To say I stood up and cheered as I finished reading Jon Chait’s new essay on the resurgence of a toxic political correctness on the left would be an understatement. There’s some great reporting in it that really helps put into context what the new guardians of the identity politics left are up to. Here’s one nugget:

Last March at University of ­California–Santa Barbara, in, ironically, a “free-speech zone,” a 16-year-old anti-abortion protester named Thrin Short and her 21-year-old sister Joan displayed a sign arrayed with graphic images of aborted fetuses. They caught the attention of Mireille Miller-Young, a professor of feminist studies. Miller-Young, angered by the sign, demanded that they take it down. When they refused, Miller-Young snatched the sign, took it back to her office to destroy it, and shoved one of the Short sisters on the way.

Speaking to police after the altercation, Miller-Young told them that the images of the fetuses had “triggered” her and violated her “personal right to go to work and not be in harm.” A Facebook group called “UCSB Microaggressions” declared themselves “in solidarity” with Miller-Young and urged the campus “to provide as much support as possible.” By the prevailing standards of the American criminal-justice system, Miller-Young had engaged in vandalism, battery, and robbery. By the logic of the p.c. movement, she was the victim of a trigger and had acted in the righteous cause of social justice.

Chait has lots more where that came from. But the essay really deepens in the comparison between the early 1990s – when political correctness made its first appearance – and now. The difference is that the illiberal policing of speech, the demonizing of dissent, and extreme identity politics have now transcended the academy and arrived in social media with a vengeance. Twitter and Facebook encourage mutually reassuring groupthink, in which individuals are required to “like” anything that isn’t white, male, cisgendered etc., in which an ideology is enforced by un-friending those with other views instead of engaging them, and in which large numbers of Twitter-users can descend on a racist/sexist/homophobic etc miscreant and destroy his or her career and social life in pursuit of racial/gender/orientation “social justice”.

I’m an established blogger with an independent site and have witnessed several such campaigns now – and they cannot but exact a toll. I’m fine with being called a self-hating gay or homophobe or misogynist or racist or anti-Semite, but what of those with much less independence? People with media jobs in which any deviation from the p.c. norm renders them anathema to their peers, those in the academy who are terrified of committing a “micro-aggression”, those in minorities who may actually have a different non-leftist view of reality: what pressure are they being put under right now?

It seems to me they are being intimidated by an ideology that utterly rejects the notion that free speech – including views with which one strongly disagrees – can actually advance social justice, and by a view of the world that sees liberal society entirely in terms of “power” rather than freedom. And if you look across the non-conservative online media, this orthodoxy is now close to absolute. The few brave enough to take on these language and culture police – I think of Emily Yoffe’s superb piece on campus rape in Slate – will get slimed and ostracized or ignored. Once you commit a heresy, you cannot recover. You must, in fact, be air-brushed out of the debate entirely.

The right has its own version of this, of course. Many of us dissenters were purged and rendered anathema years ago. But look where that has actually left today’s GOP. It’s turned into this. And the left’s new absolutism on identity politics – now taken to an absurd degree – should, in my view, worry liberals more. Because it is a direct attack on basic liberal principles. Chait:

Politics in a democracy is still based on getting people to agree with you, not making them afraid to disagree. The historical record of political movements that sought to expand freedom for the oppressed by eliminating it for their enemies is dismal. The historical record of American liberalism, which has extended social freedoms to blacks, Jews, gays, and women, is glorious. And that glory rests in its confidence in the ultimate power of reason, not coercion, to triumph.

And reason is not constrained by gender or race or orientation or anything else.

One tip of this spear is related to sexual orientation, of course, in which some parts of the gay left are back to what they love most of all: “eliminating freedom for their enemies”. And you can see why.

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A reader notes that “the movie Donnie Darko included an exchange on this very question“:

Another reader raises his hand: “Uh, what about language?” Another picks “writing, of course”:

Speech is encoded in our DNA as the way we transmit information from one person to another. Writing is not. Yet writing functions as a kind of disembodied DNA. We can transmit any kind of information, from personal to cultural to technological through writing. Writing is what makes it possible for us to know how much is owed or due to thousands of other people, at a glance. It is how we transmit religious traditions, with great fidelity, over generations, and it is how we speak to others long after we are dead. A single person, knowing how to read and armed with just a few basic ideas, could rebuild civilization in a week if he had access to a decent small-town library. Nothing else even comes close.

Another goes with:

Cheese.

Man, I love cheese.

Another recommends a recent book on the subject, How We Got to Here, by Steven Johnson:

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Pope Francis Attends His Weekly Audience In St Peter's Square

This piece in the Federalist by Maureen Mullarkey strikes me as whiff of the future. It’s a full-bore attack on the Pope, and an attempt to define him as a Peronist leftist activist who needs to be “called out”. It comes after various broadsides from the theocons – which we first chronicled here. The anti-Francis position on the environment we also chronicled here and here.

