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

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Where Is Your God Now?

Reading this expose on a different town that has suffered through gun violence gives an interesting perspective on what the author calls "Gun Fatalism."  Basically, the residents of this small Kentucky town don't believe that gun control measures would prevent school shootings.  There's that familiar sense of learned helplessness that permeates the gun control debate, but there is something else there that I find is pervasive among rural conservatives.

It's God.

The basic idea is that bad things happen because you turn from God and good things can only happen with God's grace.  Obviously the first part is a meaningless tautology.  If something bad happens, you can just throw up your arms and blame the lack of Jesus in the world.  It's not an explanation for what happened, it's a decision not to look for an explanation that might discomfit you.

The second part creates the idea that "nothing can be done."  Because God isn't there to prevent the insane and the evil from shooting up schools...well, what can you do about it?  Malcolm X made a similar point about the role of Christianity in creating passivity in African American populations.  The idea that heaven is your true reward means that you continue to abandon your responsibility to try and improve things on earth.  You give up your agency to God and allow the world to unfurl in all its chaotic and violent tumult. 

It strikes me that this isn't really what Jesus was talking about and may have contributed to the decision of Roman authorities to execute him.  This isn't about the Gospel, it's about a mindset that destroys human agency on the altar of "God's Will."  This is about the difference between the spiritual truths in the Bible and the narrow authoritarian mindset that focuses more on Leviticus than the Beatitudes.

Do Republicans Like Democracy?

I think that's a fair question.  Republicans in Wisconsin don't want to hold special elections.  In Pennsylvania, they want to impeach judges whose decision will cost them seats.  In Illinois, the nominated a Nazi.  And then there is the fondness for Russia and Putin that extends beyond Trump to people like Dana Rohrbacher. 

I wonder what will happen as more and more Republicans who DO care about democracy look at the crazy people who are traveling in the same wagon as they are.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Bone Chilling

I really want you to read Jon Chait's summation of the reporting on the John Bolton hire.  Go past the fear that Bolton has justifiably instilled in the foreign policy community (on both sides of the aisle).  Go into Trump's relationship with HR McMaster.  McMaster was one of the few appointments that Trump made that impressed me.  It came, you might recall, after the Michael Flynn fiasco, when Trump probably had to listen to some grown ups who advocated a sterling military figure with a top-notch intellect.

McMaster was almost immediately a square peg in the White House's assortment of holes.  He was organized, thoughtful, disciplined and a realist.  He spoke in paragraphs rather than sound bites.  He expected the president* to take both their jobs seriously.  Trump responded to the "boring" national security briefings by avoiding McMaster the way my students avoid me when they have to make up a test.

Perhaps the scariest nugget is that the only thing that prevented Trump from making this move earlier was his disdain for Bolton's moustache.

Let's let that sink in for a moment.  John Bolton is an unapologetic war-monger.  He refuses to admit mistakes, like the Iraq debacle.  He bullies subordinates.  Even Republicans hate and fear him.

But Trump just didn't like the moustache.

Bolton represents the series of decisions that manifests a frightening turn in the Trump Adminstration.  To this point, Trump has largely been shackled by his own incompetence and the "moderating" influence - however weak - of figures like Cohn, McMaster, Tillerson and even Kelly.  Three of those four are gone and the fourth won't last to Memorial Day.  Instead, as the Mueller probe gets closer to Trump Tower, as the weather gets Stormy, as the poll numbers sink, as the special elections go against the GOP, Trump will do what Trump does best: distract and change the subject.

What could change the subject more than a war?  All Bolton would have to do is point to George W. Bush's declining approval ratings from December 2001 to March 2003.  Once we invaded Iraq, Bush got a "war bounce."  However, Trump is very unlikely to get a "war bounce" because most people really, truly hate and fear him.  There is no 9/11 to galvanize national opinion. The bloody lessons of Iraq are still very near to memory.  Leading a divided nation into war is a truly bad idea, and we are nothing if not divided.

At the moment, the best hope for America would be for Congress to repeal the AUMF.  I bet we could get it rescinded in the Senate pretty easily.  Paul and McCain would probably vote to repeal.  The House, as always, is trickier.  Congress has ceded so much of its war powers to the Presidency, that it will be hard to claw them back.  They have to try.

Because the Republicans in the White House just gave the keys to the drones and the tanks and the aircraft carriers and the lives of thousands of soldiers to John Fucking Bolton, and the only person left to restrain him is a Marine nicknamed "Mad Dog."

We haven't reached the bottom yet, folks.  That's maybe the scariest thing of all.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Race And Wealth

There is a large and comprehensive study out of the intergenerational social mobility along racial and ethnic lines.  Interestingly, it finds that if you control for variables, the income and wealth gap between black women and white women is very small.  The income and wealth gap between black men and white men is huge, and what is more, being wealthy to start out doesn't help.  Usually, the best way to be wealthy is to be born into wealth, yet for black men, that isn't a guarantee.

