Blog Credo

I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis.The great point is to bring them the real facts, and beer.
- Abraham Lincoln

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Race Or Alibi?

Increasingly, people are calling Darren Wilson's testimony unbelievable.  The scuffle in the car seems especially improbable.  The provocation on the street seems especially improbable.

The simplest explanation is that Wilson ordered them on to the sidewalk, they refused to comply and maybe lipped off a little.  He threw his SUV into reverse - angry at being disrespected - and clipped Brown.  He then kicked open his door, which hit Brown and snapped back at Wilson.  Wilson grabbed Brown.  They scuffled at the car window.  Wilson shot Brown, who fled, most likely striking Wilson in an attempt to get away.  Wilson fired shots at Brown, who turned, staggered and was shot as he fell.

That's what seems most plausible to me.

Marshall suggests that Wilson's testimony reveals the aura of threat that Wilson felt from a large black man.  And certainly we see more and more evidence that simply being a black male represents a threat to police that they feel comfortable addressing with lethal force.

But I think a simpler explanation is that Wilson was saying what he was saying because an officer may use lethal force to protect his life if he feels threatened.  So all Wilson had to do was paint a picture of Brown as a threat, and he was covered by the law.

Put another way: Wilson got into the situation because Brown was young, black and disrespectful.  His testimony, however, would've been the same if Brown was a large white man.  Wilson was establishing his legal alibi.

As I've said, we've basically given cops a de facto license to kill.

The Oppositional Defiant American Male

I've been mulling over a challenge that Martin Longman has placed before Democrats: How does the Left appeal to white men?

The midterm dynamic is what it is, but there has to be an effort to blunt this dynamic.  If Democrats are going to win back the House before 2022, they need to win more white male votes than they have been.  Appeals to economic populism have not shown to have the sort of traction among men that they frankly should have.

Rather than think of what might appeal to white men, why not see what drives them away from liberal politics?  I say this as someone with a life long experience of being a white male, though I'm certain my experience is not typical.  Also, please note that I will be speaking in gender stereotypes, because I'm talking about large groups.

I think a key psychological aspect of the Y chromosome is oppositional thinking to authority.  It defines a great deal of behavior we associate with young men, in particular.  If you tell me to do "X", then I'll do "Y".  You can probably enlist evolutionary biology to explain this, as men were needed to be risk takers and boundary pushers to help in survival.  The hunters needed to push over the horizon, while the gatherers needed to protect the young, the weak and the elderly left behind.

So, you get men who feel the need to challenge authority.

When I think of Teanderthals, what I see is a giant, plaintive whine against a paternalistic state.  From the point of view of the Teanderthals, paternalism is bad, unless they are the fathers.  They are fine with paternalistic relationships with women and minorities, but they are most definitely NOT fine with a state that acts paternally towards them.

The ACA is a great example of a benign form of paternalism that comes across as tyranny to white men.  This is the same demographic that won't go to the doctor for regular checkups.  This is the same demographic that responds to global warming with "coal rolling".

Now, this is not unique to right wing males.  The Left is also anti-authoritarian, they just define authority differently.  It's corporate power or the security/surveillance state.

The fact is that on either extremes (and I'll define that as roughly the 15%-20% of the population on either end of the spectrum) you will find a great deal of hostility to authority.

But you're not going to win over Teanderthal votes anyway, so why bother?

I would argue that it's about denying the non-Teanderthal white men with easy targets.

Two things that come to mind are "trigger warnings" and the new California university sexual conduct codes.  These are well-meaning attempts to address problems, especially the epidemic of sexual violence in universities.

But the minute you create "rules" you create authority.  And you create an impulse to defy that authority.

One of the greatest successes the Left has had is actually exactly what the Right has accused the Left of doing: indoctrinating students in our schools in certain liberal ideas: tolerance, diversity and acceptance.  What works better than rules is the education of people as to why behaviors are important.

