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, February 28, 2011

Let It Bleed

I'm off to give blood.  I wish I could say I was doing this in solidarity with Libya Wisconsin Bahrain the Armed Forces  New Zealand quake victims Haitians pretty much any time Melissa Leo Thing Two who got a bloody nose at his birfday party the Irish.

But no, it's just time for my biennial bleeding.

The Hound of the Basketcase ran off as I was trying to get her home, so I couldn't work out.  And I'm such a big, delicate flower that I can't work out for at least three days after I give blood without getting woozy.

So... Yay!

But on the other hand, we all have to suffer the occasional prick from time to time, but when you do it this way, you get to save a life.

You can schedule your bleeding by calling 1-800-GIVE-LIFE.  Which doesn't add up to seven digits, which means the Red Cross sucks at math.

UPDATE: I am an excellent bleeder.  Everyone at the VFW said so.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Mercantilism vs. Microeconomics

This is a very interesting and provocative piece on the relative merits of mercantilism - as represented by the Whig party's American System of the 1800s - and what the author call the Iron Laws of Capitalism - perhaps best summarized as basic microeconomics.

Two points to build on, after you've read it.  Waiting.  Waiting.  Waiting... Done?  Good.

First, Britain pioneered industrialism, then moved to advocate free trade, because Britain was the world's foremost industrial power.  Being the world's foremost industrial power, meant that Britain would benefit from open competition.  Closed markets - via mercantilism - would hurt British manufacturers.  So... free trade!

America embraced free trade most wholeheartedly after World War II.  The perils of closed, insular markets as typified by the Fordney-McCumber and Smoot-Hawley tariffs had helped create the Great Depression.  Free trade would mean more markets and - the theory goes - more peace.  The fact that around the time of the Bretton Woods conference America produced roughly half of all manufactured goods on the planet probably helped cement America's embrace of free trade.

Second, we have seen much genuflecting before the altar of Chinese awesomeness.  Ironically, a lot of those flogging Chinese awesomeness - people like Thomas "My Head Is Flat" Friedman - are also ardent free traders.  It's ironic, because as the piece above explains, China has embraced a mercantile philosophy.  What we see in China is a real partnership between the government and business.  We see central organization - not Stalinesque central planing - where the government coordinates efficiency.  This is not that dissimilar to the German economic miracle of the '50s and '60s and up to today.  Germany coordinates between government, business and labor in order to create an economy based on harmonic national needs rather than pure free market competition.

Paradoxically, this allows them to compete better in the international market.  Just like China.

The US - like Britain before it - is largely ruled by the ideas of pure capitalism (the laws of microeconomics).  Like Britain, the US is currently seeing its preeminent place as the world's leading manufacture slip away.

The response has been to sink further into the orthodoxy of microeconomic law.  Obama did mention something about needing a national industrial policy, but can you imagine the batshit wailing from the right if Obama actually proposed that the government, business and labor sat down and figured out what was best for the country and how to get there together?  Death panels would seem quaint by comparison.

So, what we will get is more of this Wisconsin nonsense.  Not just the union busting, but the other stuff slipped into the odious bill: things like the no-bid sale of the state's power plants to private companies (why do you think the Koch's bankrolled Walker's campaign?).  We will continue to see Americans as a whole fisted by the Invisible Hand in order to further enrich the now effectively stateless American millionaire class.

Britain eventually met its collapse as the world's factory with a powerful welfare state borne of the travails of World War II.  I can't see a way to that place for the US right now.

But it will be interesting to see how far we can travel down the road of "comparative advantage" and "the iron law of wages" before we start to finally look at how "other countries" do it.

And how much wealth will be funneled off to the wealthy before we do.

UPDATE:  Here is something more about Germany via Bondad.  It excerpts a Time Magazine piece that describes Germany's mercantile impulses, but without really calling it mercantilism (at least not in the excerpt).

Walker and Christie Sitting In A Tree...

Christie is the one on the left.

John Cole found this.  Walker wants to BAN wind power from Wisconsin.  Ban it.  Wisconsin is not a coal state or a natural gas state or a petroleum state.  It does sit on the edge of the largest fresh water lake system in the world and has access to immense amount of wind.  Walker is basically saying that if a company wants to come in and start creating wind power in Wisconsin, he will stop it.  That's not free market.  That's... well it's crazy.

Dennis G found this. It's a Twitter exchange between Christie and a Jersey citizen, in which Christie is called on being factually inaccurate and responds pretty much with ad hominem attacks.  Facts aren't really relevant to Christie, just airtime.  By that measure he's doing well.

Walker and Christie are the current rock stars of the GOP.  One's an ignorant boob carrying the water for his campaign donors and wingnut ideology and the other wishes he could have been Tony Soprano instead of only looking like him.

Meanwhile other governors - Republican and Democrat - are working to balance budgets and work with their legislatures to keep their states afloat.

I know some of it is the media obsession with conflict - if it bleeds, it leads - but they have literally placed the sideshow, talk radio-type personalities at the forefront.  No wonder Brooks is so enamored with Mitch Daniels, Daniels isn't insane.

A World Without Endgames...

OK, so we know how THIS ends, but...

Wisconsin, Ohio, Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Ireland, the federal budget, the NFL lockout...

The only thing we seem to know for sure is that The King's Speech will win best picture tonight.  Rarely do we have so many varied things happening without any sense of how they will end.

The attacks on labor unions in the midwest: I can't see a way out for either side.  Walker and Kasich appear to have gone "all in" and for the unions, this is life or death.  How do we see a way out of this?  Especially in Wisconsin, where Walker and the GOP have taken some bad faith moves that will make it hard for the Democrats to trust them on any compromises.

In the middle east, I think Qaddafi-Ghadafi-Kahtoffee-Whatever is obviously toast.  But there is no clear roadmap or precedent for what comes next in any of the North African countries.  And what happens when these protests spread?  I'm optimistic that what comes next will be - at least in the long term - better than what came before, but who knows?

Take Ireland, the thrashing of Fianna Fail... heh heh "Fail"... at the polls is something I think we've all been waiting for.  The IMF and the "Global North" have been running around the developing world for years forcing these austerity measures of countries in economic difficulty.  Most of these countries have poor levels of political efficacy, a fancy way of saying they have little democracy.  As they try and force austerity on the Irish, the Irish are saying "Feck no, ya bastard!" There is talk of the Irish leaving the Euro, which would set off another round of economic instability which will further impede the economic recovery globally (as if gas prices weren't doing that already).

The same austerity fetishists - who Frank Rich correctly pegs as being guys who really only care about transferring wealth upwards - are at work in Washington.  Using the rubes and bumpkins of the Tea Party as their sock puppets, they are working to strip even the most basic social safety nets and human and physical infrastructure from the budget.  There are rumors of a deal to put off a shutdown, but who knows?  Can Boehner control the teatards?

Oh, and no NFL?  Because the billionaire owners want 60% of the revenue?  For doing what exactly?  While I'm sure it's possible Jerry Jones will get brain damage from anesthesia on his next round of plastic surgery, it is almost a certainty that NFL players will see their lives shortened for playing the game.  Nobody pays to see the owners.

