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

Monday, January 31, 2011

Take the Time To Read This

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/01/24/110124fa_fact_gawande?currentPage=all

Atul Gawande in the New Yorker has become the most interesting writer about the REAL health care crisis in America.  In this piece he demonstrates something that seems instinctively right to me.  That efforts to control HC costs be restricting access to HC by raising co-pays - in effect by making it harder to go to the Doctor - actually increase HC costs in the long run.

Really good stuff.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

We Do Elections, We Don't Do Governance

Mama Grizzly turns out to be an awful backseat driver.

Frank Rich is a very good columnist.

I think what makes him so good, is that he is a former critic who has a critic's sharp eye for detail and narrative.  He also seems less invested in the usual narrative of DC based punditry, which inevitably collapses into discussions of electoral horseraces.

Today, Rich examines the dueling GOP responses to Obama's SOTU.

Now, opposition responses are notoriously lame.  (Rich calls it the "Bobby Jindal memorial slot.")  The empty studio and the vacant staring into the lens.  Bachmann got around that by staring off into space, but she at least broke new ground by not using the same lonely studio set.  Honestly, if I was the GOP, I'd have someone giving a speech before a partisan audience in Greenville, SC or something.

But Rich does more than address the optics of the rebuttals.  He notes two important things.

First, Obama is adopting Reagan's political optimism.  This sent some Leftward commentators into a tizzy, bemoaning Obama's adoption of American Exceptionalism.  Now, you can doubt American Exceptionalism as being reality-based, but you can't doubt it's political effectiveness.  Reagan was popular because he was optimistic after a decade of decay and negativity.  To adopt that posture two years ahead of the next election is smart politics.

And Rich notes that the GOP fell swiftly into the trap set up by Obama's optimistic speech.  Paul Ryan's speech was a catalog of woe and despair.  Some of that despair might be accurate, but no one listened to the first Cassandra either.

But that gets to the second and more important point.  The GOP and the Tea Party spent the year wailing about the deficit and Obamacare and much of their rebuttal was involved in wailing about that some more.

I think because they won the House so soon after getting drubbed that they assumed that it was their message about deficits and Obamacare that won them the House.

As Rich notes a CNN poll pretty much dispels the idea that the American people voted in the GOP to reduce the deficit.  They voted for them because they were angry about the job situation.  And because the Tea Party and the GOP in general came out to vote more so than did the Democrats.  A fired up base and an unemployed public gave them control of the House, not anger over Obamacare and rising deficits.

Tellingly, the GOP has trouble actually addressing the deficit.  Obama has some decent ideas about reorganizing the Executive branch to reduce redundancy and increase efficiency.  That won't make a huge dent in the debt, but the dirty fact is that little will.

To cut the deficit by reducing spending, you have to address three areas.  First, Medicare needs to be addressed, and Obamacare makes a decent attempt at that.  But the GOP ran on death panels and repealing it, so what would Ryan and Bachmann say about reining in Medicare costs?  Nothing.  Only comprehensive HCR will deal with it.  Obamacare may or may not solve the problem, but it should be given a chance to show what it can do.

Second, defense spending has to be reined in.  The problem there is that much of defense spending is also a jobs program for powerful congressional districts.  For every stupid, unnecessary weapons system we axe, we kill jobs.  Guess what Americans think is more important right now?  Some in the Tea Party have talked about cutting defense, and if they do follow through in a Left-Right coalition to cut some egregious examples of wasteful defense spending.... well, you'll be able to color me surprised.  Just because Gates, the Tea Party and the Progressive Caucus want to cut defense spending doesn't mean the mandarins of the Congress will let it happen.

Thirdly, you have discretionary spending (Social Security doesn't add to the deficit and can be easily fixed by ending the cap on payroll taxes.).  But the idea that there are billions of dollars to be cut in discretionary spending is false and folly.  Once the Teahadists start talking about what they will actually cut, people say, well, I don't cut that!  Let's cut education, cancer research, highway construction, environmental protection, food safety and veteran's benefits and ride that to an electoral majority!!!

This goes back to the central point about the GOP since the age of Nixon.  They are very good at winning elections.  But ultimately they don't really pursue a governing policy that works.  Bush Sr was a pretty good foreign policy president, but overall, you have most GOP administration riddled with corruption and creating the unsustainable climate of tax cuts and increased defense spending, while never cutting the entitlement and discretionary spending that people actually like and, more importantly, need.

America has to raise taxes.  That is the only serious position when it comes to reducing the deficit.  Obama said he would end the Bush tax cuts on the top earners.  While inadequate to closing the gap, it's a lot more serious than what the rebuttalists said about raising taxes.  Which, as you might have guessed, was nothing at all.

Which, interestingly enough, was what they said about creating jobs, improving education or doing anything at all that the American people say is important right now.

Well played.

Friday, January 28, 2011

You Say You Want a Revolution

Let the wolves fear the bunnies.

Fascinating developments out of the Middle East, where the protests in Tunisia have emboldened activists in Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Lebanon and Algeria.

We've walked a short way down this path before, when we had the so-called Cedar Revolution in Lebanon a few years back.  That went mostly nowhere.  We also had the Green Revolution in Iran, which also went mostly nowhere.

As some noted during the Cedar Revolution, this is a logical outgrowth of the Bush Doctrine.  Unfortunately, as we've seen in the Palestinian Authority and Lebanon, democracy in the Middle East often leads to Islamism.  Which is exactly what the Bush Doctrine was supposed to defeat.  Oops.  What made Tunisia interesting is the absence of a sizable Islamist presence among the protestors.  Egypt, however, has a sizable and angry Islamist community.  Ayman Al Zawahiri - the co-leader of Al Qaeda - is Egyptian, and Egyptians made up a sizable part of the command structure of Al Qaeda.

This is a real test for American foreign policy.  On the one hand, until the people of Middle East have some form of representative government, the region will remain a simmering cauldron of anger, despair and violence.

On the other hand, without real democratic institutions - most especially a solid foundation of the rule of law - we could see important Middle Eastern countries slip into an anti-Western Islamist stance.

It's a classic example of "be careful what you wish for".

Mubarak's days are necessarily numbered.  The guy won't live forever, and dictatorships like his are unlikely to transfer easily to heirs.  In a perfect world, we could see some important liberal reforms come out of this unrest, a sort of guided illiberal democracy, like Tunisia has had for the past decade.

Then, when the regime does fall, there might be some important institutions to hold the crazier elements at bay.

Too bad we don't live in a perfect world.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Brief Thought on a Busy Day

The rest of this post is kind of depressing, so I thought I'd start you off with a peep show.

Very busy, but I've been mulling a thought over in my head.

What is integrity?

I've assumed it means acting according to one's principles, even when that is unpleasant.

I value integrity, but one of my favorite quotes is from John Marshall Harlan, "I would rather be right than consistent."

