Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

What The...?

About half of Americans fear that they or a loved one will be a victim of a terrorist attack.  That's the highest number since immediately after 9/11.

I suppose if you want to include deranged lunatics in the terrorism category, then sure, I guess it's possible.

But not really.

Murders are down, violent crime is down, few Americans are in war zones...objectively speaking, things are pretty good.

But Fox News and even real news are constant purveyors of fear and anxiety.  It's their business model.  And so we are reduced to a nation of quaking cowards.

Remember Ebola?


We went to the Salvation Army Thanksgiving food distribution.

My boys were amazing, wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving and working their tails off.  Over 300 families got a full dinner last night.  Maybe 1500 people.

When we signed up, I thought, Good.  As we scrambled to get out of the house, I cursed the hassle.  But I wouldn't have traded that for anything in the world.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Don't Do Stupid Shit

I have to admit some frustration with Obama's go-slow approach to Daesh/IS.  I think there is a forceful response that can be imposed at least on Mosul and parts of Iraq.  We owe Iraq that, and if we do use ground troops there, we can up our contribution to ultimately political settlement, which frankly is going to require a Sunni state between Shia Iraq and Alawite Damascus.

However, if there is a good counter argument to "doing something" it is in Russia's actions.  Since putting Russian forces into Syria, Russia has suffered a terrorist attack on an airliner, attacked all the wrong people and now they have created a crisis with Turkey that could lead to all sorts of nasty repercussions.

Putin has become a favorite on the right for his "boldness" and "tough talk."  This is roughly the same dynamic that has catapulted Donald Trump to front-runner status.  The impulse towards appearing strong ultimately makes one weak.  And the focus on words and imagery ("Why won't Obama say Islamic terrorist?") ultimately betrays a lack of real ideas.

Russia has little plan in Syria beyond propping up Assad, which is an end-state, but not a strategy.  So they flounder around, bombing the wrong people and then provoking an international incident with Turkey.  I have argued and will continue to argue that Putin's belligerence in Ukraine and Syria is a sign of his weakness at home.  His economy is in the crapper, he's isolated and he's floundering from one crisis to the next.

We can see how this plays out, but Syria is getting worse.  And it's getting worse because Russia is floundering around in there.

Monday, November 23, 2015

It's The Politics

It's not a secret why Americans are freaking out over Syrian refugees.  Fox News and the Republican party have convinced their partisans that - contrary to the evidence - Obama is the worst president in history who secretly wants America to fail.

If you point out that it's much harder to get into the US than to Greece, that refugees are vetted over a two year period, that Americans are much more likely to be killed by a lunatic with a personal arsenal... it just won't matter.

Fear makes you impervious to facts.

Don't believe me?

How's that Ebola panic working out?

Sunday, November 22, 2015


Prostitute visiting, Syrian demagoguing, human shit stain David Vitter goes down to defeat in Louisiana.

After Jack Conway somehow lost to Teanderthal Matt Bevin in Kentucky, it was hard to be comfortable with Edwards' lead over Vitter.  But a combination of Vitter's personal awfulness and Bobby Jindal's complete failure to execute the office of being a governor was apparently the conditions needed to elect a Democrat in the Deep South.

Still, if Sam Brownback can win re-election and Bevin can win running against a successful iteration of the ACA, it does seem that it will take a perfect storm to elect a Democrat down there.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Conservative Politics Of Division

The current debate over how much to really, really hate Muslims is part and parcel of a bankrupt ideology foisted upon the world by economic elites, who mobilize rubes by appealing to racism and tribalism.

While some GOP elites are somehow shocked by the ascendancy of the "collection of mummified foreskin and cotton candy" that is Donald Trump, the fact is that this is their monster.  They created him.  Why?

They did it because the very rich want to be extremely, filthy, astronomically rich.  They just don't want to pay taxes at all if they can help it, especially taxes that go to help the poor.

Ever since Hoover, the main conservative argument has been that any sort of program to help the poor will result in a "culture of dependency." This is Paul Ryan's argument - himself a product of Social Security benefits - that the safety net is a hammock.  It seems so intuitive: If you give someone money, they won't work.

Except that's just not true.  Certainly after a point, welfare programs can be so generous that people would rather stay at home and watch American Ninja than get a job.  And this would matter if benefits were really that generous.  But they're not.  And people want to work.  They want a job.

But they also want to be able to eat and have shelter and all sorts of other perks.

This evidence won't make a damned bit of difference to conservatives, just like evidence of global warming, the efficacy of our refugee screening program or the failure of the Laffer Curve has not made a dent on their collective ideologically certainty.

The great crisis we have in America today is that half the nation has decided on a set of beliefs and then basically ignored the mounds of evidence that contradict it.