At some point, the plutocrats of the West are going to overreach, just as the autocrats of North Africa did.  What brought down Mubarak and what will bring down Getoffme was an economic crisis brought about by steeply rising food prices.  Amartya Sen wrote that democracies don't experience famines.  Well, let's hope that's true in the era of global climate change.  But my point is that when people see, very tangibly, their standard of living fall apart, they will reach for radical solutions.  Conservatives embraced the Tea Party - who are crazy - and who don't appear to actually care about the current economic crisis, preferring instead to grind their ideological axes.  But 2010 shows just how quickly a democratic process can turn on a party that doesn't do something about an economic crisis.

The Berlin Wall came down, because East Germans couldn't see any hope for their economic future.  The Chinese regime survived Tiananmen because they gave the urban elites prosperity.  We shall see if they survive the anger of the poor peasants, but they met a challenge with prosperity, not democracy.

If the middle classes of the United States and other western countries see their declining standards of living as being the product of plutocratic rule, I have hope that we can change the disintegration of our public sphere.

But I can't see the endgame.

Friday, February 25, 2011

My Saturday Post on Friday

Chris Christie at work...

Since I'm going to be stuck watching the athletic majesty that is JV wrestling all day long - I say watching, because for most of them, coaching won't help - I thought I'd go ahead and get my Saturday post out of the way.

I'm impressed with Chris Christie.  Here's a guy with negative numbers in his home state, who's a blowhard bully and is as telegenic as a canker sore.  Yet somehow he has the national media's rapt attention.  Certainly some of that can be ascribed to his being in New Jersey, which is right next to one of America's media capitols.

But Governor O'Malley of Maryland and our new Guv, Malloy, are also near the seats of power and influence.  They have balanced their budgets with a combination of spending cuts and tax increases that spread the pain around much more equitably and don't eviscerate public spending on public goods.  They do it without puffing up like a blowfish and thundering for the cameras.  (I'm reminded of that scene in Crimes and Misdemeanors when Woody Allen's character intercuts shots of Mussolini with Alan Alda's character pontificating about how great he is.)

There are literally dozens of governors around the country who are dealing with budget crises without vilifying public servants or stripping away collective bargaining rights.  This includes potential presidential candidate Mitch Daniels and wingnut extraordinaire Rick Scott.  Even the reliably nutty like Perry of the Republic of Texas have opted away from what Christie, Kasich and Walker are doing.  (They sound like the law firm of the damned.)  Oh, yeah, here it is.

Every governor in the country is facing a budget crisis.  The economy is weak and revenues are down.  Every governor is coping with this.  But Walker and Christie have resorted to blaming people who have almost literally nothing to do with the economic meltdown.

Much has been made - and rightly so - about the fact that of all the Sunday talk shows, only one has a labor leader on it, and that was after a lot of pressure.  The punditry has largely assumed that Walker and Christie's "brave" stand against public service unions makes them popular or at least principled.  The numbers don't support that, but what would David Gregory know about what unions mean?

Walker has already been exposed as a guy who is primarily concerned about union busting and only marginally - if at all - concerned about fiscal orthodoxy.  Yet Christie continues to get glowing press coverage.

Christie won, because the incumbent governor of New Jersey was tied tightly to Wall Street and was not very popular.  He doesn't have a mandate to do anything.  But he runs around like a wee Mussolini, strutting and sticking his jaw out and treating his political opponents like shit.  And for this he is lionized?

I honestly don't know what to make of our public discourse anymore...

Thug Life

The GOP call on reinforcements.

So, what has happened recently?

Well, in Wisconsin, the GOP-led assembly conducts a potentially illegal vote on Walker's Union Killing Bill.

Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia laughs off a comment about someone assassinating the President of the United States.

And, with a federal governmental showdown days away, Beohner goes golfing.

Chris Christie declares he's going to the border and wait for the jobs to come flooding from Connecticut because our governor has actually increased revenue while also cutting spending.  You know, responsible governing.

The GOP seems entirely made up of people who want to beat up and bully others and funnel money to the rich.

They do not deserve to govern this country.  They simply don't.  In an honest and fair exchange of ideas they would lose horribly.

Too bad that won't happen.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Required Reading

This is perhaps the best piece I've read about why Wisconsin is the most important story of the year.  More important to Americans, I would argue, than the Jasmine Revolutions.

Read it:

Drum compelling lays out how labor - wedded with the electoral power of the Democratic Party - created the modern American middle class.  And how the New Left (hippies for the non-academic) ruptured the New Deal coalition by driving a wedge between Old Labor - the cigar chomping union bosses - and the Democratic Party. This led to the decline in union membership and union electoral muscle and launched the DLC neo-liberalism that further undermined unions, as Democrats began to solicit corporate money rather than union votes.

It's a fascinating read and I think largely historically accurate.  The question is: what comes next?  Unions - as we have known them - are largely dying.  What will take their place as advocates for a blue collar middle class and - frankly - everyone else.

When you're sitting at home enjoying your weekend, in the house where your mortgage was made possible by federal tax policy, watching a TV you bought with your decent wages... think about the unions who helped make all that possible.

More Thoughts On DOMA

I was thinking about using the Courts to get rid off DOMA as opposed to the Congress.  "Serious" people - who can best be defined as temperamental conservatives who think change might be good but can also be scary so no thank you - suggest that Congress should take the lead in repealing DOMA.

This is largely because the conventional wisdom is that if abortion had been legalized via legislative action as opposed to Roe v. Wade the issue of abortion would have magically gone away.  The Courts, in this line of argument, short circuited the will of the people and created an automatic backlash.  There may also be some unspoken thinking that Brown might also fall into a case of the Courts rushing ahead of the legislature.

I think that's wrong.  First of all, there would be no legislative movement on these issues.  Southern states would have never voluntarily ended Jim Crow.  Abortion would have become a patchwork of state laws with varying implications for women's health (not that different than it is now, frankly).

Sometimes the Courts have to lead.  Does anyone REMOTELY think that this House of Representatives is going to repeal DOMA?  To argue that ideally the Congress should lead on this issue is to endorse the status quo, which is discriminatory.  To advocate non-action on this issue is itself an action that reinforces discrimination.

I think there is also another reason why this is not Roe.  The majority of Americans have more than made their piece with Brown.  To the degree that we have racists in American public life, they have to guard their true colors.  Roe remains more controversial, but the fact is that a majority of Americans have made their piece with abortion.  The difference is that opposition to abortion is still acceptable, largely because there is a moral position in opposing it.  It's not a moral position I agree with, but I imagine the vast majority of anti-abortion Americans really do see the fetus as a living creature deserving of protection.  There is no comparable moral position on racial discrimination.

Which brings us back to DOMA.  DADT was going to be overturned in the Courts, I think, but it was helpful to have it hashed out in Congress so the Pentagon could do a managed, orderly, boring transition.  But DOMA will not play out that way.  If it is overturned (Justice Kennedy, we're looking at you), presumably there will be a lot more gay marriages.  Presumably, the full faith and credit clause will apply to Bob and Jim's marriage from Massachusetts.

And what is significant is that nothing will happen.  I used this yesterday, but it illustrates my point:

Brown took a long while to become accepted.  But we mostly do accept it now.  I think the end of DOMA will precipitate massive amounts of hot air on Fox and hand-wringing at the Washington Post.  But after a few years, people will shrug and say, whatever.

There will always be bigots.  There are those that oppose Brown because blacks people are subhuman, that oppose Roe because women should shut up and have babies and oppose marriage equality because fags should burn in hell.

But the simple fact of gays getting married - it's legal in my state - has become invisible to the greater population once the bill was signed and the first marriage certificate stamped with the notary's seal.  And so it will be with gay marriage everywhere else.

