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

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Goalposts

I was highly vexed by my understanding of the deal to re-open the government, until I found out that CHIP funding was included.  That was the necessary "win" for Democrats.  However, there is a great deal of anger at Chuck Schumer for "allowing" the government to re-open.  I suppose the thinking is that Democrats always cave, and they caved without getting what they wanted: a DACA fix.  They kicked the can three weeks down the road.

Some of this is simply the instant gratification culture at work.  Some of this is the legitimate worry that the closer we get to March 5th, the closer we get to actual deportations. 

Going into the next round, the question is fundamentally this: Is a DACA fix worth funding the Wall?  Where is the moral imperative here?  Is it protecting 700,000 DREAMers?  Or is it opposing Trump's signature issue?  The Wall is a fundamentally stupid idea from a stupid person that appeals to other stupid people.  But it's become more than that.  Opposing or supporting the Wall is a litmus test, a shibboleth that identifies your place in the Resistence. 

The problem is that Democrats will almost certainly have to concede some Wall funding in return for getting a DACA fix.  Some, like Luis Gutierrez, say that it's perfectly acceptable to waste money on the Wall in order to protect the DREAMers.  Others feel it's a capitulation to Trump and his racist impulses about Hispanics.

Wherever you fall on this issue, the fact is that it probably behooves the Left in general to figure out whether opposing the Wall is more important than protecting the DREAMers.  Because that's the only deal out there, and you will need to know where the goalposts are before you try and calculate whether you won or lost.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Look Like They Got Rolled

If Democrats did not get CHIP funding in this CR, they got rolled.  You can't get nothing, and right now, they got nothing.  Maybe they did get CHIP funding, and that has been obscured in the reporting, but I doubt it.

They caved.

Here's what happens next: The Senate takes up some form of DACA fix.  Maybe they pass something, maybe not.  Whatever is able to pass the Senate dies in the House.

Democrats will have to decide all over again whether to shutdown the government in early February - that much closer to the end of DACA.

Once again, the essential cowardice and lack of conviction on the part of Congressional Democrats is sickening.

One reason why was the naked embrace of many Republican talking points by mainstream media outlets, but that is neither here nor there.

The Democrats took a stand and the very second it became a little hot, they folded like a cheap lawn chair.

UPDATE: Errrrr, never mind.  They got CHIP funding.  The comparison of 8,000,000 CHIP children being held hostage for 800,000 DREAMers was a bad optic.

Deeply Awful People

Here is an examination of the House "fix" on DACA.  It is - in a word - absurd.  The idea of any fix to this issue would basically allow DREAMers to stay here and expedite their way to citizenship.  How they do that can be negotiated, but that's the only acceptable fix. 

Lindsey Graham is beefing with the White House over Stephen Miller's role in this debate.  Graham called Miller an outlier on the issue, which earned a toddler's response from the White House of "no, you're the outlier!"  Graham is right that within the context of American politics, Miller is the outlier.  The White House is right that within the context of right wing politics, Graham is the outlier.

It is telling that the White House defines what is acceptable exclusively within the Alt Reich echo chamber. 

This is why it's so hard to see a reasonable conclusion to this issue.  Perhaps they come up with a CR for two weeks.  What fundamentally changes from now to then?  And if I'm Senate Democrats, why would I put it off for another two weeks?  If I'm voting for a CR, I want something.  CHIP funding for six years, for starters.  Take CHIP off the table as a bargain...er..chip before the next round of Dancing With Racists comes around on February 8th.  You have to start whittling down the number of child hostages that these lunatics can keep threatening.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

How It Erodes

Trump has proposed ending the Senate as we know it.  He wants to get rid of the 60 vote rule for legislation.  McConnell opposes this, and I think McConnell realizes he is unlikely to be majority leader past 2020 (if not 2018) and wants to preserve his options as future minority leader.

Most Senators also disagree with this, but over time Trump could rile up his Deplorables who will pressure their Senators.  Still, my guess if that you never get Collins, McCain and even Graham to sink the filibuster.  Still, this is how Trump erodes institutions.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Was This On The Syllabus?

