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

Friday, April 24, 2015


I've enjoyed much of what Zandar writes at Balloon Juice.  His latest piece has some nice rant-type qualities.  I won't discuss the topic of white supremacists whining about people talking about white privilege.  I do worry that we may reach a point where white supremacists may garner some legitimacy because the world is a painfully stupid place sometimes.

I have been thinking a lot about how we think about safety, though, and what role schools play in creating a safe environment.

One of the more or less profound things that Edward Snowden said in his interview with Jon Oliver was that you can't have perfect safety outside solitary confinement.  There are certain "unsafe" things that are important to do and have done to you.  I think everybody should get punched in the face once in their lives.  Not "hit in the face with a door by accident" but punched in the face.  Because after you've been punched in the face - and it does hurt, broken noses hurt like hell - you realize that you can survive it.  It's a big deal, but it's not a Big Deal.

So, when people on the Right complain about the wussification of modern America, I'm actually fairly sympathetic to them.  This obscures the fact that they are often the biggest bed-wetting cowards around, but young people need to get knocked down, so that they can learn to get back up.

Most of the times that I've been punched in the face occurred on rugby pitches and wrestling mats.  There is a structure there that allows me to feel "safe" even as I'm getting my ass kicked.  There are limits and rules and expectations that govern behavior.  Rugby may look like a melee, but there are expectations and norms that you don't do certain things.  You don't bite or gouge eyes, even though you could at the bottom of a ruck.

But now we live in a world where parents probably won't let their kids play rugby because of concussion worries.  I probably did suffer mild cognitive impairment throughout my rugby playing years.  Or maybe I was just a 20-something year old male.  Who knows?

What worries me is that we are creating a world where we systematically reduce risk and freedom to a vanishing point.  And yet, we all know that the world is full or risk and pain and unhappiness.  Learning to deal with pain is part of growing up.  Learning to overcome obstacles is the essential quality of an adult.

I do think eventually the Special Snowflake children will adapt to a world of adversity.  And maybe their route isn't any slower to adulthood and the important realizations about the actual trials of being alive.

Still, are we losing something in our quest to give kids a safe world?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

What Is Kenneth The Page Thinking

After the "Don't Got To Serve No Homos" bills in Indiana and Arkansas went down in flames - glorious, fabulous flames - it seemed that the lesson was clear: Bigotry won't play in 2016 the way it did in 2004.

Well, here comes Boy Governor Bobby Jindal to support another version of tacitly legalized discrimination.  And, unsurprisingly, Jindal is catching hell.  This is exactly the sort of nonsense that reasonable Republicans want to go away.  The more the GOP is seen as peering into people's bedrooms, the less votes they are going to win with people under the age of 60.

And, let's be clear.  Louisiana ain't Indiana or Arkansas.  Louisiana has themselves some gays.  New Orleans has a large and vibrant gay community, but one that isn't historically very political.  Stirring up THAT particular hornet's nest seems a stupid move for the governor of Louisiana.  But I guess Jindal knows he's never going to get re-elected anyway, what with his state's budget collapsing as fast as his approval ratings.

Why not go all in as the GOP candidate for seething bigotry religious values?


Jon Stewart has one of his cogent pieces on disparities in American ideals.

"You can't put a million dollars in jail."

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Can Ezra Get An Amen?

Ezra Klein writes a great and important piece about Social Security.

In it, he argues a position I've felt for years whenever Alan Simpson starts yammering about Social Security. First of all, Alan Simpson can STFU.  He's been predicting the demise of Social Security for decades now.  The Doomsday of Social Security tends to remain safely over the horizon.  It could probably use more funds, but we are talking decades down the road before it goes belly up.

What Klein points out is how the debate over Social Security throws into stark relief the divide between wealthy elites who make policy and the rest of the country who has to live under those policies.

I could probably work into my late 60s without much problem.  Maybe not coaching wrestling, but I can teach until they tell me to bugger off.  It isn't physical, it's mental.  My body is already showing signs of aging and breaking down - largely from a misspent youth of wrestling and rugby.  Physically, I'm a mess.  Mentally, I'm probably on top of my game, and while I will begin to decline there, too, it should be gradual and later than my physical decline.

If my job entailed physical labor, I'd be clamoring for the exits in my early 60s.

And THAT'S what Alan Simpson doesn't have a freaking clue about.  He's comfortably ensconced in air conditioned offices, sitting at conference tables and engaging in debate.  He's not waiting tables or stringing cable or working a 10 your nursing shift on his feet.

The stunning arrogance of those who propose raising the retirement age is the clearest example I can think of how wealth inequality in governance manifests in an "eat the poor" policy.

I guess the proper place to end this would be with this classic Colbert testimony before Congress.


