Wednesday, 1 February 2012

You had me until the last paragraph

This NYT article on Pomona College dismissing 15 workers who were unable to present evidence of their legal presence and right to work had me mildly sympathetic to the various workers’ plight, until the second-to-last paragraph rolled around and I had a “WTF?” moment:

Still, it does little to reassure Carmen, 30, who asked that her last name not be used for fear of alerting immigration officials. Carmen had worked at the college for 11 years, using the money she earned to put herself through a public college. But she never looked for another job, fearing that she would not be able to produce the proper documents. For years she made about $8 an hour, but in recent years raises had increased her wages to nearly $17 an hour. She and her husband bought a modest home in nearby Pomona this fall and moved in just two weeks before she was fired.

“I really don’t know what I am going to do,” she said, adding that her options were to look for work that paid in cash or move back to Mexico with her 2-year-old son while her husband, an American citizen, stayed here. “I’m still in shock. This is the only thing I’ve really ever known.”

So, to review, Carmen is legally married to a U.S. citizen, and presumably has been for a while. Thus she is eligible to legally emigrate to, and then legally work in, the United States, and presumably has been for a while. According to the government, she may not even have to leave the country to do so.

Again I accept, and even sympathize with, the argument that many people come illegally (or, almost as commonly, overstay their legal immigration visas) in part because they are ineligible to “stand in line” for legal status because they lack citizen immediate relatives, or would have to wait for years under the quota limits for relatives, as Greg Weeks often points out. But in the cases of people who are eligible to immediately normalize their status and comply with the law, as it appears this particular individual is, and apparently just can’t be bothered to do so, my sympathy meter is pretty much pegged on empty.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Obama's medical marijuana policy going to pot

The folks at Reason have been keeping a rather keen eye on the escalation of the Obama administration’s war on medical marijuana; the latest salvo is apparently going to involve aggressive prosecutions of those advertising dispensaries, along with targeting landlords and other property owners whose tenants are dispensing pot, regardless of state licensing. Considering that the average Democrat supports legalizing pot outright,* and polls show even wider support for medical marijuana, the administration’s increasingly anti-pot position seems a bit inexplicable on the surface. However, I do think there are two potential explanations for this seemingly-conservative shift on the issue:

  1. Presidential politics: Most of the medical marijuana facilities are in California, a state that Obama has virtually no chance of losing in 2012. The policy is actually designed to shore up Obama’s support in swing states, where medical marijuana is not legal and the administration’s policy can be spun as “tough on drugs and crime.”
  2. Assertion of national authority against nullification more broadly: Although one would think that the Supreme Court’s decision in Gonzales v. Raich, which (contrary to a line of Supreme Court cases leading to that point) found that non-commercial, intrastate activity, such as marijuana use, could be regulated under the commerce power, had settled the power of the national government to continue to regulate marijuana as a controlled substance, the behavior of the states that adopted medical marijuana laws has effectively advanced the doctrine of nullification, albeit this time from the left rather than its traditional home on the right. By cracking down on medical marijuana, the Obama administration is signalling that other nullification efforts, such as state laws against participation in ObamaCare and REAL ID, along with other efforts by states to make end-runs around federal policies, will be dealt with in a similar fashion.

The latter explanation, in particular, would explain the rather vehement reaction of the administration over the past couple of years to medical marijuana as other state-level efforts to nullify or crowd out federal policymaking prerogatives have emerged. But I’m certainly open to entertaining other theories.

* According to the 2010 General Social Survey, 52.0% of Democrats and Democrat-leaners supported legalization of marijuana (margin of error: ±4.0%).

Cross-posted at OTB

Friday, 20 February 2009

Welcome to the jungle

Nate Silver has a nice explanation of the rationale behind the “jungle primary,” which is apparently headed to the ballots of Californians as a result of the state’s recent budget compromise. While the system has its flaws—particularly for those who believe in strong, programmatic political parties, although I’d argue that the American political system as constituted really can’t deliver programmatic parties—it does seem to reduce political polarization between the two parties driven by the gulf between primary and general election electorates.

See also: Soren Dayton and Rick Hasen.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008


So I assume the usual suspects at APSA will now be calling for a boycott of all future meetings in California.