While there have been instance of successful prohibitions - the "N" word - they don't work as well as education.  Because while we say the "N" word, your oppositional figure is going to say, "Well, how come blacks can use that word and I can't?"  And if all you've offered them is a prohibition rather than an education, then you've just created an opponent instead of an ally.

Recently, we had a speaker come to address the student body.  He was transgender and had gone to Exeter (a rival school) when he came out as male.  He was a remarkably engaging and empathetic speaker, witty and open.  For me personally, I've come a long way on LGB issues, but the T was always one I had trouble understanding.  Transgender is pretty rare, so my experience was pretty limited.  I didn't feel icky about transgender issues, I just didn't understand them.

That was education.  Now, you can combine some prohibitions with education if done right.  We've told our students that the use of "gay" or "fag" as an insult is unacceptable, but we've also explained why.  Same goes for "retarded".  I've used all those terms in my life.  I don't use them anymore (at least not as a slurs), but I always responded better to explanations than prohibitions.

One of the reasons why, I think, young people are much more liberal on the culture wars is that they have been educated on why discriminating against minority groups is bad.  Why can't a gay couple get married?  The recent breakthrough on marriage equality is not a case of the Left prohibiting something, but the Right prohibiting something.  And it isn't working for them either.

So, taking the sexual violence crisis as an example, how do you educate young men about proper sexual respect?  Rather than legislating sexual conduct, as California is trying to do, how do you educate young men that not only are the responsible for their own sexual behavior, but those of their friends?  And probably some prohibitions are necessary.  Maybe it's time the all-male fraternity died.  Especially if the entire system gets put on warning and fails to live up to its responsibilities.

But when trying to reach men who WANT to rebel, maybe you need to show them why they should change certain behaviors rather than demanding it.

As Charlie Pierce said, the great thing about #occupy was that they were shouting at the right buildings.  The worst thing about #occupy was its obsession with political correctness.  Meetings would degenerate over the use of generalized male pronouns.

To me, the challenge of reaching out to white men is get them to shout at the right buildings.  It won't work to hector them or lecture at them.

You don't need to win over many white men.  The Left is crushing it with minorities and single women.  But you need to erode the GOP advantage, and at the very least, you need to stop driving them away by screaming about hetero-normative language and gender imperialism.  If you try and educate and converse with them, you'll stop driving some of them away.

And maybe then, they will start shouting at the right buildings.

(I thought this post would be better.  I've been germinating this idea for over a week.  I'm pretty disappointed at the final product...)

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Chuck Schumer Can Go Fuck Himself

Obamacare was designed to fix structural problems in the economy and in the fiscal health of the government.  The idea that they "picked the wrong thing" to focus on is stupid.  I mean, Fox News level stupid.

First of all, you had the majorities.  As we saw in '93-'94, you have to take advantage of those majorities when you have them.  And if you wanted a bigger stimulus, why the fuck didn't you pass one?

This is why millions of Americans went decades without health insurance.  Because Chuck Schumer, who gets health insurance through his job, thinks that Congress can't do both things at once.

The reason Democrats got crushed in 2010 and 2014 is because Democratic voters stay home.  And who was in charge of the DSCC? Who kept sending me "booga-booga" emails about losing the Senate to raise money and depress enthusiasm?

The ACA is a monumental bill.  It's an accomplishment that hopefully over time will be recognized as fundamentally restructuring America's relationship with health insurance and its government.

Sorry we didn't help your Wall Street buddies more, Chuck.

Two Thoughts About Ferguson

When we see the smoldering remains of Ferguson's main street, we should think about two separate problems that got us there.  Separate problems, but problems that overlap.

The first problem is the endemic and persistent poverty present that plagues many African American communities.  Poverty has a cyclical nature.  It is generational and feeds off itself.  Paul Tough wrote an excellent book called How Children Succeed and it chronicles how trauma in childhood significantly messes up a child's brain.  Now "trauma" can be quite broad and applies to people throughout the socioeconomic spectrum.  But the prevalence of pervasive childhood trauma is a great indicator of later cognitive and behavioral problems.  Damaged children make for damaged adults.