What happened in the Mediterranean recently is appalling.

And it isn't over.  As the Middle East and Northern Africa spiral into chaos, more and more people will try to escape that chaos.  And they will try to escape to Europe.  And Europe isn't interested in having Africans and Arabs living among them.  For all their enlightened social policies, Europeans are still as racist as any other group of people, still as tribal, still as exclusionary.

All of this means that it's time for Europe to take on responsibilities in its backyard that traditionally have been abandoned to the US.  As Obama - rightly - pulls America back from its role as world policeman, Europe and other regional actors will have to step up.

I'm sure the GOP will scream that this is diminishing America's greatness, but as Iraq showed, you are only as great as people think you are and continued flailing isn't going to impress anyone.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Interesting Read

Here's a piece on the "burnouts" of the '80s.  Think Judd Nelson in The Breakfast Club.

It makes a case that the burnouts were nothing more than a marginalization of working class Americans that was going on in Reagan's America.  Their parents lives were turning to shit and so would their's.

Today, the article argues that the 1% are actually the marginal.

If that's true - and I'm not saying it is - then perhaps we are at a pivot point culturally and economically.

I'll wait and see though.

Thanks, Obama!

This woman was a Congressman and for 15 minutes a GOP presidential frontrunner.

Koch Suckers

Apparently one invisible primary is over and Scott Walker won.

You can't hardly be a GOP Anybody without a Somebody letting you know that you have access to their billions.  And now Scott Walker has the biggest Somebodies on his team.  Having the Kochs in your corner doesn't guarantee that Walker will be the nominee, but tradition has it that the GOP tends to fall in line behind the "Establishment."  It is an open question who the "Establishment" in the GOP is anymore, but the Kochs are certainly in the discussion.

Jeb "JEB!" Bush is running the same sort of campaign that Hillary ran in 2008 and Mitt ran in 2012: I'm inevitable; give up.  But Walker is a legit candidate - in his own way - and having the Kochs back him is an important milestone in his candidacy.

Walker probably looks stronger to the Kochs than he actually is.  His victory in the recall election probably has more to do with the difficulty of having a successful recall than any broad endorsement of his policies.  And if Clinton runs a more economically populist campaign - as there are signs of her doing - then Walker's anti-union policies won't be helpful in exactly the sort of Rust Belt states that the Kochs think he might pick off.

Walker has a plausible claim to being the frontrunner, along with Bush and improbably Ted Cruz.  Rubio and Paul are hanging around the periphery, but those three top guys each have their own constituency.

Walker represents the Libertarian Plutocrats, like the Kochs, who want to turn the government into a funnel of resources to them, while denying those resources to everyone else.

Bush represents some of the Old Line Fat Cats, the Wall Street bankers, who don't want to muck about in the Culture Wars, but want their Corporate Government back.

Cruz, most fascinatingly, represents the seething Tea Party Id that thinks the world is on fire and might be secretly pleased that it is.

Rubio represents...hell if I know.

Paul's constituency is Republicans who like to smoke pot and visit prostitutes.

So, why not Walker?

Monday, April 20, 2015

So Much Derp

So the idiot who beat Eric Cantor is back in the news.  He says providing people with subsidies to buy private health insurance is akin to totalitarianism.  Someone showed him that light map of the Korean peninsula where the North is dark and the South is light.  So he concluded that if we help subsidize people's insurance, we will wind up like North Korea - a dark and impoverished land bereft of hope.  We should be more like South Korea with its vibrant free market economy.

Of course, South Korea has a universal, single payer government run health care system, but since when has being notdumb ever stopped these yahoos.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Chait Does Details

This is a nice breakdown of the hyper-partisan nature of politics today.  And this is why Chait (and I) think Hillary is a clear favorite, whereas historical models call this race a toss-up.

What was interesting is the idea of "negative partisanship" whereby professed "independents" are in fact highly partisan because of their antipathy towards the other party.  Fox News claims a lot of "independent" viewers, but those are just people who hate Democrats but don't identify as Republicans.

The result in fact is less "partisan" and more "ideological" and tribal, as more and more the parties separate ideologically.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Please Proceed Governor

Jeb "JEB!" Bush is interested in raising the Social Security retirement age.

Now, if you're a lawyer or a career politician and lobbyist, there is no reason why you shouldn't keep working past the age of 65.  And maybe there is a way to reward people who defer beginning their Social Security payments and working later into life.

But the millions of Americans who do some form of physical labor?  From collecting garbage to waiting tables to farming to construction?  Screw them.

There is a well-documented disconnect between people like Bush and the reporters who write about politics and the majority of Americans who struggle to make ends meet.  The elites don't "get" what it's like to struggle from paycheck to paycheck or to crawl over the finish line to retirement.  Frankly, I don't really either, but I am willing to make the empathetic effort.