So, we've managed for the first time in our history, to shutdown the government when one party controls the White House, House and Senate.  The GOP - and to a lesser degree the NY Times - would like you to believe that this is the Democrats' fault.  (This is a concept called Murc's Law: Only Democrats have any agency, and therefore every bad thing is their fault.)

The reality is that this is an unbelievably telling crisis in how Republicans "govern."  That it happens on the first anniversary of Trump's inauguration is kind of hilariously apt.  The basic issue is that we have three separate issues:

- The government must be funded, and it will need Democratic votes in the Senate to be funded.
- The GOP Congress failed to extend funding for CHIP (Children's Health Insurance Program), despite the funding lapsing back in the Fall.
- Trump rescinded DACA protections for DREAMers, setting up a showdown between "immigration hardliners" and people who aren't racist towards teenagers.

Democrats obviously have little leverage in Washington these days.  This is pretty much it.  It's worth noting that the Senate didn't even get to 50 votes, much less 60.  In order to get the Kick America In The Nuts Act passed back in December, McConnell promised a lot to Collins and Flake.  Now, they are asking to collect on those promises.  So there is a bipartisan fix in the Senate for this.  The House?  Who knows?  But, if the Senate passes a continuing resolution with a DACA-fix and CHIP extension...would Paul Ryan invoke the Hastert Rule (named after the GOP Speaker of the House who molested children) to prevent a compromise CR from passing with a bipartisan vote?

It seems obvious that this is just a great example of how the modern GOP is like a really, really bad student.  They haven't read the syllabus.  They haven't done the homework.  They aren't prepared for class.  And now there's a major paper due, and they're trying to throw all this crap together at the last minute.

These three issues are not a "crisis" that arose out of nowhere.  This could have been solved weeks or months ago.  The GOP leadership could've done some basic second grade arithmetic and realized that they would need Democratic votes for this and not waited until the last second so that Lord Smallgloves couldn't go on Twitter and kill any chance of a last-minute compromise.

We are governed by profoundly small people.


Friday, January 19, 2018

Concern Trolling

The Washington Post has two excellent examples of concern trolling on it's Op-Ed page.  Two Republicans express their I'm-sure-is-legit concern that Democrats will get tarred by the government shutdown.  The idea that the minority party will be blamed for a failure of governance assumes a level of civic engagement that simply doesn't exist. 

Americans know that Republicans control the Congress and the White House.  One of Mitch McConnell's insights was the fact that probably 95% of Americans are ignorant of the way legislation works its way through Congress.  They are unfamiliar with cloture and holds and the idea that 60 votes are required to pass anything in the Senate these days.  The even less informed simply blame the White House for everything.

Democrats are holding out for a popular and reasonable demand: protection for DREAMers.  That's it.  You want a bipartisan deal?  There it is.  If Republicans won't pass it, they will get the blame for the shutdown.  Shutdowns are already "on-brand" for the GOP, too, so that will help cement blame.

Of course, if we know anything about Democrats, it is that they will cave under pressure from the Bipartisan Fairy.  Like Charlie Brown, they will continue to run up to the football that Lucy holds out there so tantalizingly.  Maybe they've learned. 

We will see tonight.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Jamelle Bouie

This piece is incredibly timely for the community I live in.

The Best People

There is an article out today about how Russia might have funnelled money into the 2016 campaign through the NRA.  It's illegal for foreign entities to contribute to candidates.  I'm less certain this applies to independent groups like the NRA, but I am ignorant of the minutiae of campaign finance law. 

Jon Chait points out that if the Mueller probe is really going after the NRA, this will double or triple the pressure on Republicans in Congress to abandon any protection for Mueller.  Republicans might feel (wrongly) that they can divorce themselves from Trump at some future point.  They are permanently wedded to the NRA.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Rules Of Consent

I've been reading some about the allegations against Aziz Ansari.  I am neither pro or anti Ansari.  I don't watch his shows very often, so I'm not making any points about how we separate art from the artist.  That's a separate issue more aligned with guys like Woody Allen, Kevin Spacey and Roman Polanski.