So, let's not cede the debate to the bigots and the blowhards.  LGBT people are going to get married.

Deal with it.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

John Cole, Paging President Obama

Time to get this guy off the sidelines...

I supported most of the President's first two years agenda.  I understood that the Stimulus should have been bigger with fewer tax cuts, but he didn't have the votes.  I understood that most people would have liked a public option, but he didn't have the votes.  I understood that he wanted a stronger "Volcker Rule" but he didn't have the votes.  And I bet he would've liked to just GET a vote on tax cuts and cap-and-trade before the midterms skewed everything.  The assumption was that Obama spent two years acting against the wishes of the American people, so his party got trounced in 2010.

John Cole makes a really, really good point here.  You can actually ASK the American people what they want.  And anytime you get a result over 60% on something in this country, that's pretty rock solid.  Today we saw such a poll supporting collective bargaining for state employees.  There are similar polls showing support for the EPA, taxing the rich more and generally allowing reproductive choice.

But, as John notes, we don't hear about those on the TeeVee.  The wealthy Communications majors who make up our media have little real idea about what Americans think or feel.  Probably because most of the time, the American people don't know what they think or feel.  Take the 2010 midterms.  Almost 30% of those voting for the GOP wanted the government to do more about unemployment, yet they still voted for the party that has no desire in any way shape or form to do anything about alleviating unemployment.  Hey, "So be it!"

Americans are pretty anti-union, but they are also pretty pro-fairness.

The problem is that for years, to quote John: "we are constantly only given choices that range from center right to far right."  Part of it is the capture of the DC based media that has basically been the entire reason for the rise of the blogosphere.  So much of what people like Brooks and Broder and others write is so divorced from the reality of everyday life that you wonder what country they live in.  Whatever the country, you can be sure they live in a gated community.

I believe Obama does have a plan to be a transformative president.  I believe his plan is to demonstrate to people that government can work for them.  I think that's entirely his philosophy, or as he puts it: "Together we can do big things."

Today's decision to stop defending DOMA in court is remarkable, because I'm not sure it's a majoritarian position in the country right now, though it will be at some point in the next few years.

Obama COULD take the majoritarian positions on economic issues.  You can call them populist positions if that helps you feel better about associating with dirty, smelly, hippie ideas like progressive income taxes or social safety nets, but he can LEAD here.  There is so much misinformation about the economic state of equality in this country that a clear and compelling message, repeated ad nauseam, could tilt the country back in his direction.

That would indeed be transformational.

Your Wisconsin Update

Scott Walker imagines his "money shot" from David Koch.

Three things from Wisconsin:

1) More polls show that people are siding with teachers and state employees over Walker.  General Stuck over at Balloon Juice makes a salient point:

Back when there were some adults in charge of the GOP and conservative movement, frontal assaults like this wouldn’t happen, unless initiated from the other side, like the air traffic controllers. Everything was done in a cloud of purposeful fog. The prime strategy for winger braintrust was to never get themselves into situations that created clear lines of contrast with liberals and their people friendly domestic policies, because when that happened the right wing would be exposed to their ultimate purpose and folks would side with the left, or dems. Only those issues where they knew they had the advantage, like tax cuts, were openly flogged. This must be making old gooper bulls like Jam Baker just shake their heads and sigh.

As I said: Overreach.

2) Scott Walker got a phone call from David Koch, the money behind the Tea Party.  Only it wasn't Koch, it was a writer for the Buffalo Beast.  A lot of pixels have been spilled on this.  I like this take the best.

As has been said: Walker's a political bully.  The bit about luring the Democrats back under a guise of truce and then violating that truce... classic asshole.

3) Finally, an assistant AG from Indiana - a Teatard, natch - suggests that we simply open fire on the Wisconsin protestors.  I've often said the GOP wants to return to the Gilded Age, but I had no idea that included re-enacting the Pullman or Homestead Strikes.

It cannot be said enough: The far right is frakking dangerous.

How Obama Has Failed The Left Today

Apparently, the President has agreed that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional.  Presumably, because it violates the full faith and credit clause, which is self evidentially does.

No doubt the Left will inform us that this is because A) Rahm is now in Chicago B) Obama is secretly using this to distract us from his plan to privatize the EPA.

No doubt the Right will inform us that this is because A) Obama is a big gay muslim socialist B) Obama is a big gay muslim socialist.

Anyway, I think this qualifies as "Change we can believe in" though no doubt there are a dozen diaries at Kos explaining how this is really a subterfuge and a sell out.  I can hardly wait to go over there...

UPDATE: OK, that's weird, they are not talking about "full faith and credit" but rather the status of LGBT people as historically discriminated against.  I guess it doesn't really matter, but I thought when they took a stand it would be on the actual Constitution.

Your Wednesday Morning Takedown

Maybe I'm lazy, but just scroll down to my "thoughts" on David Asshat Brooks.

Not sure why, exactly, but I am one big burning spleen right now.  I want to get in a shouting match with someone, and though I'm older and increasingly frail, I wouldn't mine getting in a fight with someone.

Maybe Tyler Durden.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Not That It's News...

Federal Judge rules that ACA health care reform bill is constitutional.  Three judges say it is, two say it isn't and about a dozen or so say get the hell out of my courtroom.

For those of you keeping score...

Oh, and I would not expect breathless coverage of this on the news either.

America Hates What America Has Become

Ponder this...

So, looking at this chart, we can see something interesting.  Once again, American's ignorance about America is truly stunning.  

The top chart shows what some people know: most wealth in this country - a staggering amount - belongs to the top fifth of the people.  As the chart below shows, much of that is concentrated in the top 1%.

What's striking is that Americans think we have more economic equality than we actually do.  And, more strikingly, they still would like more equality.  Imagine what they would think if they knew how bad economic inequality really is?

The problem is that this topic is effectively banned from the TeeVee.  It shows up occasionally in a Krugman-Herbert-Dionne piece, but it's invisible from our broader public discourse.  The president never goes before the nation and explains to the American people that we've become Mexico - at least in terms of income inequality.

I wonder what would happen if the full power and size of the oligarchy or plutocracy or whatever you want to call it became known to the public at large?  I wonder how many Fox News watchers would still fight to preserve the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest?  Many, doubtless, would be unswayed, since "facts have a well known liberal bias".  

But this central fact seems to me the principle unfired arrow in the Democrat's quiver.  

Scott Walker has become the face of corporatist GOP overreach.  With the polls showing public support flowing away from his position, his threat to layoff workers en masse will be seen as the desperate bullying that it is.  Indiana and Florida have already backed off their own plans to strip collective bargaining rights, perhaps Ohio will follow suit.

Now is precisely the time to start talking about wealth inequality in this country.  Talk about it now until 2012. If the GOP has taught us anything, it's that repetition is the key to messaging.  

Sadly, if the Democrats have taught us anything it's that the suck at messaging.

I Hate You, David Brooks

Brook goes to the Heart of Applebees Darkness

Seriously, what a colossal asshat.

Read this.

Make everyone hurt?  OK, you wealthy dipweed, how about tax increases on the rich?  Big, honking Eisenhower level tax hikes?

You want to eviscerate the middle class and the safety net under the bullshit guise of "hey, everyone has to give something" then pony up.  Show me top marginal tax rate of 75% you son of a bitch, then get back to me about "make everyone hurt".  I am so sick of this!