We should then look at how damaging poverty is.  And it's pretty damaging.  A 2009 study by Gary Evans and Michelle Schamberg studied working memory in children.  They looked at allostatic load.  Bruce McEwen first proposed allostasis, which is way a body manages stress.  So, for instance, you nearly get into a car wreck.  Your body gets flooded with adrenaline, your heart pounds, you shake.  But you get over it a few hours later as your body "flushes out" that stress response.  But if you are constantly exposed to stress, you build up an allostatic load.  What Evans and Schamberg found was that allostatic load was the best predictor of performance on short term memory.  The higher it was, the poorer kids did on the test. Short term memory is a great indicator of certain types of cognitive abilities.

In other words, what we think of as "genetic advantage" - the upper middle class kids just have favorable genetic advantages that allow them to excel - is really a product of their environment.  The brain is a very malleable thing in early childhood and if you pile poverty onto that process - with all the stress that poverty brings - you damage that brain.

And that damage is most prevalent in the last part of the brain to develop: the pre-frontal cortex.  And it is in the pre-frontal cortex that judgment resides.  That part of the brain may not finish developing until someone is 25.  This is why college students think jumping from the roof of their garage into the pool is a good idea.

The problem is that poverty and its attendant stress makes it hard for the judgment centers of the brain to develop.  And the results can be seen in everything from 16 year old mothers to the looting in Ferguson last night.  Let's remember that 16 year old moms are not unique to the African American community but are prevalent in most poor communities regardless of race.  And 16 year old mothers are going to face stress in trying to raise a child when they themselves are children, and that only perpetuates this cycle.  The stress they feel is passed on to their children.

So when we talk about the legacy of poverty in this country - whether we are talking about urban African Americans or Appalachian whites or Hispanics along the Rio Grande or Native Americans on reservations - we are talking about a form of environmental brain damage.

The second point is that of the police.  What was most shocking about Ferguson was that the grand jury - with all the questions about what really happened - decided not to let a trial sort out the conflicting stories.  But given the current state of US law, it's pretty hard to convict a policeman for the use of lethal force.

This is tied, at least in part, to our unreasonable fears about crime.

Violent crime is falling in this country and has been for the last 20 years.  But we live in a world where the news follows the age old maxim of "If it bleeds, it leads."  If you watch the news - or hell, if you watch CSI or any police procedural - you are bombarded with the idea that we live in a world of menace, violence and death, when in fact, the world has never been safer.

That fear of violent crime has led us to militarize our police force and inculcates in them a feeling of being under siege.  Certainly, your average police officer spends most of his time dealing with the most troubled elements of society.  The corrosive effect of that, combined with the environment of fear, leads to a siege mentality.  It also increases that allostatic load in the police.  Utah recently found that the leading cause of violent death is the police.  Utah is not an especially violent place, yet the police feel they need to use lethal force more than gangs or even perpetrators of domestic violence.

So we have a system that puts stressed out police into stressed out communities and basically gives them carte blanche to use deadly force.

Everything we saw in Ferguson is a product of this flawed system.  The looters burning their own community are simply giving free rein to their anger over their long term prospects.  The police with sniper rifles tossing tear gas into violent and peaceful protesters alike are simply responding to the siege they feel.

Ultimately, we might be able to see some police reform.  Body cameras would be an excellent place to start.  They would help with evidence collection and exonerate innocent cops, while holding bad cops accountable.  All of this would help ease tensions between police and the communities they patrol.  And while police violence is increasingly prevalent in minority communities, it exists in white communities, too.  Because this isn't a racial issue - or shouldn't be - maybe we can see this needed reform.

If we are going basically allow the police to shot people and almost never be brought to trial, then we need to demand more accountability from the police.  This could unite Paulite libertarians and African American civil rights activists.