I've read the account of Ansari's alleged "assault" and I find it troubing.  Basically, Ansari came on sort of fast to a woman he has been talking to over a few days.  They had a date.  They began making out.  The woman wasn't comfortable. When she said stop or slow down, he did, but then a little while later he would try again.  When she asked to leave, he called her a car.  When she texted the next day to say she had been very uncomfortable, he apologized.

This seems a pretty clear case of a bad experience, but not an evil one.  Ansari responded to all of her verbal cues and requests.  He failed to pick up on what she called non-verbal cues.  When he found out she had felt uncomfortable, he was deeply apologetic.

My wife and I have been having many conversations with our sons about the critical importance of consent.  It is the responsibility of every single man to understand what consent is and how to respond to a woman's assent or dissent.  At no point in a sexual encounter does a woman lose the right to say, "no."

The other side of that has to be that a woman must communicate that "no."  Sexual encounters are fraught with all sorts of tension - some of it pleasurable within the context of consent.  The idea that non-verbal cues are easily decipherable is post-hoc guesswork.

It is not unreasonable for the standard to be simply this: men must listen to women, but women must speak.  That makes them equal participants in the decision making process.  The argument that women might be afraid to speak up might be true, but if she says, no, and he forces himself, that's rape.  Does anyone think Ansari raped that woman?

Caitlin Flanagan at the Atlantic says that these allegations almost seem crafted to destroy the credibility of the #metoo movement.  I think her rhetoric gets a little hot, but she's not wrong.

We don't always get what we want out of personal relations.  We have a right not to be abused by those around us, but we don't have a right to expect them to give us everything we want, when we want it.  The encounter between Ansari and his alleger was one where they wanted very different things, but it is not one where he assaulted or abused her.  He listened when she said, no.

That's important.  It has to be.

UPDATE: NY Magazine re-released this article from a couple of years ago.  It's a meandering piece that argues that there is more to sex than consent.  That women ought to expect pleasure from sexual episodes and often they don't get any.  I can't speak to the sexual morays or practices of this generation of young adults, so maybe this is a truly profound problem.  I can say that I had my fair share of ridiculous and unfulfilling sexual encounters when I was single.  I never felt that there was anything pathological about it, but maybe that's just my status as a white guy.  Anyway, the article is an interesting take on some of these questions.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Why Presidents Matter

EJ Dionne lays out why Trump's racism and divisiveness are a problem for the country as a whole.

This reflects back on the point from a few days ago, about the ability of student's with right-of-center political beliefs to feel they could be heard.  As Dionne lays it out, we should have a vigorous debate over what our country should look like and how we get there.  There is a right and left leaning vision for that.  That's essentially what politics is: a competition between ideologies.

Trump has upended the entire nature of politics and shut us off from having the debates we need to have.  He has also allowed one of our major parties to stain themselves with his filth, as they struggle to appeal to the Trumpist Base.

I have no idea what our politics will look like in 12 years.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Meaning Of Racism Today

Ibram Kendi wrote an op-ed piece about Trump's racism that is of a piece with his book.  To me, it's a fascinating example of the difference between the Academy and the rest of the world, when it comes to discussing racism.  For instance, Kendi excoriates Dick Durbin, when Durbin said that Trump's racism was unprecedented.  Kendi is right on the facts.  Trump's racism is hardly unique in the Oval Office. 

But that wasn't the point Durbin was trying to make.  Durbin was making a political argument designed to delegitimize both Trump's statement and Trump's presidency.  Durbin wants to redefine what we expect from our president, especially Trump. 

Kendi goes on to make a point that, again, is probably correct but also not practically helpful.  Look at this quote near the end:

Racist is not a fixed category like “not racist,” which is steeped denial. Only racists say they are not racist. Only the racist lives by the heartbeat of denial.

How do you proceed from there?  His next line say that the proper course is to accept and confess to America's and our own racist past.  I teach US History with race at the very center of everything.  I can confess to feeling racial animus while living in LA, having been mugged, having my car broken into and ransacked duringe the King Riots.  I've worked to get over it, but I confess I felt it.

I could say that I'm not the problem, but then I'm just participating in the denial the Kendi condemns.  I find myself agreeing with Kendi's point that we must confront the racist history of this country, but wondering how to get there, if we start calling people racist.  Even or especially those who are racist.