If you are inflexible in your principles, you wind up doing stupid things.  For instance, the GOP principles focus on a smaller government.  But if you follow that path far enough, you cripple the nation.  Democratic principles include helping those that need help, but you take that far enough and you create a culture of dependence.

So, I guess, if you're going to have integrity, you have be very careful what your principles are.  I suppose that's where understanding virtue comes in.  Something specific, like helping those that need help, is less defensible than, say, charity or empathy.

It seems to me that the problem we have with integrity today is as much a problem with virtue and understanding what virtues are than it is about remaining steadfast in your principles.

But that's not to say that we also don't live in a world where virtues - narrow and broad - are not violated with stunning ease.  Too often, we don't live up to even a generous definition of integrity.  Too often we violate the important virtues that are supposed to represent the core of our beliefs.

When you are a private school teacher, you have to believe you are doing virtuous work to create people with integrity and values who will make the world prosper.  Unprotected by a union, you are usually compensated less than comparable teachers in public schools.  So it's important that you believe that your calling is a noble one.

Unfortunately, we live in an imperfect world, and certainly not a virtuous one.  And every once and a while you come face to face with the realization that this is an imperfect world and that virtue is not a value, it's a fungible commodity whose worth fluctuates with events.  And because you've staked your career on a premise that's likely to prove impossible to fulfill, it makes a hard job tougher.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Party Like It's 1799!

A crazy, neo-Confederate, or as the GOP calls him: "The Base"

Yahoo has a story about a bunch of dumbass GOP state lawmakers around the country seeking to use nullification to stop... well, aside from HCR, they want to make local sheriffs the ultimate legal authority in Texas or something.

The article could almost be in The Onion.  Here's my favorite excerpt:


In 1799, Jefferson wrote in the Kentucky Resolutions that "nullification ... is the rightful remedy." Jefferson created the doctrine to express his disgust with the Alien and Sedition Acts that were enacted by then-President John Adams during the war with France.
Idaho Republican Sen. Monty Pearce said the then-future president's words underpin nullification advocates' chief contention: States never relinquished final say over federal matters.
"He was at the Constitutional Convention," Pearce said. "He understood how this whole thing was going to be set up."
Actually, Jefferson was far away, in France, as the framers met in 1787 in Philadelphia to replace the Articles of Confederation.(italics mine)

You can see here the full range of GOP stupidity on display.  The stunning lack of understanding of both constitutional law and history, combined with the pig ignorant certainty that they are right.

First, the Sedition Act was unconstitutional.  It made it illegal to criticize government officials in print or speech.  It was a clear violation of the First Amendment.

But in 1799, the Supreme Court had not yet acquired for itself the power of judicial review.  The question of who had the final say as to whether a law was unconstitutional or not has yet to be decided.  Most presidential vetoes up until Andrew Jackson's day were based on constitutional principles, rather than whether a president agreed with a law.  James Madison famously vetoed a public works/infrastructure bill that he thought would be a great thing for the country, because he felt it was unconstitutional.

So, Jefferson's assertion in the Kentucky Resolution was just his opinion.  When Madison penned the similar Virginia Resolution, it was much less strident.  And tellingly, not a single additional state signed on to the idea of nullification.  While it is important that their be a final arbiter of the constitutionality of something, having the states decide is not feasible.

Four years later, John Marshall created the power of judicial review in Marbury vs Madison, and fleshed out the idea of federal supremacy in McCulloch vs Maryland.  Those two decisions are the underpinning of most constitutional law.  In his own way, John Marshall was just as important a founder as Jefferson.

But Marshall doesn't sit well with the reactionary historical illiterates that make up the current GOP.

Here's another gem:

In Alabama, a version of nullification sponsored last year by Republican Sen. Scott Beason passed the Senate, but died in a Democrat-led House committee. He'll resurrect it this year.
"A lot people say, if the Supreme Court decides that it is constitutional, you have to live with it. My feeling is, the people should have the final say," Beason told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "Frankly, the only recourse people have is for the states to try to flex some sovereignty muscle."

In this one, we see Hofstadter's paranoid style in American politics in full flower.  Those "activist" judges shouldn't be allowed to interpret the Constitution, the Murican peeple should.  The problem is, as we have seen from Mssrs Pearce and Beason, most Americans know sh** about the Constitution.

Judicial review and the idea of common law precedent extend back BEFORE the founding of this country to England and the creation of representation government and the rule of law.  You don't get to nullify a law you don't like.

The people ARE sovereign.  But they have also created a constitutional framework to run a large and complicated country.  The Constitution is the supreme law of the land.  That has to be, or the whole system, the whole country breaks down.

The story ends with Idaho Republicans brandishing a book written by a neo-Confederate who has urged a second secession movement.

I have written about this before.  I guess I will have to keep writing about it.

The "Tea Party" is the conservative wing of the GOP and that's being charitable.  They aren't conservative, they are reactionary.  And they are fundamentally at odds, ironically, with the Constitution.  The document that they all claim to revere and cherish, is actually something they don't really understand at all.

We tried a loose confederation of states, where the states were sovereign and independent, if confederated.  It failed.  Miserably.  They tried a similar confederation scheme in the South from 1860-1865.  It proved almost impossible to run, too.  That's why they created the Constitution.

But the historical record or even centuries of constitutional law has no bearing on them or their arguments.

They like Jefferson, because of the offhand quip about "the blood of patriots and tyrants" watering the "tree of liberty."  Forget that Jefferson was a physical coward for a second, let's also remember that as President, Jefferson bought Louisiana in direct contradiction to his constitutional principles.

He then imposed a devastating embargo that crippled New England and American commerce in general.  He did so to keep us out of war, but the constitution had to be stretched in a very Hamiltonian/Marshallesque way to accommodate it.

See, that's the problem with taking Jefferson as your political guidestar; he's too erratic.  Good luck keeping up with the various Jeffersons running around the historical record.  But that turns out to be OK, since the Tea Party doesn't actually care about the historical record.

But ultimately, the Tea Partiers are really only interested in the fact that there is someone they didn't vote for in the White House.  And that makes that person illegitimate and a tyrant.  Distorting the history and traditions of this country is but a small price to pay, if you believe Obama to be illegitimate.  Or Bill Clinton, for that matter.  Race enters into it, but really there are a bunch of people in America who can't stand to lose an election.

The people ARE sovereign.  They spoke.  They elected the skinny guy from Illinois handily.

That doesn't give anyone the right to secede or nullify anything.

Whether his name is Abraham or Barack, you have to abide by the results of elections.

How Did Obama Fail You Last Night

Woman attempts to tackle and maul Socialist Neoliberal Muslim Communist.

I really like some of the people going after Obama's speech.  Digby, teacherken, Brad DeLong... These are bright commentators, people whose opinion I trust.

But honestly, I can't understand why they can't give this guy a break.