The sad thing is that I agree with the boycott ringleaders on policy but it’s hard to take their specious arguments against the 2012 New Orleans meeting as being motivated by anything other than uninformed or outdated stereotypes of how New Orleanians would behave, as if there are absolutely no gay and lesbian couples in New Orleans today who have successfully dealt with the lack of a legal right to have their relationship with their life partners legitimized by the state. If, as a social scientist, you want other social scientists who aren’t fully committed to your personal crusades to take your public policy arguments seriously, you need to present at least some sort of data in support of your arguments.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Defining judicial activism

My OTB co-blogger James Joyner considers the question of what constitutes “judicial activism” as part of the broader debate over California’s same-sex marriage decision yesterday. The admittedly imperfect definition I use—and, kids, this is the one that’s the right answer on my American government exams—is “a tendency for judges to oppose the will of other courts or branches of government.” Mind you, that activism has a long and proud history and not one confined to liberal justices either.

In the case of California, given that just a few years ago the people of that state, acting as its lawmaking body through its public initiative process pursuant to its constitution, decided to legally define marriage as involving one man and one woman, I think you can fairly characterize the California court’s ruling as “activist.” That doesn’t mean it’s the wrong ruling under the constitution and laws of that state, but it’s not deference to either the will of the people or the executive branch either.

Having a gay old time in California

My office-neighbor just observed that state supreme courts seem to have a lousy sense of timing when it comes to inserting same-sex marriage into presidential election year agendas.

I tend to agree with Timothy Sandefur’s view that the California Supremes made basically the right decision for the wrong reasons. I think the right solution, broadly speaking, is to formally decouple the civil and religious institutions of marriage (as is essentially the practice in a number of religions anyway, most notably Catholicism)—confer legal recognition only on civil unions licensed by the state (or recognized as common-law unions, where applicable), with criteria that are constitutionally permissible under strict scrutiny (for example, requiring that all parties be humans, limiting the number of participants, and requiring them to be of legal age of consent—no Rick Santorum or Warren Jeffs fantasies here), and make marriage something that can only be recognized by religious institutions or civil society and can be decided based on whatever criteria they choose. If the Washington Times and the Pope don’t want to say that Adam and Steve are “married,” so be it; if Adam and Steve want to say they’re married, more power to ‘em.

A pipe-dream, I know. But a man can hope, can’t he?

Tuesday, 8 February 2005

California redistricting plan draws GOP ire

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s plan to end redistricting as we know it in California may be hitting a snag; James Joyner notes that opposition has emerged among California’s Republican members of Congress who were gerrymandered into safe seats in the 2000 election and might have problems winning competitive elections due to the national GOP‘s position far to the right of the median California voter.

More details in today’s Los Angeles Times; meanwhile, Robert Tagorda looks at the redistricting politics on both sides of the aisle, while Kevin Drum denies he’s a hack but senses an opportune time to switch sides and support the Schwarzenegger plan nonetheless. At least Greg Wythe has been on the bandwagon all along ☺.

Incidentally, is anyone up for collecting nearly 110,000 signatures (12% of the number of votes cast in the 2003 gubernatorial race) in twelve months to qualify an initiative to do the same thing in Mississippi?

Monday, 7 February 2005

Redistricting Roundup

Today’s New York Times has a somewhat lengthy piece on efforts in various states to reform their redistricting processes. As far as I know, aside from various efforts to create majority-minority Supreme Court districts, there are no serious efforts to fix redistricting in Mississippi—an oversight that surely ought to be corrected.

And, Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters says plans for a redistricting initiative in California may potentially be hijacked by partisan interests, although Walters doesn’t do a very good job of explaining how—he just alleges that requiring the redistricting commission to create competitive districts might somehow favor Republicans. (þ: Rick Hasen).

Update: More on this theme from John Fund at

Sunday, 16 January 2005

Bad essay gets bad grade, news at 11

Everyone’s favorite Moonie-owned newspaper, the Washington Times, attempts to make a cause celebré out of a student who got a bad grade on an American government exam at Foothill College, a community college in the Bay Area. (þ: Wizbang)

Steven Taylor and James Joyner have offered their grades of the purported essay in question, and—like them—I’d be hard pressed to give a non-failing grade to the essay, even leaving aside the weak grammar; it fails to meaningfully respond to the question as written, instead going off on a tangent to discuss the contemporary constitution and its effects. That the essay may be a heartwarming account by a hard-working immigrant doesn’t redeem that failing; indeed, if the question had asked for such an essay, I’d be inclined to give the essay a significantly better grade, though probably not an A. As it stands, I’d probably give it something on the order of 12–13 points out of 20.

All that said, if the professor did indeed tell the student he needed “psychological treatment” (as the Times account alleges), the prof ought to be disciplined. There’s more from the student’s side here (þ: PoliBlog).