Friday, November 20, 2015

How Racist Was Woodrow Wilson?

Dylan Matthews has a piece wherein he argues that not only was Woodrow Wilson unusually racist in terms of 2015, but he was unusually racist in terms of 1915. He notes that Wilson began re-segregating the federal workforce at the suggestion of his Postmaster General and Treasury Secretary.  So clearly, these men were also as racist or more racist than Wilson.  The head of the IRS in Georgia said the proper place for a "Negro was the cornfield."

Matthews points out that civil rights activists like WEB DuBois and Oswald Garrison Villard (a descendant of William Lloyd Garrison) were very critical of Wilson.  But that doesn't really put Wilson out of touch with his times.  If anything, DuBois and others were out of touch with the times.

The period from 1880-1930 were perhaps the worst for race relations in the country's history.  Contrary to popular opinion, Jim Crow laws didn't clamp down immediately after the Civil War.  It wasn't until the Populist movement sought to mobilize poor white and poor black farmers that the power structure of the South moved strongly to completely isolate black southerners.

This was the time period when county fairs held eugenics competitions to see which babies were most "Nordic."  They'd measure the head shape and the blueness of a child's eyes and award the happy couple for producing superior racial offspring.  Hitler actually borrowed from American eugenicists.

This was a time period when the Ku Klux Klan pretty much ran the state of Indiana, and Warren Harding - generally considered much better on race than Wilson - met Klan leaders in the Oval Office.  Wilson's adulation of Birth of a Nation shouldn't be considered without noting that it was popular among broad swaths of the American public.

Wilson's approval of the "Lost Cause" interpretation of Reconstruction was the dominant interpretation of the time.  William Dunning was at Columbia University - not Ole Miss - when he described Reconstruction as a crime upon the South.  Howard Beale wrote that Republicans only perpetrated Reconstruction so they could win votes from a naive and compliant black populace.  Reconstruction was seen as a crime committed upon the South as a way of balancing the scales against the Southern crime of secession.  "See, we are both wrong!  Now, let's all get along, and we'll forget the realities of race in America."

Matthews brings up Wilson's arbitrary defeat of a racial equality statement in the League covenant, but then notes that this was done to appease the British and their own racist policies.  He lauds Teddy Roosevelt in comparison, a man who called the entire Colombian legislature a "pack of dagos" and backed down from having Booker T. Washington to a formal White House dinner.  The same Roosevelt who caved to racist pressure over the Brownsville Affair.

You can make a strong case that the difference between Roosevelt and Wilson was that Roosevelt was forced to be more racist than he really was by political realities.  Wilson was a dyed in the wool white supremacist.  But you can't argue that political pressure was enough to make Roosevelt cave on his principles, and then argue that Wilson was somehow out of step with the times.

Wilson - like many educated Southerners - was a paternalist, believing strongly in black inferiority, but also in the responsibility of whites to take care of this "child-like" race.  So while his white supremacist views were ironclad and inflexible, he was probably towards the more enlightened edge of white Southerners - again, not saying much.

But was he notably out of step with an America that banned the Chinese from entering this country because of their race?  Or a country that risked going to war with Japan over racism in the San Francisco schools?  Or a country that stole and kept the Philippines because they assumed "brown people" couldn't grasp self-rule?

Wilson was a racist - unapologetic and vocal in his racism.  Students who are protesting at Princeton got that right.

But sadly, he was very much in tune with his times.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

This Is Good, But Too Late

Read it, go look at the roll call vote to make it even harder for refugees to get here and then weep.

It's Called Terrorism For A Reason, Assholes

The ongoing freakout over admitting Syrian refugees is as depressing as it is inevitable.  It is part and parcel of the Trumpenproletariat's adamant and unfounded belief that the Mexican border is completely unguarded and illegal immigrants are streaming over it like orcs at Helms' Deep.  This is manifestly untrue, but that doesn't matter.

The argument is that Obama is just letting them in, except Syrian refugees go through an 18-24 month screening process, just like all refugees do.  Bring this up, and the response is that we simply can't trust government bureaucrats.  So, "He's not doing anything!"  Yes, he is.  "You can't trust him to do the things I want him to do!"  Nice reinforcing arguments.

To argue that this isn't a manifestation of the deeply rooted and seemingly growing racism of the GOP is dubious, in the extreme.  They were freaking out about Syrian refugees before Paris.  This is simply a target of opportunity.  Anti-Muslim bigotry has been part and parcel of the GOP base since 9/11.  This, despite the ongoing bloody toll caused by angry white men armed to the teeth.  More Americans have died at each others hands in the past week than died in Paris.  But any solution to that is politically impossible.  Demonizing a group that has evidently don't nothing wrong - that's racism.  It's demonizing them because of their group, not their actions.