DeLong said, implausibly, that the difference between an Obama Administration and a Romney Administration was DADT repeal and Elizabeth Warren.  That Romney would have advanced RomneyCare, which is really ObamaCare.  To understand the stupidity of that line of thinking, just look at what Romney is saying now about his own plan.

Others have been saying how Obama is "adopting GOP talking points."  OMG, HE'S A CENTRIST!!!  JUST LIKE WE'VE KNOWN ALL ALONG!!!!

The speech polled off the charts.  Obama has created a clear delineation between his vision of government and the GOP.  He has called for a government who actively pursues policies that will improve the lives of the American people.  Paul Ryan calls for "pain".  Obama sees a bright future, Ryan decries America's collapse.

Obama set a tone for the coming debate.  He's daring the GOP to oppose it.  He's setting the agenda for the 2012 campaign.

Sorry he didn't call for everything every liberal ever wanted.  Sorry he - once again - bent to the political realities of America today.

The Democratic Party will rise or fall in 2012 depending on how well the economy recovers and how well people think Obama is doing his job.  It will depend on whose vision of the future they trust.  It seems to me that Obama crafted a vision last night that will resonate with a lot of people.

One commentator who I thought got it right was Matthew Yglesias who noted that Obama HAD to make a broad argument over governing philosophy rather than a laundry list (or Ezra Klein's demand for "specifics").  He notes it's because Obama has little chance of actually getting legislation through the House.  That's true, as I said, he's "heightening the contradictions".  But a lot of Americans wanted a speech that made them feel good about their country and their future.  Quite a few pundits invoked Reagan.

Now, invoking Reagan is sure to make heads explode on the Left, but the point is, Reagan's optimism was the source of his popularity more than his cutting top marginal tax rates.  Reagan had a crappy economy and a drifting sense of national purpose.  His charisma cloaked an odious redistribution of wealth upwards.

If Obama can capture that same sense of national renewal, he can also change the very terms of debate on the role of government.

But someone compared him to Reagan on the TeeVee, so he must be ready to gut Social Security because I read it on FDL.

Your Wednesday Take Down

Sadly, No! gives the Fire Joe Morgan treatment to some "Pastor" who has a tenuous grasp of facts and no grasp of English grammar.

http://www.sadlyno.com/archives/34418.html

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Why I Won't Be Watching the SOTU

Obama prepares to snack on a little white baby before his State of the Union Address

I will read the SOTU.  I will watch clips of it around the Internets.  But I won't watch it live.

First, the compelling presidential address of January 2011 has already been made in Tucson.

Second, the SOTU is boring.  An interminable round of speechus interruptus as Congresscritters of both stripes erupt into applause like spastic four year olds at a puppet show.  "Tax cuts!  Yippee!"  "He said America is awesome!  That's awesome!"

Third, to watch live means you might get sucked into a roundtable afterwards.  You might be innocently watching the President speak, get up to go to the bathroom and come back and accidentally be exposed to a roundtable of Michael Beschloss, Joe the Plumber and Keith Olberman's lingering aura of resentment.

No one needs that.

So, if you're watching, good luck, and God bless.

UPDATE:  I read it.  It's quite good, if a little long.  I've heard enough of his speeches, so I can hear the cadence in my head.  He hits some emotional high notes, like his ending about the company that helped rescue the Chilean miners.  Oh, and he calls teachers "nation builders".  Which was cool.

UPDATE 2: Watched a bit.  Always looking over the shoulder of the Prez, I noticed that Boehner actually disappears into his leather chair like a green screen.  And Biden looks remarkably like this guy:

UPDATE THE THIRD: I read Ezra Klein's take and a few others on the SOTU.  Why would any normal person want to be President with the abuse they get?  Klein goes off on Obama's lack of specifics in the speech, like this was a bad thing.  Because if the President had only put a dollar amount on his education proposals, then the House would've passed them?  He griped that the speech was more philosophical than policy.  

No kidding!  That's what Obama is doing!  He wants to be the Democratic Reagan, changing the way we look at government, changing the way we interact with government.  He is offering a different philosophical vision of what government is and can be.  THAT is what being a transformational president means!

Let Paul Ryan propose cutting everything that doesn't shoot Ay-rabs or buy old people's votes.  Obama is trying to shift the ground in American politics.  It seems pretty obvious to me, but I'm just a dumbassed teacher.  No.  Wait.

I'm a nation builder.  Suck on it, Ezra!

UPDATE QUATRO: Man, I just read a thread at DailyKos showing the speech had a 92% favorability rating and the hating was so strong I need a shower.

"Why didn't Obama explicitly tell me what I wanted to hear?  SELLOUT!"

Ugh.

The Death of the Polymath

Don't know nothing 'bout Geography...

Ginandtacos has a piece about some wanker complaining about the quality of Rhodes Scholars candidates these days.  Because, yes, that's the problem with America right now.

There seems to be a broad consensus developing in the comments that one of the problem is that undergraduate education has become too pre-professional and the old liberal arts generality has died out.

I have no doubt this is true.  On the other hand, I can see from first hand experience that the high school I both went to and teach at has worked at creating a more varied curriculum.  Only a few super-bright kids took BC Calculus when I was a student.  Now we have kids taking it their junior year.  Some even take it their sophomore year, but they're east Asian, so we won't include them, I guess.

One of the trends I've noticed in our discussions about teaching, and one change I made in my own teaching since I came here, is the idea that "knowing things" is less important than "thinking."

Thomas Jefferson and James Madison could legitimately read all the important texts on political theory in a year (or less).  Today, there are books, journals, scholarly paper...and that's just on the American system of government.  Want to know the differences between Myanmar and North Korea?  Let's go to the Internet!

The idea that colleges are now just tracking people into pre-professional grooves is, I guess, a legitimate concern.  However, I think people are missing the fluidity of knowledge.  Someone who is a science geek in high school and goes on to be a chem major in college so that they can invent a polymer from soy that will replace petroleum based plastics is someone who has a certain way of thinking.  They aren't going to get much from a Comp Lit course.

Now, they should be - and likely are - required to take some general introductory courses across the curriculum.  But once they have slogged their way through their three English courses, and their language requirement, they will become immersed in a way of thinking that typifies the sciences in general and chemistry in particular.

No matter what they wind up doing the rest of their life, they will approach most mental problems from the perspective of a science guy.

To put it another way, my father and father-in-law are both litigators, and they seem to see most questions through the viewpoint of their professional mindset.  I see most issues as a teacher would.

This does not prohibit me from reading up on science or poetry or art.  But it does provide a filter through which I see the world.

There is too much knowledge in the world to be a generalist - a polymath - anymore.  Isaiah Berlin's idea of the fox and hedgehog is still valid, but foxes don't "know" everything.  They know a little bit about a lot of things.  Because that's the type of thinker they are.

