Thursday, February 29, 2024

Happy Leap Year

 From XKCD


Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Joseph is frustrated: the Biden edition

This is Joseph (Mark may edit this for being too partisan).

I am very tired of the main lines of criticism of Joe Biden. He is sure not a perfect president. I think he's above average, which in that sort of role is pretty high praise. I think he's governing better than his opponent would have, either this time or last time (oddly the same person). If you want to criticize him on the merits, I get it. But look at this exchange

With this follow-up from Elie:

And this one:

So let me add my two cents to the discussion. The degrees of freedom for the United States to act on Israel are limited. Israel is a nuclear power that has, rightly or wrongly, existential concerns about it's existence. I am not at all clear that Gaza would be doing better or worse if the United States simply cut Israel off instead of acting to advise restraint. It's not clear that a United Palestine under Hamas would be a net positive to the region over the (admittedly terrible) status quo. 

Could Joe Biden be doing better? Yes. It is a terrible situation and obviously the attacks on Israel were guaranteed to start a conflict. Giving your enemy their strategic goals is not always a great idea unless they have completely misjudged the situation. On the other hand, the children in Gaza are not really the bad actors here. 

But a slow and cautious approach often works well, despite the stress of the moment. For example:

This is an appropriate reaction of the Biden presidency to pointing out that the status quo isn't an especially viable solution. The problem is really that there are no easy solutions. A two (or 3) state solution means that there will be people who never get to go home. That's awful. On the other hand, the number of these people can't be especially high 75 years later. On the other hand, the status quo is hurting the human rights of a lot of people. 

It is also the case that the Israeli government is not ideal Here is Josh Marshall discussing Netanyahu in 2009 (that would be 15 years ago): 

President Obama wants a peace settlement based on a two state solution and he’s signaled through top advisors that he wants a settlement during his first term of office. And Obama, unlike President Bush, actually appears to mean it. Netanyahu wants continued settlement expansion and no Palestinian state. Publicly this is muddled over by claims that he wants to focus on building up the Palestinian economy on the West Bank, as preparation for some possible, maybe autonomy or independence to happen in the never specified and never-to-happen future.

Then there’s the question of Iran. The Netanyahu government has spent its brief time in office aggressively pushing the line that any work on the Palestinian front can’t happen until the threat of the Iranian nuclear program is definitively ended. That has the dual benefit — if the premise is accepted — of forcing the US to shelve its entire approach to Iran, follow the Netanyahu government’s lead and close the door on any work toward a final settlement with the Palestinians.

What it all comes down to is that Obama wants a peace deal and Netanyahu doesn’t. And Netanyahu is making a big push to tie Obama’s hands or get him to back off his policy.

So it is definitely not the case that Israel, the state, has been a purely good actor. There are somehow enough people who want to vote for this sort of bad policy that the same guy is still here causing bad outcomes fifteen years later. Do we really think things would be better for the Palestinians if he was being engaged by President Trump? 

This is really, I think, the central paradox of democracy in large and diverse nations. You need to be build coalitions to govern. These coalitions are full of a lot of opinions. Progress in changing of political norms is often made by having your coalition win a lot and cause the other side to shift in your direction to stop losing. Look at how moderate Eisenhower was when he broke so many years of Democratic presidents? Look at how much Bill Clinton responded to the long Reagan/Bush era. This was political change. Having the other coalition win, because you think your side is not extreme enough, is not a path to political progress. 

Consider reproductive rights. In 2016 there were Bernie Sanders supporters who did not back Hillary Clinton because she was from the wrong part of the coalition. Did that matter? I don't know. But the Trump presidency reshaped the supreme court with three nominations in one term. This isn't unprecedented, George Washington managed a faster clip, but it probably made the overturning of Roe versus Wade more likely. Was this a net win? 

Now, for one last point. There is a big concern about Biden's age

Two problems. One, at this point, the proposed solutions are terrible. An open convention with a large slate of candidates would remove the important advantage of the primary system in vetting candidates and would make the people voting in primaries feel disenfranchised. If nothing else, electors are not currently being chosen as a high performance vetting team. Could this work out? Sure, but it seems like a risky move. 

Two, both candidates are old as presidents go. Trump will also finish his next term as the oldest president ever, should he win. I've pointed out this is a good argument for Nikki Haley, who is actually still running in the primary -- losing badly but not effectively eliminated. I think she'd be better than Trump but objectively bad, regardless. Not all bad candidates are equally bad. 