You can't dislodge racist ideas by calling someone racist.  That effectively ends the conversation.  Kendi's formulation that denying you're racist makes you racist...where do you go from there?

Race as a social construct as opposed to a biological reality is a good place to start, I think.  Once you move beyond the idea that race is somehow genetic - aside from the melanin content of someone's skin - you can begin to strip away the cultural preconceptions that are built on the idea of race-based biology. 

Kendi's book is of a piece with other contemporary writers on race who see so much left undone.  There is a natural hunger to end racism immediately.  Ironically, Kendi's own book is about the centuries long evolution of the idea of race and racism.  Nothing happens quickly.  WEB DoBois harbored racist ideas ("the Talented Tenth") himself in his youth. 

It's bleak.  It's hopeless.  It's impossible. 

You can't engage social change by labelling and judging, at least not out loud.  If Kendi believes that the "real problem" is white liberals who aren't quite committed to the pace and depth of change he suggests (without really explaining who to effect that change), then he shuts the door to natural allies.  Leonard Pitts makes the case that Democrats need to do more for black voters.  But he does so acknowledging the context of the current GOP.  He, too, however confuses Doug Jones' rhetoric about bipartisanship as a sellout of black voters.  Jones is saying that, because that is what politicians say.  Judge Jones by his votes.  Not the votes he won't be able to make, say, on a new Voting Rights Act, or Criminal Justice Reform.  Judge him on the votes he takes.

You can take the position that America remains hopelessly racist.  That the progress some point to since the end of slavery or Jim Crow is illusory.  But if you do that, what is the agenda of change?  Why bother to tweak marijuana sentencing laws if the whole system is hopelessly corrupt?  Why fight one voter ID law, when gerrymandering still exists?

How do you build a movement out of despair?

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Once More, With Feeling

The Washington Post has a mini-Cleetus Safari today.  "Is the President racist?  Opinions differ."

Look, I get that you need to address and air the opinions of all sides.  I guess.  Perhaps it's helpful quoting David Duke endorsing Trump's "shithole" comment.  It is striking how the more overt racists applaud Trump lumping whole continents and peoples into a "shithole" while his more mainstream supporters say "He's just telling it like it is."

Of course, that last bit is an open question, isn't it.  The "telling it like it is" crowd notes that these countries are poor even though "we've given them so much money."  That reflects the common misconception/outright lie that America devotes much of its budget to foreign aid.  It's kind of like Bezos giving $33M for DREAMers scholarships.  It sure sounds like a lot of money, but for him, it's barely a rounding error in his bank account.

There is no doubt that Haiti and Hondurus are poor.  They are often subjected to violence that arise out of that poverty.  We have propped up odious dictators in both countries and the latter is racked by the violence that is associated with keeping America stocked full of illegal drugs. 

Clearly, what Trump was saying was racist.  He sees a poor, black country...shithole.  Not poor, not struggling...shithole. 

There is more at work here than just racism, which might be why some Republicans support him beyond the racist implications.  It's the idea that wealth is the equivalent of goodness.  For Trump, Haiti or Nigeria or the American territory of Puerto Rico are shitholes because not only are they the wrong color people, they don't have money.

Like he does.

Wealth - in Trump's world - is synonymous with virtue and intelligence and power.  The root of his narcissism is the fact that he's rich (and the fact that he is rich largely because he was born rich might account for the fragility of his ego).  In Trump's world, having money means you're just better.  It's a moral statement more than the bottom line on a balance sheet. 

One might be forgiven for thinking that if you could somehow convince his supporters that he sees them as trash because they are poor, that they would abandon him.

No.

The people who support Trump might be struggling to maintain their middle class lives in an economy that prefers wealth to work, but they have completely internalized the Randian/Republican idea that monetary wealth=human worth.  Even as they stare up at the mansion on the hill of the gated community, they aspire to get there, if only the government would stop giving their money to dark skinned people.  If only the government would "get their hands off my Medicare."