Today's "foxes" will still have to declare a major.  They will still have to find a firm point on which to stand, a rock of perspective as the tides and eddies of knowledge swirl around them.

If we are going to lament the decline of the broad-based liberal arts education, then we need to surrender the internet, the human genome, smart-phones, smart-drugs and any other advance in human knowledge and content ourselves with the world of Jefferson and Madison.

You remember?  The one without antibiotics or electric lightbulbs.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Bwa Ha!


At the latest DLC/Third Way meeting: Evan Bayh is the one without the beard.

So... First Evan Bayh retires, because of the awful, no good rotten effect that money has on politics, and by golly, he just wants to be a public servant, goshdarnit, like dear old dad.

And, less than a month out of office, he has gone-as Ezra puts it-right through the revolving door, into a huge private equity firm that deals in public policy issues.

To sum up: Evan Bayh wants to be an honorable public servant, is dismayed that people think ill of politicians for having to raise money, quits handing his seat to a slimy former lobbyist, becomes a slimy Wall Street guy.

Capitalism!

I'm counting the seconds until Lieberman goes to work with him.

I realize that the Democratic party can't appear hostile to business.

But they can at least wait a decent spell before selling themselves out.

While Rome Burns...


I think this says it all:

"You know the drill: global warming isn’t happening, if it is happening then it’s not caused by human behavior, if it is caused by human behavior then we can’t do anything about it, if it is caused by human behavior and we can do something about it, then that something is too expensive, if it is caused by human behavior and we can do something about it that is not too expensive, then that something is not what Democrats are proposing. And Al Gore is fat, he flies too much, look at his electricity bill, and sometimes when he goes somewhere it snows there, which is very ironic."

http://www.balloon-juice.com/2011/01/24/al-gore-is-fat-4/

Master Yoda Has Taught You Well

Is this Ross Douthat's license plate?

I've spent the last few years avoiding David Brooks' columns in the Times, because my reaction always seems to run along the same grooves.

"Hmm, that's an interesting point, grounded in the essential, attitudinal conservatism as typified by Brooks' hero, Edmund Burke."

"Wait.  What was that?"

"Are you kidding me?  You start there and wind up here?"

To create an example, Brooks might say, "Everyone loves puppies as symbols of frolicsome innocence." And you would say, "Why, yes, I do love puppies."

Then Brooks would write, "But puppies have sharp teeth and tend to chew things."  And you say, "This is why we train puppies, David.  So they don't chew things.  It part of being a pet owner.  Where are you going with this?"

And then he concludes with, "And this is why we can't fund health care reform because it might end up chewing the furniture."  And you sit there, your jaw agape, and wonder what happened to the New York Times.  You wonder about the death of metaphor and the fact that while Brooks is ambivalent about torturing terror suspects ("Burke would not approve.  Maybe."), he is not above torturing the English language and logic itself.

People have taken to calling Ross Douthat "Chunky Bobo" in honor of his being the "other" conservative on the Times Op-Ed page (I guess Friedman doesn't count.).

Today's column is right in the tradition of Brooksian logic twisting.

He begins with a good enough point: Republicans could try and destroy the ACA reform by attacking those parts that are unpopular, like the revenue streams and the mandate.  But if they do so, ACA goes from being deficit neutral to a deficit buster.

Now, let's pause for a moment and reflect on this Brooksian masterpiece.  First, is the assumption that "conservative" as defined today, has anything to do with the "conservatism" of, say, Hoover or Grover Cleveland.  As they demonstrated in December, the "conservatives" of the GOP don't care a fart in a hurricane about the deficit.  They want to cut budgets and give tax breaks to millionaires.  That is literally their entire reason for being.

But, OK, the current Cantor approach of making HCR appear ugly by making it ugly is not good "conservatism".  I think it's a silly point, but I'll grant it, Ross, if only to move this along.

He then does his first Brooksian pivot.  He identifies three "conservative" critiques of HCR.  It doesn't force people to deal with their actual HC costs, it might force employers to stop offering HC because there is now an individual pool and the usual claptrap about the death of liberty.

The first problem is kind of the point of insurance, isn't it?  I kind of sort of fell off the roof yesterday breaking up ice dams.  I decided my swelling thumb and ever so slight concussion (if it was one) were not worth the time to sit in the ER.  But that was MY decision, not a decision made because I couldn't afford to go to the ER.  The previous Saturday I went and sat three hours in a walk-in clinic because I had an ear infection, and I was not going to wait until Monday to get antibiotics.

What I didn't have to do was decide whether to go to the clinic/ER based on my ability to pay for that AND my kids' sneakers/food/winter clothing.  This returns to the fallacy that HC costs are like any other costs.  "Hey, I can get another 50,000 miles out of my car" is not the same as "Hey, I can get another 5 years out of my kidneys."

Second is another pseudo-economic argument that is again based on a cost-benefit analysis model unfamiliar to people in the real world.  Employers offer health insurance - if they do - because the competition does, too.  This is why Denny's doesn't offer insurance, because Arby's doesn't either.  Insurance is part of an employee inducement package.  It is part of the compensation that induces a worker to stay with whatever company.  If a company says, "Screw you, buy your own insurance through the exchanges." They will have to pony up money to help cover that.  And it will likely be more expensive than negotiating a group plan.  Not to mention, people won't want to work for that company.

The third argument is just stupid.

So, the first pivot is full of things that sound plausible, but are really nonsense.  Brooks would be proud.

He then gets to his prescriptive part where he leaves you thinking, "What?  Why did I read this?"

His first solution: deregulation!  Why?  Because f*** you, deregulation is the answer to everything!!! Did you not pay attention to the booming economy of the Bush years?

He then proposes tinkering around with the mandate, in ways that Ezra Klein already examined more intelligently and pretty much dismissed.  Klein also linked to a bunch of HC experts who also said that Douthat's "solution" is pretty weak tea.

At the end, you're left thinking, "This numbnuts has no idea what the purpose of insurance is.  He doesn't understand that the point is to spread the risk so that when you fall off the roof, you're covered.  When you suddenly up and get cancer, you're covered.  He thinks buying insurance is like buying socks."

And then you read this.  And you see Douthat say that, "Screw reform, we're all going to die anyway."  And you realize the sociopathy that lies in the gentle, Burkean heart of "conservatives" like Brooks and Douthat.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Saturday Sanity Post

January is death for teachers and students.  It's a long, slow, dark march into fatigue and oblivion.  Many colleges don't even meet regular classes in January.

Anyway, today was one of those days when I just felt like I'd been beating my head against the same damn wall for too long.  The great thing about working with kids is that every day is different.  The worst part is every year is the same.