So I think the "I won't vote for the left wing nominee because they are too far right" has little chances of working out well. I suppose it could heighten the contradictions. But I don't think a revolution would serve us well and, absent one, many of the changes that have been made will take decades to undo. See the Supreme Court, which can meddle with a 6-3 majority for many years, the oldest member being only 75. 

Now, before I sound too nihilistic, there is every reason to advocate for improved foreign policy and to try and improve human rights globally. Israel-Palestine is a morass because every conversation ends up inflammatory. But the overall record that Joe Biden is running on is pretty good. He's withdrawn from wars at a heavy political cost from the people who started them without a plan. The economy is doing well and we've recovered from the pandemic. There are many problems but he's been pretty decent about solving some and not creating others. 

Meanwhile, the opposition candidate is in the middle of a legal morass. He has been convicted of civil fraud. That seems bad for a politician. There are four different criminal cases ongoing. No convictions have happened but it seems like maybe this should be a point of discussion in the ongoing debate between the two leading candidates? As opposed to the age question (both old) or the Gaza question (both not great, Trump clearly worse). 

Or am I missing something? 

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

The Dutch Boy's Lead Party"


This promotional booklet copyright 1923 is interesting, but not for the reason most people think.

There's a tendency to look back at these old advertisements for products like tobacco and to conclude that people had no idea these products were dangerous, but if you go back and look through what people were actually sang at the time, you generally find that the advertising was actually a response to growing public concern over products like lead paint.

 In 1786, Benjamin Franklin wrote a letter warning a friend about the hazards of lead and lead paint, which he considered well-established.[5] Despite the risks, the pigment was very popular with artists because of its density and opacity; a small amount could cover a large surface. It was widely used by artists until the 19th century, when it was replaced by zinc white and titanium white.[6]

The dangers of lead paint were considered well-established by the beginning of the 20th century. In the July 1904 edition of its monthly publication, Sherwin-Williams reported the dangers of paint containing lead, noting that a French expert had deemed lead paint "poisonous in a large degree, both for the workmen and for the inhabitants of a house painted with lead colors".[7] As early as 1886, German health laws prohibited women and children from working in factories processing lead paint and lead sugar.[8]

The League of Nations began efforts to ban lead paint in 1921.[9][10]

 Or over lead in general.

With the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, lead poisoning became common in the work setting.[122] The introduction of lead paint for residential use in the 19th century increased childhood exposure to lead; for millennia before this, most lead exposure had been occupational.[36] The first legislation in the UK to limit pottery workers' exposure to lead was included in the Factories Act Extension Act in 1864, with further introduced in 1899.[283][284] William James Furnival (1853–1928), research ceramist of City & Guilds London Institute, appeared before Parliament in 1901 and presented a decade's evidence to convince the nation's leaders to remove lead completely from the British ceramic industry. His 852-page treatise, Leadless Decorative Tiles, Faience, and Mosaic of 1904 published that campaign and provided recipes to promote lead-free ceramics.[285] At the request of the Illinois state government in the US, Alice Hamilton (1869–1970) documented lead toxicity in Illinois industry and in 1911 presented results to the 23rd Annual Meeting of the American Economic Association.[286] Hamilton was a founder of the field of occupational safety and health and published the first edition of her manual, Industrial Toxicology, in 1934, yet in print in revised forms.[287] An important step in the understanding of childhood lead poisoning occurred when toxicity in children from lead paint was recognized in Australia in 1897.[122] France, Belgium, and Austria banned white lead interior paints in 1909; the League of Nations followed suit in 1922.[124] However, in the United States, laws banning lead house paint were not passed until 1971, and it was phased out and not fully banned until 1978.[124]

 Though owned by Sherwin Williams since 1980, the Dutch Boy was originally a mascot for the National Lead Company.

From the Hagley Museum and Library:

Monday, February 26, 2024

IVF in Alabama

This is Joseph.

Alabama recently extended the abortion ban to include IVF, leading some providers to discontinue IVF in that state. The reasoning in at least of the concurring opinions drew on a broader tradition than much legal reasoning did:

But the court’s chief justice, Tom Parker, drew on more than the Constitution and legal precedent to explain his determination.