Social Security isn't in trouble.  It's not.

But please proceed to tell the American people - especially that nice Christian woman in Ohio who would otherwise vote for you but wants to retire when she turns 65 - that you want to screw with their Social Security benefits.

See how that works for you.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Blue Wall

I've already come out as agreeing with Jon Chait that Hillary is the favorite in 2016.

Vox laid out some reasons why Hillary might not be the favorite.

Foremost is the idea that Hillary will be running for Obama's third term, and that's hard, historically.  However, if that's true, the lack of an intraparty challenge is a huge advantage for Clinton.  When incumbent presidents are challenged within their party (1912, 1968, 1980, 1992) they lose.  Obama isn't running, but Democrats will be able to unify around the idea of a third term protecting Obamacare, keeping America out of Middle Eastern wars, changing the Supreme Court and trying to prevent a full-bore plutocracy.  That matters.

Another argument that Nate Silver makes is that fundamental change rarely really occurs in American politics, which is true until it isn't.

They show this chart:

It shows the lack of landslides in the last 30 years (since 1984).  In fact, we have become much more polarized as a country, with Red States and Blue States, City and Country.  Part of the population is irrevocably Democratic and part is irrevocably Republican.

And the Democratic part is bigger, at least in terms of population.

Republicans can and will have an advantage in the House, because they can win rural districts 55-45 while Democrats win concentrated urban districts 80-20.  But while that means the GOP can send a Republican majority House delegation from Pennsylvania, it doesn't mean Scott Walker can beat Hillary in Pennsylvania.

If we make the following states toss-ups (NH, FL, OH, VA, WI - for Walker) but leave MI, MN, CO, NV and NM as Democratic states (which I think is a good bet), then Democrats START at 252 electoral votes.  That's just be being the Democratic candidate.  If the GOP nominates Bush or Rubio, Clinton wins Wisconsin in her sleep (262) and probably NH (266).  That means either Iowa, Ohio, Florida or Virginia gives her the presidency.  Frankly any state of any size: Georgia, North Carolina, Missouri, Arizona...You name it.

The presence of a Republican Wave in 2016 would be predicated more on a Democratic collapse than a Republican resurgence.  A second recession, a scandal, a military humiliation...That's what the GOP is banking on to win.

What Class Warfare Really Looks Like

As Hillary rushes to embrace Elizabeth Warren - and not in an Alice B. Toklas sort of way - the GOP will inevitably raise cries of "class warfare" as Clinton talks about middle and working class incomes and wealth vs the 1%.  Clinton is smart to do so, and even GOP hopefuls have given lip service to wealth inequality.

But once you get beyond the rhetoric of people like Mitt Freaking Romney (of all people) you can see that the GOP really has no intention of doing anything but making the problem worse.

Kansas has just engaged in a round of poor shaming, designed not to prevent fraud but to associate government aid with things that it shouldn't be used for.  By suggesting that people are using their aid to buy lingerie (Does underwear count?  Let's check!), they are creating the image in people's minds that this is what aid is spent on.  It's a classic repeat of the "welfare queens driving Cadillacs" trope from the Reagan era.  Forms of drug testing is another act of poor shaming.

The operational assumption behind these programs are that being poor in America is too easy.  You just cash those huge aid checks and go buy your t-bone steaks, your tattoos and your malt liquor.  Who needs a job?

This of course fails to look at how little people on aid actually get and how hard it is to find work if your name is Shanique or Da'Quan.  While there might be some people who prefer the dole to a paycheck, that often has to do with how meager the paycheck is.  If you're working 30 hours a week at minimum wage, how do you afford day care?

If you really wanted people off welfare and into work, make it easier to find work.  It's already pretty hard to be poor.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Bill Kristol's Nightmare Comes True

A Tea Party You-Tube host has said he might vote for Hillary.

The reason is exactly what Kristol said back in 1993 when Hillary was trying to give us all universal single-payer health care.  If the Democrats can provide a functioning health care system is will create a real and lasting benefit that people will like and reward them for at the polls.

So fuck those people, wrote Kristol.

In the end, I bet Mr. Webb decides to vote for a Republican, but maybe not.  Maybe there are a bunch of, yeah, white, working class conservatives who really like the fact that they can afford health care.  The archetypal GOP voter is a working class white man.  Maybe a mechanic or a carpenter, who can now afford to open his own garage or work on his own, because now he can afford health insurance.

The evidence is mounting that Obamacare works better than its designers hoped (probably because those designers wisely chose to downplay its possible benefits).  Eventually that will add up to a bigger electoral issue, if the GOP can't get beyond "REPEAL, REPEAL, REPEAL."