So, as a measure of impulsive solace, I bought a CD, which I rarely do anymore.  I'm glad I did.  It was excellent.  I first heard of The Decemberists when they opened for an Obama rally in Portland.  The rally drew about 75,000 people and right wing talkers and bloggers opined that the only reason people showed up was to hear the opening band, The Decemberists.  To which almost everyone outside of the greater Portland area said, "Who the hell are The Decemberists.

Turns out... They are AWESOME.  Their new album The King Is Dead is tremendous.

Have a listen:

Friday, January 21, 2011

Obama: Accidental Deficit Hawk

America's first gay commando unit does NOT in fact train to show tunes.

So, the GAO is using all those facty type things, like the CBO, to make "points" based on "evidence".

In this case, the Pentagon's DADT policy probably cost the taxpayer $200M over five years in troop retraining.
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110120/ap_on_re_us/us_gays_in_military

Now, $200M is about a weekend's worth of fighting in Khost, but still.  As aggravating as Obama's "Vulcan" persona can be, as exasperating as his seeming passivity in the face of BS attacks can be, the fact is he seems remarkably dedicated to creating a government that works from a purely pragmatic stand point.  And in so doing, he creates a government that does the right thing, more often than not.  (Don't get me started in Gitmo.)

So much of what he has done or wants to do makes sense on the two levels of moral decency and governmental efficiency, that they really should be no-brainers.

Unfortunately, he has an opposition party that seems driven by brainlessness.

Is Our Children Learning?

You're telling me...

As someone who grew up in the South, I still love a snow fall.  The beautiful, soft, lazy descent of snow into a world of quiet remains among the loveliest experiences in nature.

But can we knock it off please?

My kids haven't been to a full week of school in a few weeks and aren't likely to get a full week in next week either.  Also, too, we're looking at absolutely frigid temperatures for the foreseeable future that will make cleaning up and digging out a real chore.

It wasn't bad enough that Alaska had to foist Palin on us, now they are exporting their weather, too.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Murphy to Run for Lieberman Seat

Send this man to the Senate before he steals my wife away...


I can't find the YouTube announcement so here's the link:
http://www.chrismurphy.com/page/s/askchris

And here's where to give:
https://donate.chrismurphy.com/page/contribute?source=insidenav

Because...

A) He's a really good guy, a good representative - I've met him three times, I think - and really bright and principled.

B) If he becomes a Senator, he'll be too busy to steal my wife away.  Seriously, dear.  He's already married and so are we.

From Tucson to Spokane

From Doughboy to Stormtrooper in Washington State

You may or may not have heard about the bomb plot to attack a Martin Luther King Day parade in Spokane, Washington.  Here.

Basically a pretty horrific IED was found and removed by police thanks to a diligent citizen, and we were spared a redux of Tucson, but on steroids.

Spokane is in Eastern Washington, which is much closer to Idaho's Aryan Nation belt than to Seattle's vegan coffee shops.

There were moments in American history when the Left - broadly speaking - engaged in acts of political violence.  The anarchists in the turn of the 19th century, the Weathermen of the 1960s and '70s.  I suppose there are others.  Labor agitation could be lumped in, but most labor violence was a two way street - a running battle between capital and labor where both sides resorted to violence, because the gulf between their world views was simply too broad.  But it mostly comes down to anarchists and Sixties radicals.

First of all, the anarchists were nuts.  They were a fringe of the fringe of the outliers of the extremists.  American Socialists like Eugene Debs tended to look towards elections rather than violence.  For every bomb throwing anarchist, there were a dozen Socialists or union organizers shaking their heads and bemoaning the dipweeds who made them look bad.

For every self-important student radical and uber-macho Black Panther, there was a dozen MLKs and RFKs sighing for their country.

I understand why Watts rioted in 1965.  I understand that despair ultimately leads to extreme measures.  And LBJ's plaintive whine about "How could they do that to me after all I've done for them" is narcissism at its LBJ finest.

But when we look at most leftist violence in America - with the exception of the anarchists and a few dozen Weathermen - we see people in desperate economic straits bucking a system that has left them marginalized and impoverished.

What do we make of people who leave IEDs along parade routes?  What do we make of people who park car bombs outside federal buildings?  Or fly plans into IRS buildings?

As Louis C.K. puts it, "It's objectively great to be white."  And yet when we see these white supremacists and one world conspiracy nuts, we see people who are wedded to their own victimization so tightly, that they can't acknowledge the ridiculousness of a white American resorting to violence to protest persecution.

Journalists and public officials are not supposed to speculate, but I'm neither.  The person who left the IED on the sidewalk in Spokane was a white supremacist.  With the possible exception of Haymarket Square, I can't think of a single comparable effort by the Left.  I can think of Oklahoma City.  And I can think of Tucson, too.

I realize that suspicion of the government is a part of America's political culture, but it has to be replaced with skepticism.  Suspicion - wild, baseless, evidence free - is creating a climate of paranoia that leads to violence. It is worth noting that liberals hated Bush and Cheney more than any figure in a long time, but when Obama was inaugurated, threats against the president rose by 300%.  That for all of the left's problems with Bush, the left never bombed anything.  No one raked the White House with AK-47 fire or flew their plan into a building (OK, no Americans did that).  They did those last two to Clinton.

And no one on the Right attacked the government with violence either.  Not for eight years.

It doesn't take advanced thinking to come to the conclusion that for the Right, government is only legitimate when the Right runs things.  And please don't feed me tired BS about resisting government encroachment on liberties.  Obama has done NOTHING comparable to the Patriot Act, or the military surveillance apparatus set-up under Poindexter, and the most egregious "federal takeover" is hardly more intrusive than No Child Left Behind or Medicare Plan D.

We have entered an era where about 10% or so of the population simply cannot countenance a Democrat president.  That it is illegitimate simply by being a Democrat.

And you combine those people with Glenn Beck-Sarah Palin-Rush Limbaugh-Michelle Bachman and add a sprinkle of gun laws so loose that Somalis would be chagrined, you have a very dangerous time period.

I think liberals have been saying this for about two years now.  Which is why when Tucson happened, they immediately said, "I told you so."

Loughner does not fit into any neat ideological boxes, but he is clearly part of the paranoid fear of government.  And that climate does not exist in a vacuum or simply within the disturbed reaches of his mind.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Your Wednesday Evening Takedown

This is just toooooo good.

Colbert on, well, Palin Fatigue I guess.

http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2011/1/19/937369/-Late-afternoon-early-evening-open-thread

Your Wednesday Morning Takedown

Since we've all taken the civility pledge except TBogg, I'll let him stand apart.

This one is short and to the point, and really the only thing that stands out is the name of Sarah Palin's great-granddaughter.
http://tbogg.firedoglake.com/2011/01/18/in-the-year-2525-or-thereabouts/

If you want a more in-depth takedown, nothing beats a good literary assassination civil disagreement.

http://www.slate.com/blogs/blogs/scocca/archive/2011/01/18/david-brooks-makes-fun-of-more-people-and-things-that-don-t-exist.aspx

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Boy, I Had a Great Post Almost Written

Too many late night shots of milk at Rick's Cafe Americain have robbed me of my recall.

