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

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.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Nail On The Head

This is another "Please proceed, governor" moments.

Obama will issue his executive order that reduces deportations in some way.

The GOP will freak out.  At this point, you can't rule out impeachment.

One major reason that the GOP did so well in the midterms was that not many people turned out to vote.  This was a direct result of GOP governance.  They pretty much gummed up the works of Congress until nothing, not even National Puppies Are Cute Day, could pass the House.

The perverse nature of American politics is that the President gets blamed for poor governance by Congress.  And the GOP were counting on that to depress his base.

Add to that the endless cycle of media stupid in October - ISIS!  Ebola! - and the election faded into a melange of apathy and fear.  And that fear was brokered by Fox News, who has been using scare quotes for the last 6 years.  The idea that Obama is a Socialist is absurd to anyone who really knows what Socialism is.

But now, the GOP has complete control of Congress.  And yet, they won't do anything on immigration, no matter how much time Obama gives them.  So he will act and the GOP will predictably overreact.

And that raises the stakes for 2016.

The preeminent moment for many progressives was the impeachment of Bill Clinton.  That stripped away any lingering idea that the Gingrich Republicans were anything but power-mad nihilists.  Impeaching Obama over this would merely reinforce that narrative.  The Congress of No.

Please proceed, Mr. Speaker...

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Falcons Win Ugly

Just to make me waste time thinking they might have a run in them...

Saturday, November 15, 2014


So, I went to a workshop on creativity on Thursday, as I mentioned before.  Interestingly, the keynote speaker was Jonah Lehrer, who has his own take on creative scholarship.  While it was a very stimulating day, I'm not sure what new practices will find its way into my teaching, but the ideas were somewhat provocative, so here they are:

Creativity is "simply connecting things." That was Steve Jobs' take on it.  It's a form of problem solving, where you take things that are already known and add those connections that create a new solution to that new problem.  The reason Newton and Leibniz both "invented" calculus at the same time, was because calculus was ready to be invented.

It appears that the essential component of creativity is not focusing on the problem.  Einstein said that creativity was the "residue of wasted time".  You have to be bored or otherwise occupied for the brain to offer up that eureka moment.  Archimedes in the bath is the classic example of being relaxed, not obsessed with the question and having the answer coming to you.  Alpha waves - that state of the brain when it's most relaxed - are the neurological condition for creative insight.

The result is that you can't always work your way to a new solution.  You can work the problem (you must work the problem) but then you almost always have to step away from the problem to get the epiphany you need.

Obviously, this does not comport with our schooling system.  Little kids are incredibly creative, but we train the creativity out of them.  The success of the Montessori system is in letting kids answer the questions that they are interested in, rather than force-feeding them standardized questions with one right answer.

There was an IQ test question that asked you to say which of the following objects was not like the others: a football, a basketball, a baseball and a soccer ball.

The thing is, the right answer is: any one of them.  The football is oblong.  The basketball is the only one without stitches.  The baseball is the only solid one.  The soccer ball is the only one played primarily with your feet.  But the test wanted football.  Which is right but stupid and certainly not creative.

One thing we hear from our Asian students is that they want to come to the US to learn creativity.  They are great at memorization and computation.  They make wonderful engineers.  But their system doesn't make great innovators.  Ironically, the US seems intent on trying to make the American school system more Asian at precisely the moment Asians are trying to capture what makes the American system great.

Of course, the second component of creativity is "grit", which Angela Duckworth has been working on.  Grit was defined as "loyalty to a goal." This allows you to work past the obstacles that appear before you.  You have the "ah ha!" moment but then you do the work necessary to turn that revelation into a product worthy of the idea.

What creates grit?  Duckworth suggests you build it by "choosing easy and working hard."  That means choosing the thing you love and working to master it.  If you do that enough, you can build grit that can transfer to other areas.  This is why athletes often succeed in life.  They don't have the highest SAT scores or GPAs, but they often go on to successful careers, because they have the grit necessary to work through problems.

You can also build grit by praising process rather than result.  If you praise the work rather than the end result, you build respect for the process.  If you praise the kid working through long division for the first time, you can build grit.  Otherwise, they just pull out the calculator or turn to the back of the book.  Cheating is the ultimate anti-grit.

The other key factor is having a "self-transcendent" mindset.  If you are working to help people - your teammates, your platoon, your company, your country, mankind - you are more likely to push through those obstacles.  Grit, by definition, is intrinsic rather than extrinsic.  It has to be present.  While praise-based teaching can create self-confidence, it can't create the grit that is necessary to succeed when things get tough.