But we will continue to ignore the pervasive and corrosive effects of poverty that continues to weigh heaviest on minority communities.  Because the pictures of African Americans looting stores and burning buildings will create a comfort level in turning away.  There will be millions of people who think, "They deserve this.  Let them rot.  They don't deserve my help."

We will continue to see a cycle of poverty, handed down from generation to generation, from teen parent to teen parent.  Exceptional individuals will make it out from time to time, to give lie to the fact that a poverty-riddled environment is a poor environment to grow up in.

And we will ignore the overwhelming links between poverty, race and childhood development and watch another generation be blighted before our eyes.  And our willingness to turn away from our fellow American in this is overwhelmingly a question of race.  Not the racism of the burning cross or the lynch mob, but the racism of the great mass of people who sit by and let the cross burn and the body to swing from the tree.

John Stuart Mill said, we "should know that bad men need no better opportunity than when good men look on and do nothing."

And yet, doing nothing seems to always be the preferable course when the evil is being done to the poor.  While that's not unique to America, the elements of race are our special curse.  A curse we are eager to turn away from and pretend it's not there.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Scenes From America

What I'm watching on CNN is heartbreaking.

The lack of indictment is a joke.  Fine.

But then the police went to tear gas. And that empowers the worst elements of the crowd.  And those worst elements have certainly had their moment.  The looting and the vandalism are just infuriating.  There is a very clear and strong message: We can no longer have two different justice systems for blacks and whites.

And yet the actions of looters and vandals have trampled any hope of that.

Why did they wait until night to announce this?  Whose fucking idea was that?

Who let lose the tear gas?

Where were the community figures who wanted peaceful protests?

Our system is broken.

This Is Dumb

They are getting rid of Hagel, because they only hired him to give cover to the withdrawal from Afghanistan and cutting military budgets.  That was his job.

The idea - forcefully articulated in Fisher's analysis - that Obama's Afghanistan and ISIS policies are "failing" is just plain dumb.  Obama's Afghanistan policy is to get out.  We are getting out.  His ISIS policy is to degrade ISIS and roll back their advances.  That's what's happening.

The old "elite" foreign policy had the advantage of patience.  But the 24 hour new cycle makes everyone expect immediate results. Why haven't we destroyed ISIS/the Taliban/Ebola/Putin/cooties/all evil in the world?

Hagel was brought in to give cover to withdrawal and budget cuts.  He did that.  Now he's gone.

The bigger issue was his ability to manage the department, not policy, which Fisher correctly notes comes from the White House.

Sunday, November 23, 2014


Jeff Flake wants to pass immigration reform and drop Benghazi.  Meanwhile, Huckleberry Closetcase continues to flog Chris Steven's dead body for television appearances.

Graham clearly has his trembling, sweaty fingers on the pulse of the GOP in a way that Flake does not.

How long until we get a real patriot to primary this RINO?

(Also, can we go three weeks with Graham on the TV?  Please?)

Over The River And Through The Woods...

Getting away for a week of relaxation and catching up on grading.

Eventually, I'm going to write that long post on what Democrats can do to appeal to white male voters.

But not today.

Saturday, November 22, 2014


In a shocking development, the seventh investigation of the tragic attacks in Benghazi has concluded - along with the previous six investigations - that there is no scandal there.  While Darrell Issa's committee hasn't concluded, frankly, I think we can all guess that they are just trying to run out the clock until Hillary officially wins the nomination.

When Hillary ran in 2008, I naively thought that Obama would be a better nominee and President, because he didn't bring that Clinton baggage with him.  There would be no lingering questions about Vince Foster and Whitewater and Lewinsky and the various other sundry bullshit scandals that the GOP has tried to create over the years.

But it really doesn't matter who the Democrats nominate.  It never will.  The Risen Christ could win the 2016 nomination and the GOP will call into question whether the loaves and fishes constitute violation of campaign finance law and whether the Sermon on the Mount represent Alinsky-ite communistic thinking.

Yes, politics ain't beanbag, but the GOP has taken the nastiness to a new level.  Scandals are fair game, but manufactured ones are not.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Hey, Bill...