Wednesday, 1 September 2004

Almost making me regret not watching

I think Robert Garcia Tagorda’s reaction nails why Arnold Schwarzenegger is such an asset to the Republican Party—he’s the very embodiment of the positive side of the Republican agenda. And, if his words can make a few more Americans appreciate what they take for granted—that, even for all its faults, our country is the greatest society ever created in human history, a belief many of my leftist-inclined colleagues would dispute until the end of time (and, nonetheless, still be completely wrong about)—I think in the long run he’s delivered a far more important message than who to vote for in November.

Wednesday, 11 August 2004

California Feint

Robert Garcia Tagorda questions the Bush team’s strategy of talking up its chances in California, noting (correctly) that Arnold Schwarzenegger is hardly offering up his 65% approval rating for a coattail effect. However, a look back at 2000 would be instructive—in that campaign, too, the Bush campaign talked up its chances in California and devoted more than token resources to the state, which forced the Gore campaign to follow suit, diverting ads from the battleground states that Bush was truly focusing on.

One suspects that Kerry will not fall for the same trick again, and—unlike in 2000—his surrogates supporters ABBers at and other 527s can devote virtually unlimited resources to counteract any Bush spending in the state without hurting the campaign elsewhere, while the Democratic party organization is more free to devote resources to get-out-the-vote efforts than in the past (mainly because it can’t spend its money on much else, thanks to McCain-Feingold). But, nonetheless, it’s not a completely bad strategy, because there’s absolutely no way Kerry can win the White House if he loses California.

Redistricting initiative in California

Professor Bainbridge links the text of the California anti-gerrymandering initiative. It looks more-or-less like a good idea to me, but the selection procedure for the “special masters” looks overly complicated. But, I suppose, that’s the way California politics works…

Wednesday, 9 June 2004

Another satisfied customer

Avril Lavigne, on Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit (a band name that seems oddly appropriate in light of this account):

“I mentioned to Fred that I was hungry, like, ‘I want an In-N-Out burger.’ “He had someone go out and get me a whole box of them, with fries. I was like, ‘Yeah!.’ Then he took a private jet out to one of my shows, expecting me to bang him. He was disappointed that I wouldn’t even go near him. He was a little pissed that I went to my room alone that night.”

That Fred’s one smooth dude, no?

Via Begging to Differ and Jeff Jarvis.

Saturday, 5 June 2004

Reagan RIP

The inevitable has happened: Ronald Reagan has passed away. Dan Drezner invites comment on Reagan’s legacy—personally, I think his greatest contribution was rehabilitating the Republican Party after the twin disasters of Watergate and Ford’s pardon of Nixon, to the extent that the GOP was able to survive the scandals of the 1980s with far less damage.

Thursday, 26 February 2004

Propositioning Californians

Steven Taylor, who is apparently still recovering from some sort of flashback experience, points out that the real ballot-box news next Tuesday is likely to not involve the relative fortunes of 'Nam-John, Hick-John, Al, Dennis, and Lyndon.

Monday, 16 February 2004

Does ballot order matter in elections?

An interesting new working paper crossed the POLMETH list today by Daniel Ho (Harvard) and Kosuke Imai (Princeton), entitled “Shaken, Not Stirred: Evidence on Ballot Order Effects from the California Alphabet Lottery, 1978–2002.” Here’s the abstract:

We analyze a natural experiment to answer the longstanding question of whether the name order of candidates on ballots affects election outcomes. Since 1975, California law has mandated randomizing the ballot order with a lottery, where alphabet letters would be “shaken vigorously” and selected from a container. Previous studies, relying overwhelmingly on non-randomized data, have yielded conflicting results about whether ballot order effects even exist. Using improved statistical methods, our analysis of statewide elections from 1978 to 2002 reveals that in general elections ballot order has a significant impact only on minor party candidates and candidates for nonpartisan offices. In primaries, however, being listed first benefits everyone. In fact, ballot order might have changed the winner in roughly nine percent of all primary races examined. These results are largely consistent with a theory of partisan cuing. We propose that all electoral jurisdictions randomize ballot order to minimize ballot effects.

If that seems interesting to you, go read the whole thing.

It also follows the “cute colon” convention previously discussed here at SN.

Thursday, 5 February 2004

Kroger accused of colluding with itself

No, that isn’t a euphemism for masturbation; Xrlq has the details on the latest twist in the California grocery strike shenanigans.

Monday, 12 January 2004

More CSU poll fallout

Jeff Jardine of the Modesto Bee opines on the apparently-bogus Scott Peterson survey conducted by Professor Stephen Schoenthaler of Cal State-Stanislaus.