My view is that the real breaking point will be the Pope’s forthcoming Encyclical on climate change, which is rumored to be one of the longest and most emphatic Encyclicals ever issued by the Vatican. The American right – which has been lulled by theocons into believing the absurd notion that Catholicism is completely compatible with capitalism – will go nuts if the Pope calls fracking, for example, a sin against the planet. And this despite the fact that this Pope’s position on the environment is indistinguishable from his predecessor’s, Benedict XVI.

Why are they so exercised when Francis says what Benedict said? Because Francis has captured the hearts of American Catholics, and he will travel here later this year. He will address the UN on climate change. He will make the Republican position – that the planet is merely a resource to be exploited rather than an inheritance to preserve – close to untenable for many American Catholics. He will expose just how fringe the GOP’s current position is.

But notice the new tone. I love the subtitles of the piece: “Let’s Talk About Pope Francis Associating With Marxists”; “The Hashtag Papacy”; “Silence And Appeasement Have Never Been Effective”. Fightin’ words! Money quote from Mullarkey:

Let us be honest. Conservatives are damned if they do, damned if they don’t. While deferential observers are measuring their tones, Francis drives ahead with a demagogic program which makes the state the guardian and enforcer all values. To suppress challenge to a pope’s political biases or erratic behavior is no favor to the Church. It is little more than a failure of nerve that will earn no reward in the press. Silence is a form of collusion.

So the gloves are off. My money’s on Francis.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Deficits

Deficits are predicted to rise somewhat in the near future:

The U.S. deficit will fall to its lowest level since 2007, but it is expected to begin rising quickly after 2018, according to a new report from the Congressional Budget Office. The difference between federal spending and revenue will fall to $468 billion or 2.6% of GDP this fiscal year, which is the lowest level since 2007, the CBO says. The deficit will continue to fall slightly in 2016 and hold steady in 2017. But then it will begin rising once more, reaching 3.0% of GDP in 2019 and 4.0% in 2025.

Matt Klein looks at the causes of those larger deficits:

More than all of the projected increase in the US federal budget deficit between now and 2025 is expected to come from higher interest payments on the existing debt.

He goes on to wonder whether those larger deficits will materialize. Krugman seconds Klein:

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The Salt Pinch

Jan 27 2015 @ 1:47pm

The travel bans are being lifted by some Northeast states this morning, but as Brad Plumer voxplains, our salt problems persevere:

“We’ve become salt-addicted over the last 50 years, and we’re now discovering that there are all these hidden costs,” says Xianming Shi, an associate professor in civil and environmental engineering at the University of Washington. He estimates the US now spends $2.3 billion each year to remove snow and ice from highways. It then costs another $5 billion to pay for the resulting damage. And that’s not even counting the cost of salting cities or rural roads.

So, in recent years, some officials have been looking for ways to reduce their reliance on road salt. There are tricks like pre-salting roads before storms hit — which prevents ice from sticking in the first place. There are exotic remedies like adding beet juice to salt, which can lessen the ecological harm. Engineers like Shi have been working on more futuristic technologies — like “smart” snowplows that are thriftier with salt, or ice-free pavement.

That’s what Amy Sullivan calls The Fall:

The show, which stars Gillian Anderson in her first major television role since The X-Files went off the air in 2002, came under heavy criticism when the first season aired in 2013 for complaints that it glamorized violence against women. Serial killer Paul Spector (Fifty Shades of Grey’s Jamie Dornan) revels in the “aestheticism” of posing the nude bodies of his victims, washing their skin and painting their nails after he’s killed them. Some critics thought the show went beyond simply telling a story to the point of sharing Spector’s obsession with the women’s bodies.

I can certainly sympathize with fatigue over the seemingly endless tally of dead women on television. … But the debate over The Fall’s first season obscured the show’s revolutionary treatment of women and the topic of sexual power. In fact, I haven’t seen another program that so directly challenges and rewrites the traditional conventions of crime dramas, starting with Anderson as DSI Stella Gibson, a highly-regarded London cop who gets called to Belfast because investigators there need her expertise on a murder case.

Refreshingly, none of the tropes we’ve been trained to expect in a story about a powerful woman play out. Nobody resents Gibson’s appearance on the scene or questions her authority. Her gender is a non-issue; subordinates hop to when she enters a room and they follow her commands without question. Gibson doesn’t try to submerge her femininity and stomp around barking out orders. In Anderson’s restrained yet compelling performance, Gibson is cool, calm, and always chic, with the most fabulous coat in detectivedom.