I would bet my dog that Bill O'Reilly's ancestors were undocumented, too.

Because we didn't start documenting immigrants until the 1920s, and we did that out of naked, avowed racism.

Most citizen's ancestors came here under an immigration system that did not put any restrictions on them coming here.  America did not start keeping out ANY immigrants until the 1880s, when they excluded Chinese on racial grounds.  And then they started putting quotas on Eastern Europeans, because Slavs and Jews were considered a degradation of America's "Nordic" blood stock.

In the 1960s, they greatly relaxed those quotas, but they also moved to a system that documented and restricted immigration from the Western hemisphere for the first time.

And Bill?  They really hated the Irish back in the 19th century.  Maybe as much as people hate on Hispanics now.

Meanwhile, in other news involving Mexicans...

Since institutionalizing true democracy about 14 years ago, Mexico has suffered from poor voter turnout, anemic civil society and a lack of trust in government.  (I'm sure this has nothing to do with the fact that Mexico uses the same, FUBAR Madisonian system of government that we do.)

But there is perhaps some hope that Mexicans are fed up with poor governance and rampant corruption and are ready to take control of their country.

This could be a very hopeful moment for Mexico in the long run, even if it seems scary right now.

If You Want To Do Something, Do Something

An interesting take on Obama's executive order on deportations from the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group.  Their basic argument, which is based more on legal theories than on naked politics, is that Congress should act to clarify immigration law if they are unhappy with it.

But the whole reason this is happening is that the Senate immigration bill won't get a vote in the House, because it would pass.  And if it passed - with every Democratic vote and a smattering of Republican votes - then this would hand Obama a bipartisan victory.  This would likely NOT benefit Republicans with Hispanic voters, but it would piss off their Angry, White Men base.

So, the Federalist Society agrees with Obama that Congress should act and in the absence of Congressional action, Obama can do what he's doing.

Now, the Federalist Society tends to venerate executive action, so they are at least being consistent.  But the overall points - this has been done before, this is a reaction to Congress's inaction - should be repeated.

The howling of the Right is difficult to interpret.  Are the Congressional leaders REALLY outraged that Obama is doing their jobs for them?  Are they high on their own supply?  Or is this yet more base-churning?

I guess we'll know when the House introduces impeachment proceedings.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Sewing The Whirlwind

The success that the right has had in stoking and nurturing white, male grievance is pretty well documented.  It is the basic function of Fox News to provide stories about the New Black Panther party, Ebola carrying illegal immigrants and other swarthy menaces.  It is the basic foundation of "take our country back."

Tom Coburn - who shares with Rand Paul the ability to occasionally say non-crazy things - has again waded into the crazy pool.  He has suggested that the President electing to do less deporting of certain immigrant groups constitutes a call to "instances of anarchy (or) violence" and then amended that to "civil disobedience."

Josh Marshall rightly points out the absurdity of using civil disobedience to protest whatever the President winds up doing on immigration tonight.

At some point in the coming vacation (yay!) I'm going to discuss what I think the liberal movement is doing wrong in trying to reach out to white men.  But basically, white men feel besieged and oppressed.  The fact that this is a ridiculous feeling does not alter the basic reality of it.  Despite being the wealthiest, most privileged group in the country, white men have a bunch of people (mostly other white people) telling them how oppressed they are.

The fact that they would considering using a tool typically used by aggrieved, disenfranchised minorities - civil disobedience, even insurrection - goes a long way to capturing their mindset at this moment of history.  And while Obama's race is a factor in it, frankly Hillary - should she win in 2016 - will simply keep this cycle going.  In fact, if Joe Biden were to win, much of this would still keep going, because Biden would be elected by a coalition in which white men are a minority.

The parallels to 1860 are of course frightening.  The South seceded because they lost an election.  Slavery in the South was not under serious threat.  The Underground Railroad was an annoyance, rather than a mass movement of slaves northward.  The issue was the spread of slavery westwards, not its existence in South Carolina.

