the New Deal Court, put it. He was speaking with NPR’s Nina Totenberg in 2010, when John Paul Stevens was looking at retirement and, for the first time in American history, there was the prospect of six Catholics, three Jews, and no Protestants on the highest court in the land—a watershed almost too “radioactive,” Totenberg remarked, even to note. And beware of venturing any further than that, as the University of Chicago Law School’s Geoffrey Stone did in a controversial 2007 blog post suggesting that the Supreme Court’s five conservatives likely derived their abortion views from Catholic doctrine: Scalia—a devout Catholic, and the current Court’s longest-serving conservative—announced a boycott of the school until Stone leaves the faculty.
The president called the late Supreme Court justice, who died Saturday, a “brilliant legal mind,” and said he plans to name a successor—likely setting up a fight with Senate Republicans.
President Obama called Justice Antonin Scalia, who died suddenly on Saturday at the age of 79, a “brilliant legal mind with an energetic style, incisive wit, and colorful opinions,” and said he intends to fulfill his constitutional responsibility and nominate a successor in due time.
“He influenced a generation of judges, lawyers, and, students, and profoundly shaped the legal landscape,” Obama said of Scalia. “He will no doubt be remembered as one of the most consequential judges and thinkers to serve on the Supreme Court.”
And, the president added: “Obviously, today is the time to remember Justice Scalia’s legacy. I plan to fulfill my constitutional responsibilities to nominate a successor in due time. There will be plenty of time for me to do so and for the Senate to fulfill its responsibility to give that person a fair hearing and timely vote.”
Today’s empires are born on the web, and exert tremendous power in the material world.
Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t had the best week.
First, Facebook’s Free Basics platform was effectively banned in India. Then, a high-profile member of Facebook’s board of directors, the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, sounded off about the decision to his nearly half-a-million Twitter followers with a stunning comment.
“Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades,” Andreessen wrote. “Why stop now?”
After that, the Internet went nuts.
Andreessen deleted his tweet, apologized, and underscored that he is “100 percent opposed to colonialism” and “100 percent in favor of independence and freedom.” Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, followed up with his own Facebook post to say Andreessen’s comment was “deeply upsetting” to him, and not representative of the way he thinks “at all.”
Einstein’s gravitational waves rest on a genuinely radical idea.
After decades of anticipation, we have directly detected gravitational waves—ripples in spacetime traveling at the speed of light through the universe. Scientists at LIGO (the Laser Interferometic Gravitational-wave Observatory) have announced that they have measured waves coming from the inspiral of two massive black holes, providing a spectacular confirmation of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, whose hundredth anniversary was celebrated just last year.
Finding gravitational waves indicates that Einstein was (once again) right, and opens a new window onto energetic events occurring around the universe. But there’s a deeper lesson, as well: a reminder of the central importance of locality, an idea that underlies much of modern physics.
This wasn’t terribly surprising. When Streep was asked, last year, in the course of promoting her extremely feminist film Suffragette, whether she is herself a feminist, the actor replied that, no, she isn’t. Instead: “I am a humanist,” she said. “I am for nice, easy balance.”