I guess we have to continue to reckon with those who support Trump no matter what. Honestly, at this point, he should shoot someone in the face on Fifth Avenue.  Especially if it's Stephen Miller.  My guess is that won't cause his numbers to move much lower than the 35% some polls have him at now.

Trump has exposed a rot in the heart of our country, but many left-leaning observers have been screaming about this for decades. 

Yes, racism still holds a powerful pull on our politics.
Yes, some people equate wealth with human worth.
Yes, some people yearn for an authoritarian figure to make them feel warm and safe from their fears.

But those people aren't a majority.  I just wish journalists who feel the need to interview Trump supporters - again - would remember that.

Florida Man

One of the small surprises within the big surprise on Election Night 2016 was that Trump won Florida.  Some of this is because Trump is the living embodyment of aging Boomer resentment and covert racism.  Trump won by about 113,000 votes or 1.2%.  He also came in under 50%.  Instinctively, I would guess that Hillary Clinton's negatives were quite high in Florida among both elderly voters and Hispanic men. 

Trump is doing everything he can to make sure he doesn't win Florida again.  When I look at the Democrat's path to control of the House, I'm usually looking at California and Northeastern suburbs.  I do think that's where much of the Anti-Trump wave will gather. 

Keep an eye on Florida, however, as the nature of the immigrant communities shouldn't be underestimated.  It's especially worth keeping an eye on Puerto Rican voters moving to Florida.  If - as reported - over 100,000 Puerto Ricans are moving to Florida, turning them into votes gets you a long way towards Senator Nelson getting elected and Republicans losing Florida in 2020.

Republicans can't lose Florida and win the White House.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Piercing The Veil

It has been striking, in the hours after Trump's "shithole" comment how many people called the comment "shocking."  Really?  No one over the age of 8 in 2018 should be shocked by profanity from an adult.  We aren't shocked by profanity, we are usually shocked by nakedly racist statements.

But should we be surprised that Trump would say this?  Should we be surprised that he thinks this?

He's also probably not wrong that this will play well with his "base."  They think Haiti is a shithole and that probably applies to all of those other dusky-hued continents and countries.  I'll let Anderson Cooper handle the rebuttal to that.

Today, a student or students anonymously wrote a note saying that students with "right of center" views were often marginalized.  What was left unsaid in the letter is what constitutes "right of center" in the Age of Trump.  Advocating smaller government or more devolution to the states or deregulation is not being marginalized or ostracized in our school.

The timing of that letter was as unfortunate as the Brooks' column.  If "right of center" means "Republican" and "Republican" increasingly means "Trump," I think we have enough evidence to equate Trump with racist, sexist, bigoted positions.  Here is a likely incomplete run-down of Trump's various racist statements.

There is nothing "wrong" about "right of center" political positions.  I disagree with some of them, because I tend to believe - as Lincoln did - that the proper role of government is to do for the people what the people cannot do for themselves.  I disagree very strongly with the policies that Paul Ryan proposes.  But if a student advanced those positions, I might correct for facts, but I would never (I hope) silence that student.

But if a student wants to defend Trump - or even by extension a Republican establishment that is failing in their duty to hold him accountable - then that is a different issue.  That is a moral position.  It is a moral position that the GOP is currently failing, and it has nothing to do with marginal tax rates, regulation or devolved powers.

Trump exposed that the "right of center" needs desperately the "far right" to win elections.  That "far right" is authoritarian, racist, sexist and xenophobic.  And the "deplorable" base that applauds Trump calling a continent a "shithole" are those people.

These times call for moral stands.  Do you stand for democracy?  Do you stand for decency?  Inclusion?  The ideals that founded this country?

Or do you stand with Trump?

History will remember (if journalism might not).

David Brooks Is Profoundly Stupid

Jon Chait lays out why.  But Brooks has been doing this schtick for years.  He gives a calm, tweed-ensconced take on why Dubya was really the smart one to invade Iraq or why Sarah Palin isn't really that dumb or why it's Obama that's the real partisan absolutist, not Mitch McConnell.

Brooks is the perfect distillation of the old GOP: He's an over-educated white guy who starts from a premise and then talks himself into taking a stupid position, because that's what his job is.