The only proper response to this is the one Obama and Dannel Malloy have taken.  Obama is calling the bigots out on their cowardice.  Because if they won't cop to the racism, they have to admit to the cowardice.  If they won't admit they just hate Muslims, then it's because they are really fearful of a 3 year old orphan.  Malloy has made the moral case that the most American thing we can do is take in the suffering.

The consistent drumbeat from the Democrats should take is the one Booman suggests.  Point out that giving into quaking, pants wetting fear is un-American.  Point out that rejecting Syrian refugees is exactly what IS wants.  Point out that the attackers in Paris were likely radicalized because the French don't treat their Muslim population with respect, and if we want to make sure there are no Paris attacks here, we have to stop creating them through fear, hatred and naked bigotry.

But mostly go with the cowardice angle.  It will be fun watching the same people who fawn over Putin get called out for being the cowards they are, hiding behind tough words and empty actions.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Bloody Arithmetic

The completely predictable reaction to the Paris attacks shows how successful terrorists can be at influencing those who are already prone to fear "others."

More Americans have died by gun violence in the last week than died in the Paris attacks.  If it was simply about the loss of life, then we would respond to the crisis of violence in America with the same sort of sweeping generalities and oppressive measure assholes like Donald Trump are throwing about.  He wants to close the mosques.  How many Muslims have committed acts of terrorism since 9/11?  How many White Christian Nationalists have?

If it was just about the number of people killed, the Paris attacks don't measure up.  It is precisely because they came from out of the blue that makes them scary.  And it is the fear that IS is depending on.  They are losing ground in Syria.  They are unpopular across the Muslim world.  They WANT a conflict of civilizations.  That's why they attacked Paris.

Similarly, if we assume that these radical takfiri groups can carry out a mass casualty event every four or five years, how many soldiers lives is that worth?

If the solution is to invade Syria, how many NATO soldiers die?  Are their lives somehow less valuable than the people who died in Syria?  I legitimately ask the question, because it's tricky.  They did - to a degree - volunteer to risk their lives.  But how many dead soldiers is it worth to defeat IS?

More Americans died in Iraq than on 9/11.  That wrought zero net positive change to the region.  Leaving aside the tens of thousands of injured, how do we reconcile the number of dead Americans in Iraq with the dead on 9/11?  Which was worse?

I've said for the last few years that Syria can't be our problem.  IS is trying to make it our problem.  While I am not reflexively opposed to going to war - real war - with them, because they really are that evil, I think we need to reflect on what those costs must be.

What is the value of each life lost?

UPDATE: If we do feel forced to escalate, this letter encapsulates my thinking:

Who Knew?

George Bush was apparently the compassionate conservative he said he was.  Because the rest of the conservative movement is composed of flaming hate mongers.

Notably not on the hate parade?  Condi Rice.

Sunday, November 15, 2015


Apparently the great sin of Obama and the Democratic candidates for President is that they won't use the term "radical Islam."  This goes back to the bullshit about Benghazi and whether or not or when Obama used the term "terrorist attack."

I suppose this makes sense, as they are focused on the great power of words.  By demonizing Muslims as a group, they reinforce the "us vs them" narrative that drives so much of conservative politics.  Scary brown people - whether they be Mexican or Muslim - are all that conservatives need to keep their fear and panic warm and burning bright.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Does This Change Things?

I am presuming that last night's attacks in Paris represent an escalation by ISIS against the West.  And the West will respond in turn.  Perhaps Hollande will invoke Article 4 of the NATO agreement.  Perhaps we will go to war in Syria.

Charlie Pierce notes that this is the ongoing cycle of violence between "barbarians" and civilization and after we up the ante, the Islamist fanatics will up the ante again.

Maybe that's true.

Personally, I think a few NATO divisions with an American division or two can make short work of ISIS.  A Toyota pickup with a mortar in the back isn't much match for an M1A1 Abrams tank.  The caliphate - if NATO so chooses - can be wiped from the earth.  And maybe it's time for that.  Syria was sort of our problem, because our invasion of Iraq destabilized the region and created a refugee crisis that led to the Syrian civil war that led to ISIS.

But in a larger sense, Syria was not our problem.  ISIS was a local tragedy, but not a geopolitical concern of NATO, beyond our desire to degrade their ability to do anything.

I suppose the Paris attacks could change that.  And perhaps it is time.  Perhaps after bringing down a Russian airliner and killing Parisians in cafes and concert halls, ISIS has changed what they mean for the rest of the world.

I'm sure the Neo-Cons will crow about being right about ISIS.  No one ever disputed that they weren't violent thugs.  And I'm sure they will say that those Parisians would be alive today if we had just taken action in 2012.

I doubt that.  In fact, if we do move into Syria, I'm sure things will get worse from a terrorism front before they get better.