I read something really interesting about American education the other day.  Basically, someone took all those test scores that show that American high school graduates are lucky not to drown by staring up at the rain, and then correlated them for the wealth of the school districts.

What this study found was that American students who come from wealthy school districts - where classes are smaller and education is valued within that community - are at the Top O'The World!  America's best schools produce students who achieve as well as any students anywhere.

But, as we are learning, about 30-40% of school age children live in poverty.  They live in communities where education has no value in and of itself.  Their schools are overcrowded and often underfunded.  Their parents often have minimal education themselves.

They drag down the average.

I've been saying that for years, that it's not fair to compare the average American to the Chinese students who come to America for college, because the Chinese student who shows up is gleaned from the top of the top of a country of 1.2 billion people.  But while I've taught some ridiculously talented Chinese students, I've also taught some ridiculously talented American students, too.

Anyway, it would be a really awesome post... If I could find the study, but I'm becoming aware of the long term effects on my brain from twelve years of rugby.

Hey, Joe, Where You Going With That Glum In Your Hands

Lieberman rides off into history...

So, the Senior Senator from my state is retiring.  

I have to say, I'm ambivalent.  I would have much preferred he lose at the polls to a dignified withdrawals and his inevitable setting up camp the in the Green Room of Meet the Press, as he spends the next two years as the voice of official DC approved bipartisanship.

It's a somewhat oddly timed decision.  He was the legitimate hero of DADT repeal, and I suppose he could have pivoted hard left off of that.  Or maybe despite being a mensch on the issue, his polls numbers remained anchored here in CT.  And part of me always worried that he'd slip through the grasp of the electoral grim reaper once more, as he did in his mendacious 2006 campaign.  So that part of me is glad he's not running at all.

Part of me suspects that he got assurances from the Obama team that if he drops out now and allows either Bysiewicz or Murphy a chance to get a leg up on the election, he will be given some post in 2012.

I could see Secretary of Defense.  It would allow them to keep a hawk in that post, but one who seems committed to DADT repeal and has spent a long time on the Senate Armed Forces committee as well as Homeland Security.

I'm not saying I approve of the move, but I could see it happening.  With Malloy in the Governor's Mansion, I could see Lieberman taking over the Pentagon even sooner if the Dems want to anoint an heir.  

At this point I have to say that I've met Chris Murphy a few times, and despite the unseemly crush my wife has on him, he's a great guy and a tremendous public servant.  I don't know Bysiewicz that well, but he would be my first choice.

I also want to point out for those who know me, that in keeping with the President's call for more civility in our public discourse I did not call Lieberman a ^#U#%%@**%#&$)#&# like I wanted to.

UPDATE: McCain agrees with me, so I must be wrong.
http://tbogg.firedoglake.com/2011/01/19/gonna-put-it-in-the-dont-want-ads/

Not With A Bang But A Whimper

The Cutting Edge of Journalistic Technology

I went with Thing Two (he survived his face plant off the roof of the car just fine, thank you) to the local fishwrap/newspaper's offices as part of his Cub Scout stuff.

We got a tour of the building, which was the old regional headquarters of the New Haven Railway.  It was a beautiful building, mostly brick with some Italian tilework on the ceiling and a massive clock tower that looms over the city.

In the lobby is a replica of the Pulitzer Prize they won for uncovering a scandal back in 1939.  There is another prize for coverage of a scandal in the early '80s.  There were no prizes for the scandals of the '90s or '00s.  John Rowland was not uncovered by the paper.  And the sordid sex scandals surrounding Giordano apparently weren't broken by the paper.

Or, maybe, it was because Rowland and Giordano were part of the Republican machine in the city and the paper was a reliable organ of the GOP - and still is.  You read the editorial page at your peril.  There is not a lot of diversity of opinion when the "liberal" columnist is probably George Will.  But this is one of the more reliably Republican areas in Connecticut, so it's probably not a surprise that the paper would reflect that.

What I found more interesting was the milieu of the place.  It seemed sad and sickly.  Despite the beauty of the architecture, the space felt old and tired.  Yellowed like an old page of newsprint.  I saw a few computers that seemed to date back before the millennium, though most seemed only a little out of date.

I realize a lot has been said about the death of the newspaper industry, and I can't say that my visit did anything to dissuade me that newspapers - as they currently exist - are doomed.

But I also can't figure out what will replace them.

Our town paper comes out once a week and is put together in a little storefront on Main Street, and it's a piece of garbage.  The writing is atrocious, usually achieving confusion when clarity is needed.  The lede is often buried, the important information left out and the quotes mangled.  We have a fairly dysfunctional government in our town, where the budget is voted on by 20% of the voters, most of whom are ancient and inclined to defund the school system.  I can't help but believe that the incredible incompetence of the town paper contributes to the maladies of town governance.

Which is my way of saying that good reporting and good journalism are essential to a functioning democratic society.  As Jefferson put it (I'm paraphrasing poorly), "I would rather have news papers without government than government without newspapers."

So, how do we preserve the important role that newspapers play while acknowledging that the old way of running a paper is dying?

While waiting in a health clinic this past Saturday I had hard copy of the Times, which I usually don't read. It was a wonderful experience to leaf through the paper, better than opening the Times homepage and seeing their headlines, I could flip through the pages and articles I might have missed would catch my eye.

There is going to be something lost when papers are wholly online.  In many ways we are going to lose the generality of the paper and replace it with the specificity of the Internet.  We will reinforce the echo chamber.

But then again, the local daily paper really isn't engaging in debate either.  They run columns by Mona Charen, Thomas Sowell, Sean Hannity and Cal Thomas, just like they always have, and their readership - increasingly minority in a minority dominated city - tunes them out.  Newspapers weren't murdered and didn't commit suicide in an act of integrity.  They died a Darwinian death from their own myopia and incompetence.

The local rag hasn't won a Pulitzer in a long, long time.

I don't know where we go from here, or what sort of system we will have when it is all said and done.

But walking through the dingy, yellowed offices yesterday made me sad, and I don't even like the paper.

What a waste.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Joy of Parenting

Thing Two is a bright little guy.  He reads at a very advanced level, he seems to have a mature sense of empathy and he has an impish sense of humor.

All of which is good, because if this video is any evidence, he will not be winning any athletic scholarships.





Cannonbunga indeed.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Have a Nice Holiday

It will be light posting as a struggle to throw off a cold and we celebrate Martin Luther King Day.

A few years back we hired a big shot college dean and educational poobah to come in and take a look at diversity issues.  One of the first things he did was to change MLK day to celebrate what King called "The Beloved Community".  I have to say at first, as a history teacher, I wanted to keep the focus on King, but over time I've seen the wisdom of shifting the focus from the man to the ideas he embodied.