Sunday, 11 January 2004

Rule One: no falsifying data

Kevin of Wizbang links an AP article that indicates some kids at CSU-Stanislaus faked survey data that helped get Scott Peterson’s trial moved out of Modesto. The Modesto Bee has more coverage here and here, that suggests the survey was based on non-random samples, did not receive IRB approval before it was conducted, and lacked effective supervision—all of which are serious no-nos for valid research. (The Bee also has a copy of the questionnaire on its website.)

The whole situation is embarrassing—not just to CSU-Stanislaus, but to anyone who takes survey research seriously. And while there can be pedagogical value to having students work on surveys, particularly in public opinion classes, there’s no excuse for the apparent lack of supervision in this case.

Update: Eugene Volokh has more. To echo Eugene, however, I will say the lack of supervision and other problems in no way absolve the students who falsified data from responsibility for their corrupt behavior. If the allegations are true, everyone involved should be frogmarched in front of disciplinary committees—the students who faked data and the professor.

Thursday, 1 January 2004

Congestion Charging out of the Budget Crunch

Steve Verdon discusses the possibility of congestion pricing making a difference in California’s budget woes and freeway congestion, and concludes that the benefits are likely to be far smaller than advocates suggest they will be.

Thursday, 4 December 2003

Failing the rational basis test

California’s idiot regulators have banned a glow-in-the-dark fish because it is the product of genetic engineering. Let’s watch the regulators explain the scientific basis for their decision:

“For me it’s a question of values; it’s not a question of science,‘’ said Sam Schuchat, a member of the state Fish and Game Commission. “I think selling genetically modified fish as pets is wrong.‘’

Now, if only the right to own glow-in-the-dark fish—let’s call that “economic liberty,” just for kicks—was as important in the eyes of our legal betters as the right to have sex with random people, maybe the courts would get involved…

Thursday, 16 October 2003

Agent, meet principal

Glenn Reynolds points to this absolutely hysterical piece by Dahlia Lithwick that recounts one poor respondent’s efforts to alternately defend and avoid the reasoning of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in finding in his favor in a case where the respondent failed to come to the door when police knocked and announced themselves; the respondent wants to suppress the evidence from the search (under that pesky 4th Amendment).

The respondent’s lawyer didn’t exactly get off on a good foot here:

Randall J. Roske represents [Lashawn] Banks. He starts by warning the justices that this case is about whether their doors are sacred. This “next-time-it-could-be-you” tactic never works with the justices since they so rarely deal crack from their homes.

I think this exchange basically sums up how the respondent’s day went (after a long discussion of the fact that Banks was in the shower, and therefore didn’t hear the “knock and announce” by police):

Scalia has had it with the showers. “What does the shower have to do with it? Your constitutional reasonableness is the time it takes someone to complete a shower, dry himself, and grab a towel? Why is the shower relevant?” Roske replies that we have no idea how long Mr. Banks would have continued his shower.

“We don’t know and we don’t care,” retorts Scalia.

Needless to say, I’m not chalking up a win here for Mr. Banks.

Thursday, 9 October 2003

Opposing recalls on principle

Russell Fox, a political scientist at near-neighbor Arkansas State University (whose football team is about to be Ole Miss’ sacrificial lamb for Homecoming), has a lengthy post that makes a reasonably strong case why recalls are a bad thing. As I posted before, I think the tenets of representative democracy are compatible with the recall power, but I can see where an unchecked recall power might harm our system of government, and in some ways I can agree with Russell that the California procedure was a “mess.” (Arguably, the state’s bizarre super-open primary system added to the mess by creating a situation where neither party nominated a decent candidate in 2002.)

I guess the big, open question is how to avoid the “mess” while still retaining a credible threat to lame-duck politicians and permitting a fair selection of candidates on the replacement ballot.

Steve Verdon thinks there are some flaws in Russell’s argument.

Excuse me while I channel Herman Edwards

George Will spends his valuable op-ed space in The Washington Post whining about California Republicans abandoning conservative orthodoxy.

You play to win the game. Hello? You play to win the game.

Now go get your panties in a bunch elsewhere, George. Because—to paraphrase my personal hero Peyton Manning—your idiot orthodox conservative Republican kickers got liquored up and couldn’t win elections to save their lives. You win with what you have that can win. And if that means you’ve got to elect a Dick Riordan, a Rudy Giuliani, or a Arnold Schwarzenegger, since you’re gonna go down in flames with a Bill Simon or a Tom McClintock, then hold your nose, deal with it and stop whinging like a spoiled brat. Because the people of California, and the California Republican Party, are immeasurably better off than they were 24 hours ago while Gray Davis was selling the state off a bit at a time to every single person who stuffed a C-note in his g-string.