“Human life cannot be wrongfully destroyed without incurring the wrath of a holy God,” he wrote in a concurring opinion that invoked the Book of Genesis and the prophet Jeremiah and quoted at length from the writings of 16th- and 17th-century theologians.

“Even before birth,” he added, “all human beings have the image of God, and their lives cannot be destroyed without effacing his glory.”

The part of this that is interesting to me is that it ignores some obvious legal issues. For example, here is a very good test:

On a more serious note, it opens up a lot of questions. The easiest one is to ask how might this same reasoning apply to the death penalty. What about inheritance rights? Is a stored embryo eligible for a trust fund? Are they dependents on taxes?  

So what I think is really happening is that a court is playing politics. They well understand that this new definition will have a ton of legal ramifications and, if you want law to be consistent, it is a bombshell. So I think they are just doing it to make a point, and are confident that the Supreme Court will reverse it. But that is a bad way to do law. Law is about predictability and consistency -- not political sloganeering. Making the courts this abjectly political is not going to be a good development in the long run. After all, if the people of Alabama did not want IVF in their state, they could have asked their legislature to craft an appropriate law. But bootstrapping this policy preference on a purely legal fetal personhood argument seems like a poor way to run a court. 

It also illustrates that the death of Roe versus Wade was not a minor disagreement on how to regulate a set of medical procedures but rather seems to be encouraging rather draconian regulations instead. All in all, this is really kind of bad news for everyone. 

Friday, February 23, 2024

Closing out Russia week here at the blog

Though we've already quoted from it in our previous post, there's one more point I'd like to highlight from Josh Marshall's A Bigger Story Than You Can Possibly Imagine.

Are we really supposed to believe that these Russian operations, which kicked off in 2015 and continued into 2017, were going full force through 2018 and 2019 with Rudy Giuliani and continue right up until today somehow played no role in the unbelievable story of Hunter Biden’s laptop? Of course they did.

In talking with David Kurtz before I started writing this David noted that we can’t really say Republicans and MAGA Republicans were duped. And that’s 100% right. The evolution of U.S. politics, egged along, skid-greased by helpful Russians, created a context in U.S. politics where these folks didn’t really have to be duped. The Russians under Putin are the good guys. If they’re making sure we have the most current information where’s the harm in that?

I don't believe that most commentators and quite possibly most political scientists fully realize how different politics is now and what the implications of those changes are. To the extent that history is a useful guide for what we face today, it is the history of the early and mid 20th century. Lots of analogies to the rise of fascism and the internal battles of revolutionary versus counter-revolutionary on the left. Not many to the standard examples we use to discuss modern politics.

As we've said before, one of the biggest and most consequential involves Russia. We have Republicans mooning over the ostentatious grandeurs of Stalin's USSR (look, chandeliers in the subway station!) like some leftist college student in 1969.

As more than one observer has noted on Twitter, it's like Senator McCarthy was right, only 70 years early and about the wrong political party. Of course, this time we've also seen a resurgence of pro-Putin leftists, making for some truly strange bedfellows.

With that thought, we'll end the week with a favorite scene from the best James Bond movie (Robert Shaw was a great Bond villain).

Thursday, February 22, 2024

All the news that's fit to print (on page A16)

Josh Marshall calls it A Bigger Story Than You Can Possibly Imagine

Let’s review recent events. First came the news that prosecutors in special counsel David Weiss’s office had decided that the confidential FBI informant who had been one of Biden’s top accusers had been lying and that they were charging him for lying to the FBI. That next step is critical. Informants lie to prosecutors all the time. They seldom get charged. It’s one standard to decide your informant isn’t telling the truth and/or won’t hold up at trial. It’s an entirely different one to think that you can prove they knowingly lied beyond a reasonable doubt. Clearly investigators felt they had caught Alexander Smirnov dead to rights. Yesterday came news that Smirnov has admitted that he got his false stories from Russian intelligence officers. Smirnov isn’t just at the center of the DOJ investigation, he’s at the center of what we have to generously call James Comer’s House inquiry, the premise for Joe Biden’s increasingly wobbly impeachment. 

 Covered in more detail by TPM's David Kurtz here.

This is blowing up all over. As I'm writing this, NPR is using this as the lead for their news wrap-up. It's the top story on CNN's site.