I discovered it a couple weeks ago and now just have the final episode to watch. I can’t express how smart the series is, and how superb and commanding Gillian Anderson is as Stella Gibson. This is the feminism I believe in: a woman totally in charge of her life and of her career, whose authority is unquestioned, whose complexity and brilliance are celebrated, who utterly owns her sexuality and deploys it as coolly and as aggressively as any man would. At no point did I fear for a vulnerable Stella Gibson, even as I was deeply moved by her own female take on the victims of rape and murder, and even though she was obviously at times in great danger. I saw instead a master investigator whose nail-biting duel with a disturbed (and way hot) serial murderer became gladiatorial. Somehow gender slipped away from relevance, even as Anderson’s gender was absolutely integrated into her entire character. That’s new and powerful. It makes Girls seem as adolescent as it actually is.

Charlotte Alter is also a fan of the BBC series, now available on Netflix streaming:

[T]here’s little doubt that The Fall is great for women. …

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VFYWC-2-4-0

Turns out this week’s contest was one of our most challenging ever, with only around twenty entries submitted, such as:

Oakland. Looking at the Claremont Hotel. A wild-ass guess, of course.

Another reader is seeing things:

Finally, an easy one. Clearly, this is not an actual window view. It’s an early landscape by the British Artist, Stephen Darbishire, in the years prior to his Impressionist period. I couldn’t find the print on his website, but it’s undoubtedly his. Thrilled! I got one!

Another was wondering about Virginia, West Virginia, or England:

There is no snow so I don’t think it’s New England. The gold trim around the window could indicate it’s an elegant old manor house or hotel. The determining factor will be the pine tree and where that particular fir grows. Someone will know as they always do!

Sadly no amateur arborists this week, but this reader gets us to the right continent at least:

I’ve come to admire the people who just send in a gut response almost as much as the ones who spend hours puzzling out a more likely answer. So, in the midst of a bout of insomnia waiting for the sleep aid to kick in, I have spent about five minutes on this.

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Michael R. Strain dismisses it:

In a world of scarce resources, a slightly higher mortality rate is an acceptable price to pay for certain goals — including more cash for other programs, such as those that help the poor; less government coercion and more individual liberty; more health-care choice for consumers, allowing them to find plans that better fit their needs; more money for taxpayers to spend themselves; and less federal health-care spending. This opinion is not immoral. Such choices are inevitable. They are made all the time.

Chait pushes back:

Rather than wade into the trade-offs created by repealing Obamacare, [Strain] simply asserts the conclusion is obvious:

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The Party Of No And Dunno

Jan 27 2015 @ 12:28pm

A reader writes:

I hope a lot of voters were watching CBS on Sunday night when 60 Minutes interviewed Boehner and McConnell to talk about their plans now that the GOP controls the House and Senate. Both men acknowledged that the economy has been recovering and that the recovery has been picking up steam. They also acknowledged that the recovery has mostly only benefited the top income-earners while leaving the majority of Americans stuck in neutral. Boehner and McConnell want to “do something” to address income inequality and make sure those on the bottom of the economy have the opportunity to move up. They basically accused Obama of only helping the top 1% (which seems a complete reversal of the stories we’ve been hearing from them the last six years, but I digress).

This all sounds good enough to me, since for so long, it seemed the GOP was unwilling to even acknowledge there was an issue with inequality. If they want to blame Obama, I don’t really care so long as they are willing to present solutions.

So, the interviewer then asked if they would support raising taxes on top income earners. Answer:

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Is iTunes On The Way Out?

Jan 27 2015 @ 12:08pm

Purchased Music

Derek Thompson finds that both CDs and digital music downloads “are down double-digits in the last year, with iTunes sales diving at least 13 percent“:

Digital track sales are falling at nearly the same rate as CD sales, as music fans are turning to streaming—on iTunes, SoundCloud, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, and music blogs. Now that music is superabundant, the business (beyond selling subscriptions to music sites) thrives only where scarcity can be manufactured—in concert halls, where there are only so many seats, or in advertising, where one song or band can anchor a branding campaign. …

The top 1 percent of bands and solo artists now earn about 80 percent of all revenue from recorded music, as I wrote in “The Shazam Effect.” But the market for streamed music is not so concentrated. The ten most-popular songs accounted for just shy of 2 percent of all streams in 2013 and 2014. That sounds crazy low. But there are 35 million songs on Spotify and many more remixes and covers on SoundCloud and YouTube, and one in every 50 or 60 online plays is going to a top-ten song. With the entire universe of music available on virtual jukeboxes, the typical 3.5-hour listening session still includes at least one song selected from a top-ten playlist that accounts for .00003 percent of that universe. The long tail of digital music is the longest of tails. Still, there is a fat head at the front.