Anyway, here's your MLK day video:

Friday, January 14, 2011

Super Zombieland Scoop!

I have procured through means fair and foul the newest release from Lady Gaga.  No one outside of her producers have seen or heard this yet.

ENJOY!

More Poli-Sci Wankery

Guns don't kill people, Cookie Monster does.

Roy Edroso takes aim at a National Review writer who is outraged that only about 26% of the population is willing to take arms against the government.  In typical fashion, Edroso eviscerates the guy, but there is a larger point here, and it's one I've been trying to make for a few weeks now.

If your sum total experience in looking at government consists of your eighth grade civics class and watching Fox News, then you can make assumptions about government that are fairly odd.

As I wrote about people who believe that the second amendment guarantees all other amendments, this is a view of American governance that is starkly at odds with what we used to call "reality" but now we apparently call "liberal bias".

So, once more, with feeling: America's true exceptionalism lies in the extension of the idea of the rule of law.  The Greeks and Romans were the first to come up with a true rule of law, the British refined it, but it was America that first tried to create "fundamental law".  That is to say, a law upon which all other laws are based. Not an act of legislation, but an act of national creation.  Britain, for instance, whose representative government predates our, has no fundamental law.  Russia has one, but ignores it.

I've always felt poor James Madison doesn't get enough credit.  (Why is that bloodthirtsy racist Andrew Jackson on the currency and not Madison, I wonder, when I have too much time on my hands.)  The idea of structuring a government on certain principles that can stand the test of centuries is one of the most remarkable achievements in history.

But it works, because we have a firm tradition of the rule of law.  On the left, there were certain voices worried that Bush would cancel the 2004 or 2008 elections, but that idea was never plausible.  Take Bush v Gore.  That was a pretty awful act of judicial wankery, especially when they said, "And this establishes no precedent, so don't expect us to be consistent."  Still, Al Gore walked in front of the cameras and conceded in short order.  Because, unless your Andrew Ratbastard Jackson, when the Supreme Court rules, the issue is settled as a matter of law.

Which brings me back to guns and taking up arms against the government.

I can construct a scenario in my mind where I might take up arms against the government.  But if that happens, it will be because America is no longer functioning under the Constitution.  And I don't mean the Constitution as envisioned by the Tea Party - namely, anything I don't agree with is unconstitutional - but when we start canceling elections or locking up the leaders of the opposition party, then we might have recourse to arms.

But that is about as far out a hypothetical situation as you can find.  My Beloved Wife and All Around Graceful Excellence does not countenance guns in the house (and given Thing One's fondness for Nerf guns, that's likely a good thing).  Now in my hypothetical future where the government has called off elections and outlawed the opposition party, I would have difficulty finding a fire arm with which to take up arms against my oppressor.

Same goes for when the zombies come.

And both are about as likely.

With all the calls for civility, I think people are too hung up on politeness.  Which is not to say that politeness isn't important.  But the idea that you might have to take up arms because of health care reform or cap and trade or raising the top marginal tax rate...  No, sorry, you don't get to go there.  Civility would be nice, so would civics.

Our fundamental law creates a series of elections through which we are intended to conduct our political competition.  When you lose the election, you have to suck it up and come up with a better plan for the next one.  In 1860, when the Southern Democrats lost control of the White House, they decided to "exercise their second amendment rights" in a novel, illegal and treasonous way.  After that bloody mess, we've eschewed secession and rebellion and rightly condemned the fringe groups who have tried to violate the principles enshrined in the Constitution.

It would be nice if the people who insisted on reading the Constitution at the opening of the 112th Congress actually understood what is significant about it.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Nice Speech. Now, Please Try Communicating

Can Obama find a compelling message if he used Google Maps?

A supermajority of Americans favor refusing to raise the debt ceiling.  Here.

It should come as no surprise that those Americans probably have no frakking idea what failing to raise the debt ceiling will mean.  A default on the debt will lead to the abandonment of the dollar as the world's reserve currency and destroy any meaningful economic recovery we are undergoing.  Forget a replay of 2008, this will be a replay of 1932-33.

As I stated earlier and state today, the President needs to be out there educating the American people what it means to default on the debt.  That it is a very, very bad thing.

I often get this from my students when we discuss the debt in class: If we owe the money to ourselves, why don't we just let it go?  or Why don't we just tell the Saudis and Chinese to pound sand?

The entire global economy is built on American debt, when you think about it.  The Euro is badly beaten and the renminbi is not ready for prime time yet.

But, again, as I said earlier, raising the debt ceiling sounds like a bad thing.  Like reaching for your credit card when you're on a losing streak at the casino.

This is a great opportunity to patiently explain the real world implications of a policy before the factually illiterate get a hold of this.

In some ways, I'm still not TOO worried, because I don't think the corporate donors who bankroll John Boehner's golf trips are going to let the debt ceiling be breached, but I'd feel a lot better about it, if we could define the terms of debate within the bounds of reality for once.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The President's Speech

Obama: Family man or vampire who sucks children's blood.  Opinions differ.

I just read Obama's speech at Tucson.  I don't like watching his speeches, though he is a fine orator.  I just think he's a better writer.  While I have no doubt that much of the speech was written for him, I also think he probably had more of a hand in this than he would is, say, his prepared remarks after meeting the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic.  

Anyway, I had tears running down my cheeks at the end.  Admittedly, I'm tired and +1, but the little moments that he included, especially about the men who threw themselves over their wives to protect them and Christina Green... I get choked up every time I think of her.  When Obama says this:

And in Christina...in Christina we see all of our children. So curious, so trusting, so energetic and full of magic.
So deserving of our love.


How do you not well up?  Especially when your own child was but a day younger than she is?

I understand the event was a little vocal and some conservative commentators have already linked it to the Wellstone memorial service.  I didn't watch it, I can't pass judgment.  

But I am happy that the President has once again impressed upon us the need to be "big" and not petty and small.

It was a very good speech.  A very fine sentiment.

UPDATE: I watched.  Even better.  The applause wasn't off putting, it's 27,000 people in a gym doing polite golf claps.  The whistling and hooting at times was a little odd, but, hey, college students.

Can We Move On? My Guess is No.

It's all in how you say it...

With the memorial service in Arizona over, several victims laid to rest and Gabby Gifford facing a long and no doubt painful and difficult recovery, my guess is we will start to turn the page on Saturday's shooting.  It's been almost a week, and Snooki will probably do something sooner or later that will draw the attention of America's Fourth Estate.

Palin poked her head out of her snow covered burrow to deflect blame from herself for the shooting.  As Ezra Klein - who is unconvinced that uncivil public discourse had anything to do with the shooting - put it, Palin never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity.  She might have deflected criticism AND been magnanimous and gracious, but then, she wouldn't be our little Sarah if she did that.