And—by the way—this goes too for my idiot friends on the left who are going to nominate George McGovern, I mean Howard Dean, for the presidency because they’re still pissed off about Iraq, instead of actually (gasp) focusing on someone vaguely electable. And we all know how well that choice turned out…

Patrick Carver dissents in part and concurs in part. And Boomshock posts on how he learned to stop worrying and love the recall, or something like that at any rate.

Wednesday, 8 October 2003

So you want a realignment?

Stephen Green links to this Roger L. Simon post that alleges:

What we are witnessing is the beginning—the early movement—in the death of the two-party system as we know it. This is a revolt of the pragmatic center. And that is a good thing for the American people because those parties and the media that feed on them have indeed become a form of nomenklatura. They depend on each other. They are the mutual gate keepers of an old and sclerotic bureaucracy from which their jobs flow in a system of patronage as elaborate as the Czar’s. No wonder watching CNN tonight I felt as if I were watching a wake. They are threatened by what is going on—as they should be.

I don’t know that I believe that. Any good political scientist will tell you that we’re probably overdue for a realignment—but realignments rotate the societal cleavage lines, finding a new way to split the center; they generally don’t produce “the pragmatic center” versus “everyone else.”

Realignments are fundamentally about changes in the issues that separate voters between the parties. Now, maybe the “war/no-war” issue is a possible realignment pivot; I honestly don’t know. It certainly sees political figures of all stripes squabbling within their own parties more than usual. But that’s not anything to do with the “pragmatic center.”

Yet, arguably, the pragmatic center won in California. That was largely due to the ballot format, and in particular due to the fact that party activists were not the gatekeepers for candidates to receive a major-party label on the replacement ballot. Look at the figures: six of the top seven candidates in the replacement ballot had a party affiliation, and five of the seven were affiliated with a major party; the top five major party candidates received 94.3% of the vote, the Green party candidate received 2.8%, while the highest independent tally (0.6%) was for Huffington, who essentially ran as a Democrat. If primary voters, comprised mostly of Republican and Democratic activists, had been able to be gatekeepers for the ballot—as they are in virtually every other partisan election in the United States—chances are the “pragmatic center” option wouldn’t have even made it on the ballot, even though it’s fairly clear Schwarzenegger was the Pareto winner* of the election.

Unless the pragmatic center can break down these barriers to entry for their preferred candidates, or establish a viable third party label (something Schwarzenegger probably isn’t interested in heading, particularly after the Ventura debacle), chances are that the major parties—and particularly the party activists who control them—will continue to win almost all elections.

Pieter Dorsman of Peaktalk has some interesting thoughts on this topic as well, including a cautionary tale about single-party democracy in his adopted homeland. And, I particularly like Matthew’s reaction to something Michael J. Totten said:

This isn't really recall-related, but Michael Totten follows up on Simon's post with a "can't we all just be nonpartisan?" plea, and cites increasing complexity as a reason to move toward a more nuanced politics. That's fine for folks like Michael, but there's a downside to increased complexity—most consumers of political information have little time to think about complexity, and instead receive their information in little bite-sized pieces. It's this famine of depth which encourages hyperpartisanship, as gut reactions predominate over reason. If anything, the trend isn't toward the death of the two-party system as we know it, but toward the creation of an increasingly polarized and anti-intellectual pair of party masses, along with a highly informed politically moderate elite (i.e. folks like Michael and Roger), who occupy the position of “kingmaker” in future elections.

That sounds about—and, dare I say, scarily—right.

Meanwhile, Glenn Reynolds’ semi-blog at MSNBC thinks the recall is an effective way to upset special interest politics-as-usual; I think that, again, goes to the format of the ballot, which allowed a moderate figure to run with a party label without significant initial support from that party’s activists. The other major candidates, however, were in hock to established state interests: Bustamante with the Old Left and racial unity groups, McClintock with the Christian right, and Camejo and Huffington with the Sierra Clubbers. In any event, generally speaking I don’t have a problem with organized interests influencing politics, even if the playing field could be made more level. (And I’d slightly quibble with Mancur Olson’s interpretation of Japan’s interest group structure; by the accounts I’ve read, the post-war kieretsu were not too different from the business cross-holdings prior to the war. Olson’s probably correct when it comes to the bigger picture, however.)