The austerity fetishists of the privileged salons of Georgetown make me want to take up arms against a sea of troubles.  He sits there from his sinecure at the Times and pontificates about how we all need to buck up, which really means just the continued transfer of wealth up the ladder.

Why, David, why in the world should school teachers or construction workers or out of work retail clerks or dependents of military families serving overseas have pay for the sins of Wall Street?  The sins that YOU AND YOUR FELLOW TRAVELERS foisted on us with your fraudulent patent medicine about the magic of the markets.  Oh, it was magic all right.  It was the cheap trick of a carnival con man.  You know, magic.

Ever since that amiable villain Reagan foisted an upwards redistribution of wealth upon us, this country has faced deficits that we are told have to be balanced on the backs of the majority, while a tiny minority buy fourth homes and private islands.

Ponder this, David Asshat Brooks:

We all have to suffer?

Fuck you.

I will return to not cursing after this post, but honestly, if I saw that smug son of a bitch right now, I'd take him to downtown Waterbury and beat the crap out of him in the middle of the soup kitchen at my church.

Hi, David, you represent everything that is wrong with this country.

UPDATE: The sniveling coward has closed his comments section.  The bravery and self sacrifice of the leisure class is really something to behold, ain't it.

Monday, February 21, 2011

I Repeat: The GOP Wants You To Be Stupid

In New Hamster, they are thinking about repealing the requirement for kindergarten.  Here.

In Indiana and Ohio, they want to strip away collective bargaining rights, too.  Here.

Remember, the electorate said that the main issue in November was unemployment.  Today, they say the main issue is unemployment.

So, the GOP is trying to cut funding for poor people, cut collective bargaining for middle class people and cut taxes for rich people.

Also, we were told that Obama and the Democrats were overreaching when they decided to do health care.  Maybe I'm missing it, because I don't watch TV news, but are we having the same discussion about these actions?

Say it again, the GOP didn't spend enough time in the electoral wilderness.  They come back even further to the right than ever.

UPDATE: Class sizes in Detroit?  How about 60 kids in a class?

More Wisconsin

Notice anything about the states without collective bargaining?

Roy Edroso highlights the conservative blogosphere's take on Wisconsin.  Needless to say, teachers are parasites and traitors to America, blah blah blah.  It's part and parcel of my theory that the GOP is consciously trying to make America dumberer.

Dennis G at Balloon Juice looks at the link between those states above and their links to part of the neo-confederate resistance to anyone interfering with "free labor".  "Free labor" used to mean the freedom to enslave people.  Now it means the freedom to keep them from organizing and using collective bargaining to improve their economic livelihood.

Former libertarian and ombudsman E.D. Kain at Balloon Juice draws the parallels between union busting and the decline of the middle class.

Paul Krugman makes much the same point here, when he notes the slide into oligarchy.

I can remember the heady days of Tea Partiers when they mobilized people to yell "Where's My Bailout?"  Hey, dude, the reason you didn't get a bailout and Goldman did is because Goldman has muscle and you don't.

You want muscle?  Get a union.

As we increasingly breakdown the idea of a vibrant middle class, we need to understand that GOP policies - tax cuts for the wealthy, financial deregulation, union busting - are directly responsible for it.

So, middle class America, the choice is yours.  Vote for the guys who are trying to reduce you to serfdom or vote for the ones who might care about you if the winds are blowing in the right direction.

Or start a union and fight back.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Great Education Debate

The devolution of thought.

This post has been percolating in my brainium since another discussion over at Balloon Juice about how Diane Ravitch has gotten off the charter school fan bus, because the evidence is in for charter schools, and well, they are going to have wait a little longer for Superman.

Charter schools are on average often underperforming regular public schools.  This is significant since charter schools can select their own students, though many do from a lottery.  Often this is because charter schools are top down driven affairs from some philanthropist who saw his civic duty and overdid it.  It usually involves some form of pedagogy that's real hip at the moment.  And it usually does very little to advance real learning.

I can sum up what would solve the problems in education in two words: teacher mastery.

First would come mastery of the subject matter.  Anecdotally, we are very happy with Things One and Two's public education in elementary school.  I think you can see how mastery of the subject matter in elementary school is easily accessible to most adults.  I dread the day when Thing One comes home with math homework that I won't be able to help him with.  Elementary schools generally do pretty good on satisfaction ratings.

Second would come mastery of pedagogy.  Simply knowing the material does not make you a good teacher. I had a number of math teachers in junior high who simply could not reach me.  That wasn't their fault, necessarily, as I was a tough nut to crack.  But my Algebra II teacher's pedagogical approach was to explain the reasons behind a problem as much as the methods to solving the problem.

It reminds me of something Baron Von Steuben said over 200 years ago at Valley Forge: "American soldiers are different from European soldiers.  You tell a European soldier to do something and he does it.  You must explain to an American why you must do it, and only then will he do it."

I imagine it works similarly in math.  Tell an Asian kid to memorize math properties, and that's good enough for her.  American students tend to need to know why they need to know the area of a circle.

Ed programs are very successful in churning out graduates who know how to teach elementary students.  High school students are probably more complicated.  Both the subject matter and the students are more complex.  This is certainly not to say that teaching elementary school age children is easy, but at least smart phones and accessibility to graphing calculators aren't an issue in class.

Third comes mastery of the classroom.  This has two parts.

Part A, the teacher must be able to own that classroom.  That means the students come to that classroom respecting the teacher and the control that the teacher has over the coursework.  Working in a private school, I don't have to worry about this as much, and frankly, it's not something that a school system can change.

Teachers need to be respected.  More than just appreciated - I think most people appreciate the difficulties and challenges of teaching - they need the respect of society.  Asian families always bring gifts when they meet with you, as a sign of respect.  When I travelled in Argentina, our translator insisted on calling me Professore, even though I was a second year teacher with no real clue what I was doing.

Oh, and when people constantly demonize teacher's unions, they're demonizing teachers.  Just an FYI.  This respect is not really something that can be done without society's active participation.

Part B is linked to the above.  The teacher is the one who knows the needs of the students.  At least ideally.  That means no faddish pedagogy imposed by someone who - odds are - never taught a single class but read about it somewhere.  It also means that class sizes need to be smaller.

I don't think I can stress the importance of class size enough.

I teach 13 kids in each of my AP classes.  I know which ones are bad at certain types of essays and which ones are rarely prepared for class.  I know which one had a concussion and won't be able to take her test this week.  I know which one needs structured notes from me to prepare for an exam.

I couldn't do that when classes have 35 kids.  With five or six sections.  Those teachers inevitably become assembly line workers.  Essays?  For 150 kids?  Probably ain't happening.

To have mastery over the class, the teacher has to be able to assert himself over the class.  And that means the community has to respect and value the teacher and the class sizes have to be small enough so that he can relate to his students as individual learners.

Finally, mastery over the curriculum is needed.  This isn't just about teaching to the standardized test, but let's stipulate that teaching to tests like that isn't very educational.  I teach to the AP test as an aside.  I'm really teaching US History and Comparative Government.  There are some tricks I need to impart to my students related to the test format, but ultimately, I'm teaching the material.

Nevertheless, the College Board requires that you submit your syllabus to get your AP course accredited.  My first submission for both my US and Comp Gov classes failed.  Now, generally speaking I have only one student each year get below a 3 on the AP.  One.  But my syllabus failed, because I wasn't meeting some arbitrary benchmark imposed by someone outside my classroom.

