Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Saturday, August 31, 2013

We Are Not Going To War With Syria

We are very likely to strike military targets over a narrow window of time and then stop.  We are not attempting regime change.  We are not putting soldiers on the ground.

The best comparison isn't even Libya.  It's Yemen.

So everyone arguing that we shouldn't "go to war" with Syria is arguing against a straw man.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Parliamentary Debate

I greatly appreciate having Juan Cole as a resource on the internet, but I think he misses something about the vote in Parliament that shot down military action in Syria.

Cameron presides over a coalition government.  The Liberal Democrats were notable for their reticence about Iraq, and as we've seen those who opposed Iraq even a little tend to be very anti-intervention.

Cameron can't risk whipping the Lib Dems on a vote of confidence, because he will lose and that will force elections... that he will likely lose.  The Lib Dems meanwhile, need to separate themselves from the economic hardships that the Conservatives have foisted on the country.

Cole does say that the case against Syria is stronger than some suggests, but that Obama might want to consider shifting to the humanitarian aid rather than strikes.

While there is some appeal to that, it strikes me as leading down the road to another Somalia.

In One Fear And Out The Other

I was struck by the final quote in this piece.  By 2020, marijuana is likely to be effectively legal for most Americans.  And at the end, a drug warrior was basically predicting the collapse of American civilization because of it.

As with marriage equality, I think what we will see is that legalization of marijuana will prove to be a nothing-burger for most people.  Legalized or not, I'm not smoking pot.  I don't smoke, so why start?

But the idea that marijuana is somehow demon weed or we'll all see reefer madness fundamentally misunderstands how marijuana works on the brain.  But we've used fear for so long to keep it illegal that drug warriors have effectively forced themselves into a corner.  Pot isn't heroin or cocaine, and when it becomes clear that it's not, we will lose one of the things we've been scared by for decades.

It depresses me how much we live in fear - fear of terrorists, fear of potheads, fear of black teenagers in hoodies carrying Skittle, fear of gay people getting married, fear of the government - and how toxic we know fear and anxiety are to us as organisms.

I've worried that Thing One will grow up to be some mountain man living in a cabin in the woods.

Then I wonder if that might not be a good thing.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Iraq And A Hard Case

Chait is right that anyone on the left who supported the Iraq war has now gone overboard to atone from their sins of 15 years ago.  John Cole over at Balloon Juice is apoplectic over the impending strikes in Syria.  To him, it's Iraq all over again, and since he supported that and regrets it, he's dead set against Syria.

And Chait is also right that Libya worked at what it was intended to do.  It stopped a wholesale humanitarian nightmare, should Gaddafi have reached Benghazi and started slaughtering people by the thousands.  That doesn't mean Libya is now Switzerland, but it was never the goal to make it Switzerland.  It just wasn't allowed to be Rwanda.

I'm still not sure that the Assad regime purposefully used chemical weapons.  It could have been a unit commander with a wild hair up his ass, Ahmed D. Ripper. Today's report certainly suggests that - while it was governmental troops who launched the attack - there are serious gaps in our proof that Assad ordered the strikes.

But this isn't Iraq, unless we put boots on the ground, and that simply isn't happening.

Nor are we going to insure an end to the violence in Syria.

We are simply going to punish Assad for the use of chemical weapons and go home.

If there is to be a debate, it should be about whether we know that Assad's command ordered the strikes.  And if the answer is yes, we should launch punitive strikes.

But there is increasingly a consensus from certain precincts that A) the government is lying about this for some reason because they want to go to war and B) even if the government isn't lying it wouldn't make any difference anyway.

That's a closure of thought that I don't think is healthy.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


So, I guess we're about to feed the War Pig in Syria.

On the one hand, the Dirty Fecking Hippies were right about Iraq.  On the other, the Sensible Interventionist Centrists were right about Libya.  (At least right about it not being a quagmire.)

I'm betting this is another Libya.  We explode enough ordinance in Syria to pay for laptops for every school child in America.  Terrible people are killed and different terrible people benefit.

But if the bright line was crossed, I don't see much options.

If you have punitive warfare or coercive warfare, I can handle a little punitive warfare designed to punish the Assad mob.  But if we think we can coerce a result that will make us happy, we are kidding ourselves.

Monday, August 26, 2013


Ezra Klein notes that health care and education do not conform to market forces, because they HAVE to be purchased at some point.  If you CAN go to college, you MUST go to college.

Well, maybe.

But his point is that the greatest power a consumer has is the power to say, "No".  iPhone 5 too expensive?  I'll wait until it comes down in price.  Maybe look at a Droid.

You can't do that with chemotherapy and you probably shouldn't do that with college.

He buttresses this point by noting how much money we spend on health care and education compared to other developed countries and how poorly our results are.

The comments are depressing as hell, a relentless march of market fundamentalists and Tea Party trolls.

The basic comparison point is that OECD countries have the government RUN health care and much of higher education, whereas in the US this is in private hands.

In health care and in college, this means that if you have money, your results are excellent.  You can get the best care and your kid can go to Stanford.

