Justice Delayed

The delay of justice is great injustice.

— John Musgrave (1646)

One of this week’s featured posts is another installment in what I’m coming to think of as my countdown-to-Augustus series “The Broken Senate is Breaking the Courts“. The other is my assessment of the Democrats’ chances of taking control of the Senate (and how you can help) in “What Can You Do about the Senate?

This week everybody was talking about bigotry

Mississippi became the latest state to decide that anti-gay and anti-transgender discrimination needs and deserves the protection of state law. The Mississippi bill is HB1523, the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act”, which is short enough to read in its entirety if you’re interested. To me the striking part of the law is Section 2:

The sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions protected by this act are the belief or conviction that:

(a)  Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman;

(b)  Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and

(c)  Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.

In other words, HB1523 gives people special rights if their opinion falls on one side of a controversial issue, but not the other. (And why aren’t more people paying attention to (2b)? If you are a cohabitating heterosexual couple, somebody who sincerely believes you are “living in sin” can discriminate against you.) I can’t imagine that this will pass constitutional muster. If the government can’t legally penalize you for the content of your religious beliefs, then it can’t reward you for them either.

That specificity is necessary, though, in order to avoid the other horn of the legalized-discrimination dilemma: A general law protecting people whose religious beliefs justify discrimination would also protect racists. Plenty of religions have at one time or another taught that God created the races and intended them to remain separate. (I researched this last year in “You Don’t Have to Hate Anybody to Be a Bigot“.) So if your religious beliefs entitle you to discriminate against gays, why not against blacks?

If you’re confused by the law’s name, “government discrimination” refers to government enforcing non-discrimination; it’s a little Orwellian that way. In other words, if your religious beliefs make you want to refuse service to lesbians, and the government says you can’t do that, then the government is discriminating against you.

You know the drill: War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Yada, yada, yada.

If you’d rather just make fun of Mississippi’s effort to one-up North Carolina in the most-bigoted-state competition, Funny or Die has that covered.

and presidential politics

For the Democrats, same story as the last few weeks: Yes, Bernie is gaining ground on Hillary. No, he isn’t gaining nearly fast enough to get nominated.

I’m resisting writing about the details of the various disputes between the campaigns, because I doubt I’m getting a balanced view of them. My FaceBook feed and email lists all lean to the left, so I’m exposed to a lot more Bernie stuff than Hillary stuff. These last few weeks the conversation in general has gotten increasingly partisan and irrational, with unfair and downright petty charges going both ways. But because of where I sit, I hear a lot more Bernie irrationality than Hillary irrationality. (I’d give examples, but that just starts me down the rabbit hole.) If I start trying to correct it all, this is going to start sounding like a Hillary blog, which is not my intention.

In general, I’ve been defending Hillary against what I see as basically Republican attacks, like my occasional comments on the email pseudo-scandal. So far, Republicans haven’t been saying much about Bernie, so a comparable defense hasn’t been necessary.

On the Republican side, things are really starting to get interesting, in the horror-movie sense of interesting.

For a long time, pundits had been speculating that Donald Trump’s support had a ceiling, and that when the race came down to two or three candidates, he’d be in trouble. Well, that ceiling turned out to be considerably higher than most of us thought, but he finally seems to be bumping against it.

Nate Silver does what he does best: defines a stat that captures a vague notion we’ve all had. (This is where you see Nate’s background as a baseball stats guy. Baseball is full of vague notions — like clutch hitting, the value of a slick-fielding shortstop, or what it takes to get into the Hall of Fame — that you can’t talk about intelligently until you define some new stats.) The stat is Minimum Winning Vote Share: If all the other candidates got the exact number of votes they actually got, what percentage of the vote would your candidate have needed in order to win by one vote?

MWVS trends inexorably upward as the number of candidates shrinks. Trump’s MWVS in New Hampshire was only 19.5%. (His actual vote share was 35.2%, so he crushed the opposition.) But in 4 of the last 5 contests his MWVS has been over 40%. Trump’s 35.1% of the vote in Wisconsin is almost identical to his percentage in New Hampshire, but it earned him a decisive loss rather than a landslide win, because his MWVS had increased.

Nate then produces two charts: The increase in Trump’s MWVS as the primaries go on, and the increase in his vote percentage. Both trend upward, but MWVS is increasing much faster and looks like it has finally caught up.

In addition to having a ceiling somewhere south of 50% of Republicans, Trump’s nomination is also being called into doubt by how the inner workings of the Republican process are playing out. Getting from polls and primary votes to convention delegates turns out to be a much darker art than most of us realized, and Ted Cruz seems to be a lot better at it.

Trump has already started saying “The system is rigged.” And his supporters already feel cheated by government, by immigrants, by big business, by liberals, and so on. If Trump’s campaign ends up looking (to them) like a microcosm of the whole rigged country, the Republican Convention in Cleveland should be the most interesting convention since the Democrats were in Chicago in 1968. Again, that’s in the horror-movie sense of interesting.

and you might also be interested in

We found out how Trump plans to make Mexico pay for his wall.

The Republican presidential candidate’s campaign said in a memo that if elected in November, Trump would use a U.S. anti-terrorism law to cut off [remittances from immigrants] unless Mexico made a one-time payment of $5 billion to $10 billion for the wall.

The memo says the Mexican economy

receives approximately $24 billion a year in remittances from Mexican nationals working in the United States. The majority of that amount comes from illegal aliens.

Threatening to shut that off, Trump thinks, will bring Mexico to its knees. Vox takes a more nuanced look at the topic.