My US syllabus failed because I didn't do historiography.  Every other chapter in the book concludes with a page of historiography!  I discuss it.  It's not on the exam and has no relationship to the students actual understanding of history itself - beyond understanding that history is interpretation not facts.  So I tossed in a few book review assignments and we read about 40 pages in John Lewis Gaddis's The Cold War.  Nothing substantive changed in the course, but I had successfully jumped through their hoop.  Something similar happened with Comp Gov and quantitative analysis.  I also had to dump a really interesting essay on Mexican political art, because it wasn't part of the AP curriculum.  I would love to teach India in Comp Gov, but I can't.  So there!

If we meet teacher mastery of the subject matter and pedagogy, we can trust them to teach the material.  We don't need someone telling biology teachers that they have to teach creationism or that students have to learn or not learn the Ten Commandments.

What happens is that Mark Twain's perfect idiots - school boards, or their modern equivalent in charter schools - begin to impose uniformity on a process that really must be heterogenous.  As I like to say, the best part of teaching is that every day is different, the worst part is that every year is the same.  The first part is a function of having each class respond to how I'm feeling, how they're feeling, where we are in the material, what happened yesterday and where I want to be three weeks from now.

You can't plan that from a superintendent's office or a school board meeting.

And if we don't respect teachers as professionals, we won't get the necessary skilled, motivated people necessary to create masterful educators.

American education has always been failing.  The reason is that we educate everyone.  We have a complex, heterogenous society.  Wealthy school districts in the US, the ones that value education, compete with school systems anywhere in the world.  It is the poor community schools that drag down the average and drag down their students.  And the students - it must be said - are dragging down their schools. We have recently added the teacher's union as an all purpose bogeyman that must be slain!  MUST BE SLAIN!  But when a teacher feels constantly placed between the hammer and the anvil, of course they are going to want a union.  Hell, I want a union, too.

But the needs of sound-bite politics and crisis driven news outweigh the needs of our teachers and students.

You can't educate children without masterful teachers.  There is not short cut.  There is no magic bullet.

The Long Dark Season

Take your pick

This time of year - February - is hard.  Friday, it was 60 degrees.  Today the wind chill has to be sub-zero.

Football is over.  Baseball has yet to begin.  There are these indoor abominations called basketball and hockey that we're supposed to care about, but honestly I can't care about a sport where you score 100 points or where you skate.  I suppose that's my problem.

But you can sense that winter is losing its grip.  Experience shows that winter won't last forever, but the immediacy of too-damned-cold makes you think it will never end.

Yesterday, the Most Ridiculously Overqualified and Talented Wife Ever discussed the possibility of pursuing a head of school option in Los Angeles.  I pretty much hated LA when I lived there, but looking at the school via a Google Earth satellite shot; it was so green.

I suppose you can get tired of perpetual summer, but it would be a nice change.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

They Hate Learning

This is your future. Win it.

In all the actions of the GOP, I think one trend is becoming clear.  They hate learning.

Let's take some positions of the Republican Party.

They deny evolution.  You know, the basic theory behind pretty much all modern biology.

They deny global warming.  Because carbon in the atmosphere is a GOOD thing.

They deny macroeconomics.  Let's bring back the gold standard!

They deny math.  If you cut taxes, you won't increase the deficit.

They deny reading.  If only Obama produced his birth certificate.

I think this is the context in which to understand the GOP's war on teachers.  Because that's really what's happening in Wisconsin and Ohio.  I don't belong to a union, because I work in a private school.  But I would LIKE to have a union.  I would enjoy having someone else argue on behalf my wages and benefits.  I know that many teachers in my school walk around fearing that they will be fired.  It's not an entirely healthy atmosphere.

But back to public school teachers and the idea of collective bargaining.  The idea that middle class people should be allowed to band together and use the strength of numbers to push back against the powerful is not an idea that conservatives like.  Nor is it all that popular in America as a whole sadly.  I think that the unpopularity of unions is a baffling development.

But the decline of unions directly coincides with the decline in real wages and the stagnation of wealth in the working and middle classes.  If you are alone in securing the benefits of the market, you can be pretty sure the market will pass you by for someone better looking richer.

Attacking teachers is a useful shorthand for the GOP's economic agenda - disempowering the middle class -  and its cultural agenda - the assault on learning, indeed on objective facts as a whole.

I fear the Stupid.  I fear it's winning.

Friday, February 18, 2011

I Hope My KIds Never See This

I can't tell if they really hate Bieber or are only hating on the Biebs to humor me and/or their peers.

As far as I'm concerned, Bieber is just the latest iteration of Justin Timberlake.  While I can see talent there, I'm hardly going to get worked up one way or another.

Here's a palate cleanser, because I'm actually a nice guy.

And more...

Watched a few minutes of TeeVee Nuuz.  Their account of the Wisconsin showdown tellingly did not mention the fact that the budget shortfall being used to gin up this attack on the unions is almost exactly the same as the tax cuts Walker signed last month.

This country is going to bleed itself to death with tax cuts.

But don't tell anyone that on the TeeVeeNuuz.

Go HERE to see how Walker created a crisis.  Cliff Notes version: The Democratic governor who just left office had a budget that left a SURPLUS when he left office.

Thanks, Grey Lady

This is not madness, this is Sparta The New York Times.

So, we have a legitimately gripping story going on in Madison, but the Times is still leading with Egypt.

I think the reason is obvious.  Egypt is far away, and we can paint the various forces with broad brushes.  Protestors are Good.  Rapists are Bad.  Army is Good.  Mubarak is Bad.

We have similar protests breaking out over economic conditions in Madison, but when Egyptians get together and beat on drums and wear bread on their heads, it's a sign of democracy and Amurrika.  When a bunch of kids beat on drums and wear dreads on their heads, they are unserious hippies and unworthy of sympathy.

Kind of like how 500,000 people protesting the impending war in 2003 is less newsworthy than a couple of thousand angry retirees puttering around on their Medicare paid for scooters complaining about Soshulism and Obamacare.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Walker, Wisconsin Ranger

Greetings from the Wisconsin State House!

OK, so the good people of the Cheese State - or whatever - decide to go full metal teatard and throw out their Democratic governor and senator.  Let's forget the unfortunate loss of Russ Feingold for a minute and focus on the governor's mansion.

Scott Walker, the new gubner, first makes a name for himself by turning down high speed rail funds, because... trains are... socialist?  Unless Dagny Taggart is making them, in which case they are awesome.  Or something.  Basically, in the middle of a recession with 10% unemployment, this dipweed turns down an infrastructure project that will help tie the Wisconsin economy to Chicago and Minnesota and provide immediate job relief.  Because the teatard playbook says anything Democrats propose must be bad, nanny nanny boo boo, no take backs times infinity fuck you.

He then rams through a tax cut.  Yeah, that's right.  A tax cut.  Guess what the fiscal result of cutting taxes is? I'll give you one freaking guess.

So, now Wisconsin is suffering from a budget shortfall, created by it's new teatard governor.  What to do... what to do?

I know, let's break the public service unions!  This won't actually save any real money for the immediate future.  Let's go to Wisconsin's paper of record:

In its Jan. 31 memo to legislators on the condition of the state's budget, the Fiscal Bureau determined that the state will end the year with a balance of $121.4 million.
To the extent that there is an imbalance -- Walker claims there is a $137 million deficit -- it is not because of a drop in revenues or increases in the cost of state employee contracts, benefits or pensions. It is because Walker and his allies pushed through $140 million in new spending for special-interest groups in January.