First, as is noted in the article, this should put the "nail in the coffin" of the odious racism of The Bell Curve.  If blacks were simply inferior to whites, then we would see the same gap that we see between black men and white men between black women and white women.  A few African American activists and scholars have decried this as pathologizing the black male or mythologizing the black female. 

I think that's wrong.  This isn't drawing any conclusions, it's simply measuring what exists.  What this study does is measure the effects of racism on black men.  While black women are incarcerated at higher rates than white women, both numbers are relatively low.  While incarceration alone can't explain the difference in black men and white men, we can look at the high rates of incarceration of black men as a proxy for how white society looks at black men as threatening.  That feeling of threat pervades the black male's world. 

If racism is more than simply bigotry, if it is in fact a power system, then racism towards black men is being measured in this study, not explained.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

In Other News

The wave of bombings in Austin, Texas remains a "mystery."  Of course, the targets of the first bombings were all African American.  Odds are that it's some white supremacist group in Texas who wants to kill black people and Austin hippies.

But let's make sure we don't let any Syrian children into the country, because terrorism.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Wither Now

I've always made it a premise of this blog that I would write every day if I was able.  Yesterday, the weather was lovely, there was a large dead tree to fell, quiet time...and the idea of sitting down and commenting on the current state of our politics...again...was just too much.

When you have the widespread assumption that Trump and his legal team are laying the groundwork to fire Mueller, and then you have the GOP quibbling over how or whether to protect Mueller's independence, it's difficult to have much faith in our two party system.  Parties should be, well, partisan.  That conflict is essential to how our governmental system functions.  But Trump is so far outside the normsand practices of our previous chief executives, that something has to be done.  The pants wetting fear that most GOP members of Congress feel over Trump voters, especially the Deplorables, effectively immobilizes the legislative branch.

If Trump does fire Mueller, here is the link to the nearest protest.  I'm not usually one for political street theater, but this is serious.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Cambridge Analytica

Amazing expose of the guy who helped data mine for the group that gave us fake news.

Red Versus Blue

Here is an interesting take on the rural-urban divide which is probably the single biggest cultural division in the US right now.  Sean Illing, the interviewer, can barely contain his anger and disgust with rural, social conservatives.  That's an interesting stance, and I think it's a reaction against all these Cleetus Safaris, where the Times sends someone out to East Bumphuck to interview Trump voters to see that they are still Trump voters.

Rural America is substantially different than the rest of the country.  The nature of our Congressional and statehouse districts means that the country will always be over-represented in government.  This helps give American politics an unusually conservative cast. 

The broader question is why have rural communities been left behind.  The issue is that small towns have a nice hermetically sealed culture.  It's unchanging.  That's precisely the appeal.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world is changing at a very rapid pace.  Drive an hour into the cities or even the suburbs and you find out that most people don't care if their kid's teacher is gay, or that their neighbor is from Senegal.  They love that there is a new Burmese restaurant in town, because they've never had Burmese food.  They are cord-cutting their way off regular TV.  They are participating in new ways of employment. 

So, change and diversity is a vital part of urban America, and rural America hates it. 

The reality is that rural America is dealing now with issues like unemployment and the opiod crisis. The modern plague of cities that country folk thought where limited to cities have found their way to small towns.  These plagues, it turns out, were not caused by city values or the fact that black and brown people are morally inferior.  The plagues travel together.  You don't have a job?  Get high.  Get high? You don't get a job. 

Ultimately, we do need to realize that we have an economic system that is incredibly beneficial to a tiny group of people.  Benefits a bare majority of the rest and significantly disadvantages a sizable portion of people.  That anger is then misplaced into racial bigotry, homophobia and xenophobia.  Yet, it's precisely the insular, anti-Enlightenment mindset of these rural villages that makes them poor places to do business.  And so Red America falls farther behind and gets more and more resentful.  Meanwhile, the politicians who animate their racism continue to pursue policies that benefit the 1%.

I'm not sure what breaks the cycle, beyond the actuarial table.

Here We Go

Trump's typically dickish move to fire Andrew McCabe two days before his pension kicked in could simply be Trump and the people around him being their usual asshole selves.  This is a crew who fire people on Twitter.  It can't be said enough, these are the worst people.

What's worrisome is that we are seeing the groundwork being laid for the firing of Bob Mueller.  Trump's attorney is floating it.  The bullshit release of that House majority report on the 2016 election and the firing of McCabe and the calls from people like Chuck Grassley to investigate the FBI are designed to cast doubts on the FBI, US intelligence services and thus the Mueller investigation.

Meanwhile, the Russians are actively launching small scale chemical weapons attacks on one of our allies, while we do almost nothing.

When Nixon fired Archibald Cox, he faced a Democratic congress and a Republican party that wasn't going to put party over country.  That is not the case with Mueller. 