A few points: First, people should be very wary of the government finding creative uses for anti-terrorism powers. These laws were meant to keep international banks from laundering money for Al Qaeda. Using them to keep Jesus the Janitor from sending $20 a week to his grandma goes way beyond Congress’ intent.

Second, it demonstrates a pattern of thought that I’ve pointed out before: when you imagine taking decisive action against somebody and then ignore whatever they might do in response. That thinking often leads to conflicts where your opponent’s responses are actually much cheaper and simpler than yours, and so you will lose even if you are stronger and richer.

Trump’s whole wall is that way. A 30-foot wall can be defeated by a 31-foot ladder and a rope. Making the wall a foot higher is very expensive. Making a longer ladder and rope, not so much.

Similarly, maybe you can prevent Jesus from making a wire transfer or using some other 21st-century process. But are you going to open every Mexico-bound letter to find all the cash or debit cards?  What about friendly American citizens who will carry unsuspicious quantities of cash across the border for Jesus?

That leads to the security downside of lumping Jesus’ grandma in with Al Qaeda: Ordinary Americans might cooperate with a money-smuggling network if they thought they were benefitting Mexican grandmas. And once that network is up, maybe Al Qaeda will use it.

Ezra Klein’s “Is the media biased against Bernie Sanders?” reflects a lot of my own views of political coverage (which I expressed in a 2011 article “Liberal Media, Conservative Manipulation“, and which leans heavily on Jay Rosen’s “Why the Internet Weakens the Authority of the Press“). Klein’s answer to his own question is: It’s not that simple.

I believe that mainstream media contains very little conscious propaganda. Reporters at CNN or the NYT aren’t thinking “I want (or don’t want) Bernie Sanders to win, so I’m going to say this.” Instead, reporters (both individually and as a group) develop an unstated — and to a certain extent even unconscious — model of who these candidates are and what the larger narrative of the campaign is. That model influences which events get classified as news and how that news gets presented.

If you want to get technical, it’s not about bias so much as prejudice. Reporters aren’t pushing for or against a certain candidate, but they have made prior judgments that may cut either way, depending on the circumstances.

The judgment they’ve made about Sanders is that he’s authentic, but he’s a big-picture guy who doesn’t sweat the details. Clinton they see as calculating and occasionally slippery. That level of generalization doesn’t appear explicitly in news stories, but it influences coverage: If Hillary says something different from one day to the next, it gets covered as a tactical maneuver. If Bernie does the same thing, it’s because he hasn’t thought things through that well. Either candidate might regard that coverage as negative bias.

Rosen sees this as an inherent problem in the journalistic ideal of objectivity. By pretending to speak with an idealized objectivity that is more or less impossible for humans to achieve, subjective judgments are driven underground, where they arguably do more damage and are harder to correct. Klein puts it this way:

the model is, for the most part, hidden, and the accumulated inputs to the model are hard to explain or may not have been things an individual journalist was allowed to report on. The result is that coverage can feel confusing and biased, because the real rationale for the decisions being made about what to cover and how to cover it is obscured from the audience.

Klein’s article is unusual because of how introspective he is about his prior judgments on the candidates. So it is less “objective” than most campaign coverage, but probably communicates more insight.

In a nerdy but interesting 538 article, Ben Casselman explains how quadratic voting might improve the five-choice (strongly approve to strongly disapprove) polling scale.

WonkBlog’s Emily Badger points out how easy it is to come up with some “solution” for poor people’s problems that covertly assumes they have the same resources the rest of us take for granted. The example is simple: reusable cloth diapers. Yes, they can be cheaper than disposables, if you have the upfront money to buy them and a washing machine.

and let’s close with a gadget

It’s like the kids who grew up watching Transformers are old enough now to design real things.

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  • Andrea Miller  On April 11, 2016 at 2:48 pm

    Marriage between one man and one woman – But the Donald has been married 3 times.

  • SamuraiArtGuy  On April 11, 2016 at 2:51 pm

    I’m resisting writing about the details of the various disputes between the campaigns, because I doubt I’m getting a balanced view of them. My FaceBook feed and email lists all lean to the left, so I’m exposed to a lot more Bernie stuff than Hillary stuff. These last few weeks the conversation in general has gotten increasingly partisan and irrational, with unfair and downright petty charges going both ways”

    Nailed it. It’s getting to the tiring phase of the nomination race.

  • janinmi  On April 12, 2016 at 5:10 pm

    Re: journalists’ objectivity (or lack thereof), there’s an important piece missing from the discussion here: the effect an editorial board has on individual stories. What the EB chooses to run or not run can heavily skew their coverage. This is true for all media. Not even a 24-hour news cycle can cover everything that happens (especially at a global scale), so EBs and managing editors have to choose what to cover based (ideally) on what their audience *wants* to know as well as what the editors think people *should* know. My college minor was journalism, and my Journ 101 prof was a retired reporter who impressed upon his students that the 5 Ws and H were all that belonged in a news story. He said the rest belonged in the feature section or the Op/Ed page. I still believe that, and it’s been very disappointing to watch a field I once felt proud to be part of keep shooting itself in the feet. Another teacher, in a different field, said one of the most important things to remember was “Consider the source.” That’s so very true these days. There are still good folks doing good journalism both here and abroad, but their numbers continue to dwindle.


  • […] that he’d fade when it came time to spend real money in November or December. As late as April 11 (in the aftermath of Trump’s loss in Wisconsin) I was buying into the low-ceiling theory. […]

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