Category Archives: Politics/Law

Today in dumb ideas

Matt Yglesias points to some nonsense going on in New York, where for some reason that I’m sure has nothing to do with the traditional automobile industry’s lobbying, legislators have proposed legislation requiring auto manufacturers to sell their cars through an in-state dealership/storefront. Of course, for innovative companies like Tesla that sell their vehicles direct to customers using something called an “inter-net”, this would increase the cost of selling vehicles. Maybe those companies would just forego profits and eat the cost, but maybe they would pass this cost on to consumers.

As Yglesias notes, the proponents pushing this scheme (including, believe it or not, the Eastern New York Coalition of Auto Dealers) argue both that the bill was designed to protect consumers (because apparently human beings cannot be trusted to decide on a purchase without an in-state storefront) and that allowing direct sales creates an “unfair advantage” (which hurts, if I’d have to guess, auto dealers in eastern New York). Obviously this has nothing to do with the former and everything to do with the latter – but what’s “unfair” about coming up with a more efficient business model? The bill should languish, wither, and die.

So Long, John Dingell

Norm Ornstein bids a thoughtful farewell to the legendary John Dingell, who just announced his retirement after 58 years in Congress:

Some may view Dingell’s longevity as a good reason for term limits. I view it as the opposite. Dingell has had a hand—a hugely constructive hand—in nearly every major advance in social policy over the past five-plus decades, including civil and voting rights, health, and the environment. He has always had strong views—not always in sync with mine, I should add—but he brought intellectual depth and honesty to the table and found ways to build bonds of trust and affection with his Republican adversaries and counterparts that helped make many of the policy advances work better because they had bipartisan leadership support.

How to Ruin a Perfectly Good Story About Frat Life

Jezebel offers a valuable counterpoint to The Atlantic‘s “The Dark Power of Fraternities”, linked mere hours ago on this blog:

Atlantic contributor Caitlin Flanagan has a long history of turning out short-sighted treatises on hookup culture and the sexualization of young woman and blah blah blah. But her latest piece for the magazine, a 14,000 word behemoth, manages to take on a different culture – frat culture – while insulting and ignoring a variety of factors.

The Dark Power of Fraternities

The Atlantic‘s Caitlin Flanagan has a really good longform piece (AKA a magazine article) with the subhed “A yearlong investigation of Greek houses reveals their endemic, lurid, and sometimes tragic problems—and a sophisticated system for shifting the blame.” What starts out as a biting and funny takedown of dumb fratboys gradually turns into a thoughtful evaluation of the role that fraternities’ national organizations play when something goes really wrong at one of their chapters:

So here is the essential question: In the matter of these disasters, are fraternities acting in an ethical manner, requiring good behavior from their members and punishing them soundly for bad or even horrific decisions? Or are they keeping a cool distance from the mayhem, knowing full well that misbehavior occurs with regularity (“most events take place at night”) and doing nothing about it until the inevitable tragedy occurs, at which point they cajole members into incriminating themselves via a crisis-management plan presented as being in their favor?

Re: “The Arrogance of Mitt”

The Atlantic‘s Mark Bowden takes a pretty thorough look at Mitt, Netflix’s recently-released documentary covering Mitt Romney’s two presidential campaigns. I watched it recently and found it, if not an incredible documentary, nonetheless a fascinating one. This observation in Bowden’s piece jumped out at me:

Granted, Mitt is a busy man, but nowhere in any shot in the hour-and-a-half long film is he ever seen reading a book, a magazine, a newspaper, a Kindle, an iPad … anything. We see him once tapping away on a laptop, seemingly answering an email, and we see him once reading from some papers, apparently working up a speech, but nowhere in any shot, not on a side table or on a shelf in the background, or on the floor of the plane beside his reclining chair, nowhere is a page of reading material. You would think that somewhere over six years of filming, on a plane or a bus or in a hotel room, no matter how austere, there might be some trace of a life of the mind. There isn’t. And in a film devoted to showing us the real Mitt Romney, I find it hard to believe that any scene displaying intellectual depth would have been left out.

I’m on board with most of Bowden’s piece, including the conclusion he comes to based in part on the above excerpt, but I think this particular phenomenon is probably more a matter of audience-pleasing filmmaking. Even if Romney were an unprincipled politicsbot (which in some ways I think he is), I’m sure he’d be an extremely well-prepared, well-read unprincipled politicsbot. It’s just not interesting to watch a guy in chinos read a David Brooks book on a campaign bus, so I think the filmmakers left that kind of footage out of the documentary. With that said, no matter what we see at this point, Romney’s persona seems to be pretty firmly established. Even if there were lots of scenes of Romney devouring political science tomes, economic treatises, and #longreads about the injustices of our criminal justice system, I think we’d still have the sneaking suspicion that he was reading all this stuff just so he could more closely emulate a human being with feelings and intellectual curiosity.

However, to the extent that it’s possible to humanize a guy like Romney, I felt the film did so remarkably, both in ways you could see coming (he may not have strong political convictions on most matters, but he’s obviously connected deeply to his Mormon faith) and in ways I found utterly astonishing (the whole family gathered around the dinner table, delighted by David Sedaris on This American Life). And while I, like Bowden, came out of the viewing without a modicum of regret that Romney lost out on the presidency, I did feel a great deal of sympathy – and even a dollop of admiration – for the candidate.

Bowden has a lot more to say than the brief excerpt above, so click on through if you’re so inclined.

Roger Goodell calls an audible on the Washington Redskins name

The Washington Post’s editorial board weighs in on the side of progress and simple human decency: 

We hope, too, that Mr. Snyder finally understands that the team’s name — no matter its storied tradition or importance to many fans — is a racial slur of Native Americans so offensive that it should no longer be tolerated.

Good news.

Ride App Services Told to Shut Down in L.A. – Los Angeles – News – The Informer

Dennis Romero, at the LA Weekly’s The Informer blog: 

How can ride-app outfits like Lyft, Uber and Sidecar operate in a town with strict rules about how and where taxis can do business?
It’s a question we’ve been asking here at L.A. Weekly world headquarters. And Los Angeles Department of Transportation taxicab administrator Thomas Drischler this week came up with an answer.

Namely, they can’t:

In a cease-and-desist letter sent to those three companies, Drischler accused them of … “operating an unlicensed, for-profit commercial transportation service in the City of Los Angeles. In the interest of public safety, Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar are hereby directed to cease and desist from picking up passengers within the City of Los Angeles.”

This sucks. Uber and its ilk are hugely useful, especially in driving-centric cities like LA. On the other hand, I understand the concerns with these services – driver oversight may not be sufficient, and definitely isn’t sufficiently regulated to provide users with confidence. However, the solution to this is not a cease-and-desist that prevents consumers from making use of a valuable service – it’s updating the law to ensure that these innovative companies are safe. If the LA government is serious about serving its citizens, rather than merely protecting incumbent firms, it’ll follow through to do just that.

I’m not optimistic, exactly, but for whatever reason this industry seems to get people worked up enough to actually complain to their representatives (see DC’s reluctant reversals on Uber and food trucks)  – so maybe, just maybe, it’ll all work out. As an occasional LA visitor I’m certainly hoping it does.