What we see here is the sped up version of Republican governance.  Usually, they run up the deficits first and then cut the things poor people and public servants like once Democrats have taken over.  That's the dance we're seeing in Washington right now.  John "So Be It" Boehner and his job killing spending cuts eviscerations is a classic GOP play.

Walker has just accelerated the process, so that he's cutting taxes AND attacking Republican boogeymen in the same season.  Kudos!

The flight of Democratic State Senators is, I think, a wonderfully dramatic way to draw this out.  Because Wisconsin is not Alabama.  It has a very conservative side, but Walker's a throbbing douchecanoe and the sooner he gets exposed for creating this controversy in the first place just to stick a shiv in teachers and the like, the better.

The GOP did not spend enough time in the wilderness after Bush.  They haven't learned a damn thing.  They are still a bunch of mean, small minded a-holes, if Scott Walker is any indicator.

And I mean that with the utmost respect.

UPDATE: As always, TBogg turns the phrase best: First the Jasmine Revolution, now the Cheddar Revolution!

Your Day Late Wednesday Morning Takedown

E.J. Dionne does the honors today:

A necessary corrective to the squawking of the deficit peacocks.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Elitism, Like It's a Bad Thing

I told you I'd be using this more than once...

So, I read this.

It's an article in The Atlantic about the new global elite.  It has some of the inevitable panty-sniffing that you might expect from a business journalist dragging himself through the negro Davos streets looking for an angry fix a decaf cappucino.  Still, it's an OK expose.

And some points most be conceded.  Steve Jobs and Eric Schmidt have advanced human commerce and society.  The true innovators, and I'd even through Zuckerberg in with that group if pressed, are worthy of rewards and riches.  Hell, Albert Pujols deserves his millions, because millions will pay for watching him be the best at what he does.

That's commerce, that's the market.

No, it's the idea that Wall Street innovators deserve anything more than a kick in the teeth that sticks in my craw.  As Volcker is quoted in the article, "Can anyone show me any evidence at all that financial innovation has led to economic growth?"  Yeah, Paul, preach it, baby.

The problem is that the "meretricious rich" - as the article styles them - have varying degrees of merit attached to them.  It was Silent Cal Coolidge - most business friendly of Presidents - who said, "The man who builds a factory builds a temple" and "the man who works there worships there."  I have a problem with the last part; the idea that the worker is some sort of supplicant peon before the altar of wealth is... creepy.

But the idea that the man who builds a factory builds a temple... I can get behind that idea.  To invent or produce something new or better and fulfill a need within society and the market is indeed a good and proper thing - all else being equal.  And they should be rewarded for that.

No one has yet explained to me how CDOs and CDSs constitute a good and proper thing.  How creating wealth for the sake of creating wealth that benefits only a narrow few is in any way analogous to "building a temple".

Again, and it bears repeating, during America's glorious ascent to economic heights in the 1950s and '60s, we taxed the living snot out of the rich.  They were still rich, but we didn't run deficits nearly as high, despite the Great Society and Vietnam.  And their riches did not create a transnational culture of the rich living in a world so far removed from ours, as to be on Mars.

I don't know what the answer is, but I do know that we need to find one.  Marx was wrong about the proletarian revolution, but revolutions do happen.  When a political economic system stops benefitting the large mass of people, they will find remedies.

I hope we can forestall the worst excesses, but when I read about the arrogance of the super-rich, I sometimes think maybe a little righteous anger is called for.

On Religion and Politics - 1840 Style

Henry Clay: A drinker, a gambler, a raconteur and a damn fine man.

I've been reading Daniel Walker Howe's What Hath God Wrought since before time began September.

It's a tremendous work of scholarship and has really improved my understanding of the critical years of political development of the American Republic from 1816-1848.  But, dude, it's long and dense and I can only find time to read about 15 pages at a sitting and I only have one opportunity a week.

Anyway, I was reading about the rise of the Whig Party.  The Whig are the temporal ancestors of Lincoln and Seward's Republican party, but the spiritual forbearers of FDR's Democratic party.  They believed in the supremacy of the federal government over the state governments, the improvement of infrastructure through a national program of public spending, a central banking system to regulate the currency... you know: modernity.  The Democratic party stood for state's rights and white supremacy mostly.  Whigs did best where people could and did read more.

Are you getting the culture war vibe here?

But interestingly, one group that consistently supported the Whigs were evangelical Christians.  During the Second Great Awakening, evangelicals believed that they were embarked on a great crusade to purify and improve the earth for Christ's impending return.  To the evangelicals, building a better world was a Christian imperative.

I understand why many evangelical Christians oppose abortion.  And therefore, I can see why they would support the modern party that is opposed to abortions.

But there is more to morality than abortions.

Why has the modern evangelical movement - with some exceptions - abandoned any common cause with the environmental movement?  Why has the modern evangelical movement - with some exceptions - abandoned common cause with those advocating for the poor? Why has the modern evangelical movement - with some exceptions - abandoned common cause with peace advocates?

Ultimately, Jesus's message was about the commonality of God's grace.  Anyone can be saved who asks for salvation.  It is a profoundly egalitarian message.  And if the Kingdom of God is all around us, shouldn't we take better care of it?

I support abortion rights, but I wish like hell the issue just went away.  I wish that every woman in America and her sexual partner were able to insure that every pregnancy was planned, if for no other reason than to make the issue of ending pregnancies via abortion just go away.

It would strip bare the fallacy of the alliance between those who advocate for a more Christian world and those who advocate for giving more wealth to the wealthy, often at the expense of the poor, the powerless and the planet.

You know, the Blessed Meek.

It might also expose the hypocrisy at the nexus of those who oppose abortion rights because they believe the fetus has a soul and those who oppose abortion rights because they want women to "pay" for having sex.  There is an unspoken gulf between those obsessing over the morality of abortion and the morality of consensual extra-marital sex.  Yes, Pope Panzerfaust, I'm looking at you.

There will always be God Botherers among us, taking away our booze and advocating chastity.  Nothing will get rid of those people, ever.

But there was a time, when some Americans saw their religious duty as uplifting the country as a whole.  It would be nice to get back to that time.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Yahoo! Is Aptly Named

The average Yahoo! commentator.

For several reasons, I have Yahoo! as my homepage.  One is that I like seeing the stupid stories about Lady Gaga giving Justin Bieber a makeover, and Yahoo!'s version is quicker than the New York Review of Books.  Two is that I'm too lazy to change the default setting.


I was stuck on duty - too sick to grade papers - and was browsing through the stories about the cursed megamansion in LA and the eight things your doctor wishes you knew when I came across a piece about a French sculptor who made a piece that looks like a sinking ship, so much so that people occasionally come to try and help him.  Kind of clever.

The comments were full of bile and vituperative attacks on him - especially his Frenchness - and seemed to verify all the things we hear about how awful people are on the Internet.

I frequent a few places on the Internet. For instance, I've been part of a community of Braves fans for about ten years dating back to a board at ESPN.  I comment a fair amount at Balloon Juice.  I have seen the face of trolls.  Ugly, nasty trolls.

"Don't feed the trolls" is a primary rule of Internet discourse.  It's not a problem here, because, well, no one comments.  But you learn to ignore the Phillies phan who shows up to trash talk.