But the South had come to feel oppressed by the larger number of Northerners.  While the split of the Democratic Party in 1860 helped elect Lincoln, the fact is, even if Stephen Douglas had run on a unified Democratic ticket, Lincoln probably still would have won.

Today, the current electoral map means that the Republicans - who now represent the white, conservative South, which is as much a cultural marker as a geographic region - will have a very hard time winning the Presidency.  As Thomas Bailey wrote about secession, the "crime of the North was the census."  Republicans can still dominate the House, because of the rural and exurban tilt of the districts.  But winning the White House is going to be hard.

And so we have a situation where all those white men see a world where they are under attack.  But since they can't secede from their neighbors, I worry what form this aggrievement will take.  When Tom Coburn says violence could accompany the President's immigration proposals, I take him at his word.  I don't believe he's threatening violence himself, but rather conveying what the far reaches of the Right are murmuring to themselves.

The Republicans political strategy has worked well for them.  They have gummed up the work of government so that it does not work, "proving" their thesis that government does not work.  They have used a favorable map and extremely low voter turnout to win control of the Senate.  They feel they are "owed" compliance from Obama.  And he isn't going to give it to them.

But in pursuing this strategy, they are stacking tinder against the foundations of government.

And some of these idiots are running around with flamethrowers.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Erick Son Of Erick Has A Point

Erick Erickson has a very good point.

The GOP shutdown the government in 2013.  They then proceeded to rack up impressive gains just about everywhere (except policy referenda) in 2014.

What, exactly, are they afraid of?

It's not like the media will point out that one side of the partisan divide a bunch of bomb throwing, lunatic nihilists.  Instead, the GOP Congress will insist that Obama kowtow to all their demands or they will simply shutter the government.  The media will lament this "lack of bipartisanship" without ever saying that one side simply won't compromise because "opinions differ" blah blah blah.

I do think that the GOP pursuing more governmental destruction will hurt them.  There are limits even to the apathy of the American public.  But it's clear the GOP has hit on a winning formula:

Assert that government is the problem in American society.  Grind the gears of governance to a halt.  Show that this proves the ineffectiveness of government, all the while complaining about the tyranny of health care reform as a form of neo-Nazi totalitarianism.  Depress voter turnout and win rump elections.

However, the GOP - if it pursues this strategy - will definitely not be entrusted with the White House in 2016.  Watching the GOP presidential field have to own the shutdown - because heresy is not allowed - will be amusing.

But burning down Washington won't hurt the GOP control of the House.  Because assigning blame is simply too "partisan" to contemplate.


Clearly, the grand jury is not going to indict Darren Wilson.  Not even for manslaughter.  Otherwise the Governor wouldn't have basically declared martial law.

I can only hope that the protests don't create that one moment that feeds into the nasty, and yes, racial countercharges.  The news is going to cover every broken window like it's the Watts Riot, and that's going to create a narrative that doesn't really fit what's going on in Ferguson.

It's obviously proven difficult to prosecute police officers for wrongful deaths.  They are given an extraordinary latitude in their use of deathly force, especially against black men.

It is therefore time to require all police officers to have lapel cameras.  With great power comes great responsibility.  And right now, too many cops are trigger happy.  Murder rates are at all time lows.  Violent crime is down.

The streets of America are not a combat zone, and the rules of engagement should not be shoot first, ask questions later.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Yglesias Hits The Essential Truth

I've heard a few bright people reach the same "pox on both their houses" conclusion.  Which is easy to do if the people whose job it is to explain the nuances of American politics don't seem to understand what's going on.

Bipartisan wasn't "lost".  It was deliberately taken out behind the barn and killed as part of a political strategy.  And that strategy sees its fulfillment in the low-voter-turnout midterm elections.

But Obama spent most of 2009-2011 trying to reach compromises with a group of nihilists who were intent on denying him any legislative victories.

Keep that in mind when he issues his executive order on immigration.