These are deeply perilous times for our democracy. Hopefully, Trump's firing of some people will sate his need to be cruel for a little while longer and shield Mueller for a few months.  We need to get to November.  Fast.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Be Very Afraid

The past fifteen months has seen a near collapse in the credibility and professionalism of the executive branch.  Sean Spicer made way for Sarah Sanders.  Steve Bannon made way for the Mooch!  The Secretary of State was fired on Twitter.  The Trump family is enriching itself from federal coffers and foreign emoluments.  The Secretary of HHS has to step down because of scandal, and he wasn't the only one.

The thing is: This might be the high point of Trump's efficiency and effectiveness.

The decision to fire Tillerson and now HR McMaster bodes poorly for the future.  Tillerson was an abyssmal Secretary of State, but apparently he was seeing his department gutted by a sort of McCarthyite purge (not sure how this is legal) led by outsiders.  Now, with Tillerson and McMaster gone, those "outsiders" are going to be the insiders.

The Post article suggests that the following Cabinet level officers could be fired: David Shulkin (VA), Ben Carson (HUD), Scott Pruit (EPA) and Ryan Zinke (Interior).  At some point John Kelly will leave or be fired.

First of all, many of these people should be fired. In fact, they never should have been hired in the first place.  Few of them have the necessary experience or temperment to run a federal agency.  I'm not going to weep for the defenestration of Betsy DeVos, should it happen.

The problem is that Trump is not going to then turn around and hire better people.  In fact, by all accounts, he's going to tap John Bolton to replace McMaster.  That's....disastrous.  Bolton suggests that Trump is willing to go to war sooner rather than later, casus belli be damned.  I'm trying to come up with a worse scenario than leading a badly divided country into a war with Iran.  All I came come up with is leading a badly divided country into a war with Russia or China.  Kelly could be replaced with Newt Gingrich, a man whose own personal odiousness and partisan vindictiveness was either the cause or the portent of our poisoned politics in the 21st century. 

In short, Trump is surrounding himself with the commentariat of Fox News.  I'm waiting for Trump to cast aside Mike Pence in 2020 and name Sean Hannity his running mate.  I'm waiting for Jeannine Pirro to be nominated to the Supreme Court. 

Trump has always been the racist uncle who no one wants to sit next to at Thanksgiving or open his conspiratorial emails.  He's always been the Fox News president.  Now, he's making it official.  Back when he was surprisingly capturing the nomination, David Frum said that Republicans realized that they had thought that Fox News worked for them, only to find out that they worked for Fox News.

Trump will make this a reality.  Given the lack of spine in the GOP caucus, he will be permitted to.  The Ghost of Roger Ailes will rule this country.

Thanks a lot, Republicans.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Modern Conservatism

David Roberts writes a nice summary of what modern "conservatism" is as regards the NYTimes Op-Ed page.

It is worth repeated that Cleek's Law is over a decade old and still applies: Republicans believe the opposite of what Democrats believe, updated every fifteen minutes. 

It's not an ideology.  It's a mood. 

It's resentment.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Everything And Nothing

What appears to be a Democratic pick-up in PA-18 is both meaningless and an earthquake.  It's meaningless, because the district isn't going to be around much longer.  It's being redistricted away.

But as a demonstration of Republican weakness, it's very significant.  The district has a heavy Republican lean, but Connor Lamb was a very adept candidate.  He was also a candidate who didn't benefit much from external spending.  Saccone required massive outside spending.  Interestingly, it was Republicans who tried to "nationalize" the race by bringing up immigration and Nancy Pelosi.  It didn't work. 

Democrats will have a roster of interesting candidates, and the Republicans will not be able to flood every district with money, the way they did the past few weeks in Pennsylvania.  Democrats are able to mobilize anti-Trump sentiment without ever having to mention Trump. 

The odds of Democrats not flipping the House seem vanishingly small at this point.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Buh Bye

Tillerson gets fired.  I suppose Pompeo might be a bit more of a Russia Hawk, which we need right now.  But honestly, who knows?  Right now, we need a Secretary of State who will actually try to staff and run State in a way that makes us safer.

Pompeo will be replaced by a torture abetter at CIA, so that ain't great.  As Tillerson was arguably the worst SecState in living memory, I suppose we could do no worse.

Hopefully, Tillerson has an angry memoir out soon.

Monday, March 12, 2018

It's Called The Heartland, Because The Brain's Not There

WaPo has a profile of the town in Indiana that became a microcosm of the deportation state under Trump.  It was the story of a sympathetic, hard working immigrant who owned a popular restaurant and was deported.  And now, in a variation of the Cleetus Safaris that the Times and Post and other premier news outlets run, they have gone back to see whether the deportation of Roberto Beristain has left a mark.

Some are sad, but sad in a way that makes for even sadder reading:

“I didn’t even see Roberto as Mexican,” said Angela Banfi, a friend and waitress at the restaurant. “He was not one of those Mexicans. He was like a white boy to me.”

I mean, thanks, Angela, for helping rip the mask off what all this is about.  Thanks, for not talking about law and order or economic anxiety.  Oh, and by the way Angela Banfi, I assume you're not one of those Greeks.  You are like a regular white person to me, too.

Thank God, Obama's election ended racism in this country.