What's striking about Yahoo! is that it appears to be all trolls.

There's a really good Falcons board I frequent there, and I've enjoyed the threads - especially the game threads - that you can find on a variety of topics.  Living in New England, it's great to have a venue to discuss your team with other fans.  So it's not all of Yahoo!, just the main page.

And it goes without saying that the opinions expressed on the page are the sort of Fox News fueled anti-intellectual, anti-global, anti-liberal sound bites that you would expect from a site called, well, Yahoo!

I first noticed this after the Giffords' shooting, when the ugliness crept in there even at that time. And it's not argumentative discourse, it's just viciousness.

I really like the Internet.  It's a wonderful font of information and revelation, inspiration and communication.

But there are some pretty nasty sewers in here, too.

Why The Budget Debate Will Be Endlessly Stupid

No.  There is no escape.

Obama and the House GOP leadership have unveiled their budget proposals.  Both have spoken sternly about the need for deficit reduction in the coming years, for indeed looming deficits are a real issue.

Obama's priorities seem to be winding down some programs and funneling resources into his "WTF" package (that's Win The Future) of high speed rail and more education funding.  Some of the program cuts will really hurt some poorer Americans.  Cuts in LIHEAP seem especially cruel, given the winter we're having around here.

But Obama's proposals are a teaspoon of Robitussin compared to the GOP's quart of Cod Liver Oil, application of leeches and a boric acid high colonic.

The GOP is not really interested in addressing the deficit.  They never have been.  They are interesting in cutting programs that they don't like.  Cutting these programs will not make any real difference in deficits going forward.  The President's cuts will likewise only make a small dent.

There are only two things that will reduce the deficits: broad based economic growth and increased revenues. The only way to CUT your way to fiscal sanity is to get rid of things people like: Medicare, national defense, highways, schools, things like that.

Until the economy starts growing again, we are not going to see much reduction in long term debt.  Until we start taxing higher income earners at levels closer to their historical norms, we are not going to see much reduction in long term debt.

Instead - and I got a gander of this on NPR this morning - we are going to get the worst sort of "He Said, She Said" journalism.  I had to listen to Mitch McConnell pontificate about how Obama wasn't serious about the deficit.  This from a sluglike creature man who held up a necessary nuclear arms reduction treaty so he could extend tax cuts for Lloyd Blankfein.  I heard Paul Ryan talk about how Obama isn't serious about the deficit because he doesn't mention Social Security.  Maybe because Social Security DOESN'T ADD TO THE DEBT, PAUL!  Maybe because Social Security in fact pays for much of the rest of government, including that fantastic war in Iraq you voted for a few years back.  Remember that little trillion dollar spending spree?

And the news program will not say things like, "Despite Mr. McConnell's statements, GOP proposals also fail to make much of a dent in the deficit."  Or "Social Security is, in fact, paid for through 2037."

Because budget stuff is HARD.  Waaaahhh, says the reporter - who was a "Communications" major in between games of beer pong **- this is complicated.  I can't begin to understand the effect of budget cuts in terms of real people's lives!  I'll just report  both sides of the controversy and duck out on interpreting the validity of it.

Also, too, there is the fact that the DC press corps is made up of wealthy, privileged people.  Wealthy, privileged people are "serious" people and "serious" people are very "serious" about austerity.

Austerity means forcing pain on the population in the name of balanced budgets.  It is being done in Ireland with absolutely disastrous results.  It's the sort of "serious" plan that the IMF kept forcing on countries like Argentina or Thailand in order to protect the bottom lines of huge global banks like Citicorp or Bank Suisse.  These austerity plans usually led to social turmoil and the collapse of standards of living across huge swaths of the population.  Eventually, the institutions of government were shaken if not upended.

Austerity is good for people who already have a ton of money. It sucks for everyone else.  The DC press have money.  Head Start or home heating is not a concern for them.  But they can show that they are "serious" by calling for painful measures that will hurt people they don't know.

So we will not be getting any real explanation of what is being debated in DC over the budget.  We will get a horse race, because that's easy to cover.

**As an aside, I went to college with a prominent member of the White House press corps.  He was an English major with a speciality in creative writing.  He's a great guy and I like him.  But I would prefer a government or econ major doing some of this work, if you know what I mean.

Monday, February 14, 2011

No, Seriously, Happy Valentine's Day


OK, so the last post may have engendered some confusion about how I feel about VDay.  In fact, I like it fine, I just have a warped sense of humor.

Today, I can categorically call a good day.  The sun was out, the temperatures soared into the high 40s.  Almost half the roof is snow-free and there are actual patches of earth visible here and there.

I'm only slightly behind in my grading, which is good by my standards.  We're doing the Great Depression in US History, which I love teaching.  I finally redeemed my credit cards points (I didn't know how earlier) and I have shiny new Sony Bravia HDTV sitting to my right.  The Hound of the Basketcase has successfully weathered her babymaker-removal and is back to her usual nonsense.

Thing One got a bunch of grades in the mid 90s on his spelling/grammar tests and a 103 on his geology test (suck on that, grade inflation).  Thing Two got 100s on his spelling tests, because that's the way the dude rolls. The Things and I went to K-Mart yesterday to get some special Valentine's stuff.  Thing One got his "special Valentine" a charm bracelet for $3.99, so he's already smoother than I am.  Thing Two went big and bought earrings for his teacher with his tooth fairy money.  He went $7.99 large.  For his teacher.  With his own money.  That he got from having a tooth pulled.

I made a wonderful meal for the Loveliest, Most Delightful, Rapturously Beautiful Wife In The Whole History of the World.  (Pureed Sweet Potatoes with cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger/Uncle Ben's Wild Rice with Craisins and a honey drizzle/pan seared, Moroccan spiced filet mignon - salt, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, delmarra sugar and pepper - with a nice bottle of Pinot Noir -- in case you were wondering)

Tomorrow and Wednesday I will be on dorm duty.  Thursday through Sunday, the LMDRB Wife ITHWHOTW will be at Model Congress.  On Sunday night she will be chaperoning the prom.  Next week I will begin accumulating a series of assignments that will keep me grading until St. Patrick's Day.

But tonight, let us sing deep the song of love.

For here in February, we are noticing the days getting longer, the sun lingering in the sky later, and pitchers and catchers have reported.  A dictator is deposed and this kid is awesome.

So, as I said, sing deep the song of love.

Like, Barry White deep.

Happy Valentine's Day

My idea for a Valentine's Day card would be this picture with the caption: "I love you so much, I would eat your heart with some fava beans and a nice Chianti."

You are free to feel sorry for my wife at this point.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Awards Season: A Handy Guide

The Oscars are Groucho.

The Emmys are Harpo.

The Tonys are Zeppo

The Grammys are that one Marx Brother no one can remember.  Gummo or Bilbo or something.

Seriously.  Lady Gaga showed up inside an egg.

Everyone knows that's exactly how Judi Dench came to the 2006 Oscars.


Clarence Thomas Is In Your Court, Stealing Your Jurisprudence

The Associate Justice in action...

I voted for George H. W. Bush in 1988.  I think he handled foreign affairs quite well and did a few laudable things domestically like the small nod towards fiscal sanity that represents the 1991 tax increases.  But foisting Clarence Thomas on us is the gift canker sore than keeps on giving.