The more I think about it, the real problem with our "public discourse" is not the incivility, but the incredibly fact-free nature of it.  Satire and exaggeration have their place, but Glenn Beck routinely compares liberals to Nazis and Jonah Goldberg wrote a "book" called "Liberal Fascism".  Now I teach political theory.  Fascism and Liberalism are antithetical.  And to be "liberal" means different things from society to society, but it is difficult to imagine a civilization anywhere at any time in which Fascism would be considered liberal.

The GOP has declared that ACA - which is based largely along lines proposed by Bob Dole in 1993 and mirrors legislation signed by Mitt Romney in the past decade - is the gravest threat to personal liberty since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

It is, above all, the lack of perspective and factual accuracy that mars our discourse.  You can have your own opinions, but you can't have your own facts.  "Fascism" as a word does not mean: political ideas I don't like.  It means a militaristic, corporatist state with strong appeals to nationalism and racial identity with no respect for civil rights or civil liberties.  That's fascism.  Not health care reform.

I feel strongly about this, because this is my job.  I try and teach young people to marshall evidence and make arguments that are sustainable by logic and explicated evidence.  I would fail most adults in the GOP for their performances over the last two years.

Ultimately, the argument over HCR came down to an intraparty squabble over accepting the '93 GOP plan or adding a public option.  The Democrats accepted the '93 plan and moved on.  They did not burn the Reichstag to do this.  And tellingly, the more people hear about what the bill actually does, the more popular it becomes.

Similarly, the GOP ran on fear mongering over the deficit.  They then INSIST on keeping extraordinarily low tax rates on the rich, despite the effect it will have on the deficit, and when you press them about what they want to cut, they tug their collars and say, "I'll get back to you."  Numbers are not subject to personal perspective.

I don't need a civil debate, I need a responsible one.  One where we all agree that Vince Foster committed suicide, the Clintons lost money on Whitewater, Obama was born in Hawaii and providing health care to people who don't have it is not the death of liberty.

This isn't making as much sense as I wanted it to.  I'm tuckered out from shoveling snow.  I have a hunch I'll revisit this when I'm not dog tired.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Historical Antecedent of Jared Lee Loughner



So, of course, the Right has pushed back hard against allegations that two years of eliminationist rhetoric helped sew the seeds that bloomed in bloody mayhem on Saturday.

Again, I don't want to argue that Loughner was a Tea Party guy.  I don't think he was.  I think he is insane.

But that doesn't make what he did any less of an attempt at political assassination.  Daniel Larison links Loughner to Leon Czolgosz, the anarchist who assassinated McKinley, and he talks of Loughner's nihilism.  And while he makes a few good points, I would not describe Loughner as a nihilist or an anarchist.  I would describe him as a paranoid schizophrenic.

That doesn't mean he wasn't influenced by the toxic climate of today.  It doesn't mean he wasn't influenced by the large numbers of Americans who think violence is an important part of American political life.

It's not Czolgosz we should be looking at, but Charles Guiteau.

Guiteau was - like Loughner - mentally ill.  Whereas Loughner imbibed a fair amount of extreme political ideologies from reading Marx, Rand and Hitler, Guiteau tried to become a member of the Oneida Community a fairly radical cult.  When Guiteau was rejected by the Oneida Community, he turned to politics, gave a speech - no doubt a poor one - and thought that James Garfield should make him an ambassador in gratitude.  When Garfield passed on making this crazy person ambassador to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Guiteau stalked him to the train station and shot him.  He assumed that the Stalwart faction of the Republican party would reward him for removing the Half Breed Garfield (politics have always been colorful).

In some ways, this is similar to Loughner blowing a gasket over Gifford's refusal to answer his insane question about mind control at an earlier constituency event.

Both Loughner and Guiteau had only a nodding acquaintance with reality.  Both had simplistic political ideas untethered to any practical use.  But both committed overtly political acts that were also crazy.

The aftermath of Garfield's assassination was the Pendleton Act and civil service reform.  The spoils system of federal patronage had been the motivating issue behind Guiteau's act of mad violence.  Chester Arthur was a prime player in the patronage system, as he had been head of the New York Custom's House - the plumb patronage job and notorious for corruption.  But even Arthur could see the extremes to which the spoils system had led.  Surprising perhaps even himself, he became known as "The Father of Civil Service" and set the stage for a government staffed by qualified professionals rather than corrupt cronies.  The Progressive era and New Deal reforms would have been impossible if Arthur had not responded to Garfield's death by ending the system that had given animus and direction to Charles Guiteau.

Before Nixon went to China, Arthur became a reformer.

Now, Guiteau was an insane person who committed an act of political violence.  Loughner is an insane person who committed an act of political violence.

But back in Garfield and Arthur's day there was at least a realization that the rampant corruption of the spoils system gave a focus and a motive to weak and deranged minds.

I am not holding my breath that there are any Chet Arthurs running around today, although there have been a few rumblings from people like Pawlenty and Scarborough.  As Jon Stewart said, maybe the toxic discourse caused the shooting, maybe it didn't, but maybe we should still clean out the swamp of our political rhetoric regardless.  If that happens, that will bring some small victory to this otherwise tragic and senseless act.

There is one big difference between Garfield and Gifford though, and it's an important one.  Garfield's doctors probably killed him by rooting around in his wounds with dirty hands.  Gifford had an intern who knew first aid and doctors who knew what they were doing.  Garfield died and it looks like Gifford will live.

While the Crazy may still be as vibrant now as it was in 1881, at least our medicine is better.

I Think This Says It All

Monday, January 10, 2011

What the Hell is Wrong With THESE People

The face of evil...

The Westboro Baptist "Church" is one of the most sociopathic institutions I can possibly think of.

For those of you not familiar with their special blend of insane, Westboro runs around protesting at funerals and other usually solemn events.

Fred Phelps, the batshit* insane founder of Westboro, began his vicious brand of religious quackery with the notable slogan "God Hates Fags".  The signs his batshit* insane followers carry include such slogans as "Thank God for 9/11", "Thank God for IEDs" (usually at military funerals), "You're Going To Hell", "Fags Doom Nations" and "God Hates America".

You know, exactly like Jesus.

Now, some of my favorite moments have been the counterprotests against Westboro.  At the San Diego ComicCon they got especially creative.  When Elizabeth Edwards was buried, counterprotestors created a "Line of Love" to gently push the haters back.

Why do I bring this up?

Because Westboro Baptist "Church" is planning on showing up at Christina Green's funeral.

If they had decided to picket Judge Roll's funeral I would have been horrified.

But a 9 year old girl?

What do you even say?

At least it has brought a measure of bipartisanship to the Arizona legislature, as they work to find a way to keep these evil, sociopathic clowns away from a family grieving a horrific loss.

*I am trying to cut down on profanity, but you try writing about the Westboro Baptist "Church" without cursing.