Again, we have created an educational model that is increasingly results-based.  We focus on SAT scores, Common Core testing, AP exams and the college list that a school can show to prospective families.  This flies in the face of everything we are learning about teaching.  All good teaching is creative, because we are helping our students make those connections on their own for the first time.  But if we are constantly telling them that there is one answer and it's in the answer key, we are killing the creative process of education.

One of the real advantages of a private school education is that smaller class sizes can allow for more writing and more individual attention.  Writing is entirely about process, especially thesis writing.  My students are sitting in front of me writing an essay that asks them to "Support, modify or refute" a statement.  There is no right answer.  There is only the creative process of supporting whatever answer they have come up with.

Finally, creativity is increasingly a group activity.  As problems become more complicated, you have to enlist a wider range of expertise.  You either "succeed together or fail alone."  It is intellectual diversity that forces people to step outside their normal ruts and engage new perspectives.

Learning - I've come to feel - has to be uncomfortable.  To use the metaphor of the athlete again, you never improve if you never reach a breaking point in your training and if you never lose.  You have to enter that zone where you are gasping for breath, where you can't summon the old areas of expertise, where the old solutions fail.

The job of the teacher becomes that of guide and mentor through that process of discomfort.  You make your students feel safe being lost.  And then you show them ways to find their way out.  And then you do it again.  And again.  And again.

The answer is never at the back of the book.  There is no answer key.

Friday, November 14, 2014

St. Vincent

actually went to the theaters for family movie night and saw St. Vincent with Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy.  Absolutely wonderful movie.  Surprisingly touching and what's more its sentiment wasn't cheap.  What made the characters both noble and flawed was real and earned.

If Bill Murray doesn't get an Oscar nomination this time, someone needs to hang.

Thursday, November 13, 2014


Just got back from a day long conference on creativity.

If I can recover the lost night of sleep, I'll blog about it tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

What To Do With Social Media

So this happened.

And this.

And this.

At a time when it increasingly feels like various elites are more distant and uncaring than ever.  When the 1% had rigged the game.  When the government can't do anything to make people's lives better.

At a time like that, we've resorted to ironic, passive-aggressive Twitter campaigns.

If we didn't have the Internet, would be taking to the streets?

Monday, November 10, 2014

Policy RX

This is a very good take on the problems facing Democrats.  They have an advantage, in that people instinctively know that the GOP doesn't care about declining real wages.  But - as he notes - simply talking about rising inequality doesn't resonate with voters.  We are an aspirational society and want to grow up to be rich.  While the "lifestyles of the rich and famous" may elicit some moral tut-tutting and some anger on the fringes, it's not enough to motivate voters to vote in midterm elections.

Marshall is right that this is a tricky sell.  Running on "class warfare" won't win as many votes as running on a positive agenda.  He claims there isn't one out there.  Raising taxes on the wealthy will only move the needle somewhat.  However, I would argue that raising taxes on the 1% would give more money to the Treasury at a time when we should look to begin paying down our debt.

The other issue that several Democrats have started to flog - including Warren and Obama - is college tuition.  While we are struggling with globally depressed wages and structural weaknesses brought on by globalization, we can agree that the only real consistent options for economic advancement are in college, even two year colleges.

But they are so ridiculously expensive that college becomes a cost-benefit problem.  In fact, we see more social mobility in Europe now than in the US.  There are a lot of reasons for this, but part of it comes down to the affordability of college in Europe as compared to the US.

The other agenda item is wrapped up in Obamacare.  There are certain things we need in life to be happy: food, shelter, family, health... There are limits to what the state can do without upsetting various markets, but we know - empirically - that our health care markets don't work.  Part of the success of ACA has been it's retraining of the markets in certain ways.  But mainly it's about getting more people healthier for less money.

The question is where else are markets not fulfilling their promise.  Education and health care have always had difficulty harnessing market efficiencies.  But then again, it's market efficiencies that are causing wage deflation.  A robot makes more sense than a line worker, and the lack of line workers leads to the lack of wage inflation.

By making healthcare affordable and making education more affordable, you can increase the quality of life for people.  Wages ARE stagnant.  The 1% ARE making too much of our GDP.

And maybe we can never adequately address that, but we can make people's lives better.  And that has to be the message.  We have to kill the Reagan Lie: "Government isn't the solution to your problem, government is the problem."

As long as people believe the Reagan Lie, we will be powerless before the plutocracy.