Via the Grey Lady, we see that Thomas will soon celebrate the Fifth Anniversary of the last time he said anything during oral arguments before the Supreme Court.  From the article:

 “If Justice Thomas holds a strong view of the law in a case, he should offer it,” David A. Karp, a veteran journalist and third-year law student, wrote in the Florida Law Review in 2009. “Litigants could then counter it, or try to do so. It is not enough that Justice Thomas merely attend oral argument if he does not participate in argument meaningfully.”

From this is my principal problem with this particular aspect of Thomas's role on the Court.  Thomas is the nuttiest of the justices, offering opinions that are frequently down right bizarre.  He doesn't bother to engage the counsel for either side and then makes up some crazy nonsense.

If the Supreme Court constitutes the High Priesthood of the Constitution, Thomas is its Scientologist.

Thomas has ruled that the First Amendment does not apply to high school students.  I mean WTF?  Where does that even enter the conversation?  Where are civil rights cut off?  At the door of the school?  The classroom?  Are civil rights unavailable to minors?

Of course, Thomas's embarrassment doesn't end there.  For the past 15 years, he's basically been filing false tax returns and violating public disclosure rules, by not acknowledging his wife's income.  The fact that his wife is a highly paid conservative activist who is working on issues that often appear before the Court is just the icing on this unethical cake.  Thomas has - of course - never recused himself from any case that might involve his wife's work.  When ACA finally makes it before the Court, he will also not recuse himself, despite her hefty fees working to overturn it.

And of course, there is his confirmation hearing.  I take it as an article of the record that Thomas perjured himself in those hearings.  The presence of a second witness to Thomas's harassment is the clincher for me, but also the behavior of both Hill and Thomas since that time also persuade me that Hill was reluctant to come forward but had to, whereas Thomas lives in his own reality crafted by his finely honed sense of seething grievance.  And of course, David Brock's recanting of his role in slandering Hill plays a huge part in sealing Thomas's guilt.

Bush needed a prestigious, black, conservative judge to take Thurgood Marshall's seat on the Court.  He couldn't find any, so he went with Thomas.  Thomas has spent the last 20 years or so demonstrating his manifest contempt for everyone but those whom he agrees with, his contempt for argumentation - the soul of our legal system - and contempt for the cultural forces that were behind his high tech lynching the exposure of his pervy ways.

I disagree with Antonin Scalia on just about everything but spelling and math.  But I respect that he at least argues his point, engages others' arguments and rules on principals that he has defined over the years.

If Scalia is the brooding dark wizard of the conservative bench, Thomas is its troll under the bridge, muttering quietly to himself and feasting on the bones of his all consuming anger.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Don't Know Nothin' 'Bout Nothin'...

Future head of the Party of No Nothings

Roy Edroso has a nice take down on conservatives mistrust of 'experts' here.

Balloon Juice has been eviscerating Megan McArdle here.

We have a distressing and gathering trend of conservatives polishing their bona fides by running down "experts" in whatever field they happen to be talking about.  And while scientists in particular bear the brunt of those attacks, any evidence based knowledge is suspect.

I am a well known hater of Andrew Jackson, and he clearly represents the first movement away from the Enlightenment in American politics.  James Monroe was no Jefferson or Hamilton, but he was a product of that generation's thinking about American governance.  Jackson - and to a surprising degree his enabler and sidekick Van Buren - were the products of a new American politics in which the civic good was no longer considered the fundamental guidestar of leaders.  For Jackson, the guidestar was to be his own instincts.  For Van Buren it was to be the politically advantageous.

The marriage of these two perspectives produced the 19th century Democratic Party.  A party wedded to slavery and racial apartheid, state power over national needs and local prejudice over empirical fact.

With Woodrow Wilson and later Franklin Roosevelt's election, combined with the mossback conservatism of Harding and Coolidge, the broad group of people known as Progressives moved into the Democratic party and altered it forever.  Progressives had existed in both parties.  Teddy Roosevelt and Bob LaFollette were both Republicans.  Jane Addams might have been one, too.

When Truman began advocating for civil rights for blacks, the old Southern base of the Democratic party began a long abandonment of the party of Jackson.  It took about thirty years, but eventually the partisans of Jackson became the partisans of Reagan.

Jackson and Reagan both shared charisma, a clear view of their place in the world and a tenuous relationship with objective fact.  Both followed an ideology that led to long term economic instability in America.  Jackson killed the Bank of the US and ushered in a century of wildcat banking and routine bank failures and financial crisis.  Reagan ushered in the economic snake oil of supply side economic, the Laffer Curve and "deficits don't matter" as long as Republicans were in power.

This consistent strand of American politics that favors preconceived ideas over objective knowledge - "I know what I know and facts be damned" - is the one thing that continues to haunt our political system.  It is not the structure of the Senate or the nature of our electoral system.

As Krugman points out, and the evidence is accumulating to support him, the unrest in Egypt was caused primarily - overwhelmingly -  by economic issues.  Those economic issues revolve mostly around rising food prices, which is a real issue in the developing world.  And rising food prices can be definitively tied to global climate change.

Meanwhile, the Party of The Gut Over The Brain continues to debate the established science.  They deny climate change almost entirely for two reasons: coal and oil money helps keep them in office and because the experts say it's happening and screw the experts.  Your average Teatard doesn't get any campaign contributions from the Kochs or ExxonMobil, but they HATE those pointy headed experts.

And just as they rallied around Jackson and his demagoguery, they are rallying around Palin and her ilk.

It can win elections, but it's bad for the country.  In case anyone cares about that.

UPDATE: Get the full low down here.

The Untethering

Balk like an Egyptian...

I announced to my class yesterday what I heard over the Intertubes, that Mubarak was stepping down.  A lot of "that's cool" and "great" and one student from China said, "It took long enough."

That last one is especially ironic.  Ole Deng Xiaopeng said as to what he thought of the French Revolution, "It's too soon to tell."  Add in the whole Chinese student impatient with the speed of democratic change thing and...

It's been a tad over two weeks since the protests broke out in Egypt.  Mubarak is toast, but he's holding on for reasons that can't be clear to anyone.

I think we're seeing a clear example of a central problem with authoritarian regimes.  Many have spoken about the Beltway Bubble that afflicts our elected officials, but the fact is American politicians absolutely have to keep an ear to the ground, a finger to the wind and a trite to the cliche.

Despots, like Mubarak, really have no freaking clue how legitimacy works.  Coercion works for a while, maybe a good long while.  But at some point, the illegitimacy of the despot trumps the people's fear of coercion.  Once that happens, once the people break free of the shackles of fear, there really is little hope for coercion to prevail.  At least against a majoritarian movement.

Sure there are counter examples, but take Tiananmen.  After the massacre, the Chinese regime moved to increase its legitimacy by bringing growth and increased standards of living to its urban elite.  The same urban elite who largely fueled the protests.

Iran in 2009 might be another example, but as Deng said, "Too soon to tell."

I think Mubarak's presence in the Presidential Palace can be measured in days, not weeks or months.  When the military stopped the Thug Riots, that was it.  Unless the military does an about face - and I don't think it will - Mubarak has no coercive resources left to him.  He's already promised to leave.  And there really is no one who wants him to stay at this point besides the Israeli leadership and his immediate family.

He's lost his grip on reality.

His grip on power is sure to follow.

UPDATE:  I think it's pretty clear that I was the guy who brought him down through the power of this blog.