If you DON'T have money, you are going to struggle.  And those struggles accumulate over generations.

OECD countries have aggressive and pervasive welfare states that don't allow for the sort of poverty we see in the US.  And much of that poverty exists among a heterogeneous populations of minorities.  

If you remove the poor from America's health care and education system, we come out near the top.  If you just look at the poor we are at the bottom.

John Edwards was a scumbag, but he was right about Two Americas.

The War Pig

I'm with Booman that my questions aren't answered.  There are logical problems in this that haven't been answered.  But the war drums are being beaten.  And as we saw in 2003, once the war drums start beating, it is very hard to silence them.

But I'm not sure that we are headed for a full on war.  This feels more like a Libya than an Iraq.  That doesn't make it OK, it doesn't make it right and it doesn't make it safe.

But I don't think this is Iraq.  Because if it is, then this is how the Republicans win the White House in 2016.


A typical provocative Salon piece, but it raises an important point: our current model of teaching doesn't work nearly as well as we hope it would.  And some of that is based on premises about learning and teaching that just don't hold pedagogical water.

I'm not sure that democratic classrooms work, however.  My guess is that they work for those they work for and the ones who don't thrive (or survive) there don't last.

Thought provoking anyway.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

What's The Outcome?

Where are the Snowden leaks going?

Part of the problem of Greenwald's plaintiff's briefs are that they allow for him to be the messenger.  His threats against the British government when they detain his husband to try and recover - let's face it - stolen goods make him the story.

I don't think the NSA is systematically invading the privacy of Americans.  I don't think what Snowden reveals is a system put into place to spy on Americans.

I do think it reveals an NSA that accidentally spies on Americans and that allows people within the NSA to do things they shouldn't be allowed to do.

Just as the FISC ordered the NSA to stop sweeping up citizen's emails in their sweeps, I'd like to see Congress put reforms in place to greater protect the civil liberties of US citizens.  I want to make sure that the ONLY use of this metadata collection is to thwart attacks against the US, not drug trafficking or criminal behavior.

But that becomes hard when Greenwald (and Snowden, too) are the story.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Bulwer-Lytton, Baby

I love these.

A sampling:

As the sun dropped below the horizon, the safari guide confirmed the approaching cape buffaloes were herbivores, which calmed everyone in the group, except for Herb, of course.

Before they met, his heart was a frozen block of ice, scarred by the skate blades of broken relationships, then she came along and like a beautiful Zamboni flooded his heart with warmth, scraped away the ugly slushy bits, and dumped them in the empty parking lot of his soul.

He had a way with women that was at first endearing, then gradually engendered caution and finally outright rejection, like potato salad at a summer picnic.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Interesting Question

Since we are all NSA all the time, here's a question:

If your communications are scanned and analyzed by a computer with no humans ever reading them and then deleted, does that constitute an unconstitutional violation of privacy?

That's not a snarky question.  If we read TPM's summary of what the NSA has been revealed as doing, very rarely do human eyes come into contact with any of our communications.  Most of the 'reading' appears to be done by AI programs.

While we have seen some FISC oversight, it's weak and hampered by asymmetry in capabilities; the NSA can hide more than the FISC can find.  But when it finds things wrong, it can compel the NSA to change what it's doing.

It seems to me that what we are dealing with is a new definition of surveillance, in that it's being carried out by computers rather than actual people.

I Endorse This

Booman also noted that every time Greenwald overhypes a situation it erodes his credibility.

The NSA story is extraordinarily complicated and nuanced and that's not Greenwald's game.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

More Details On FISA Ruling

The details here do seem to suggest that much of the email traffic the NSA swept us, it did so accidentally.  The NSA claims it discarded citizen's domestic emails after it realized what they were.  The FISA court claims it said that wasn't good enough, so the NSA changed its filters.

Part of the problem is that the NSA (No Such Agency) is so defined by secrecy that they can't even admit evidence that would seem to make them look good.  This revelation shows that there are processes at work that help protect civil liberties.  It isn't perfect, but the NSA is not trying to spy on Americans.

Maybe if they had released this finding back in June, they could have short circuited the momentum behind this story.  It never would have satisfied Greenwald and Co., but it would have been better than the "Trust us!" defense that they came up with.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Maybe It's Working?

On the day the Army threw the book library at Manning, we get an article with a headline that says, "Look!  What they were doing WAS unconstitutional!"

But I read the article and what it said was that the NSA was sweeping up massive amounts of data.  It swept up US citizens communications because it was indiscriminate in its collection.  That much data and stuff got swept up.

So the FISA court, which Greenwald & Co. has been saying is a great big rubber stamp, told the NSA that they couldn't do that.

So the NSA stopped doing that.

That is the system working.  So would passing reforms like those of Merkley and Widen.

But it won't make a difference to the purity trolls of Libertania.


Reading this expose of the Special Operations Division of the DEA seems to be exactly the sort of problem that the NSA program opens itself up to.  But reading through the article, it's unclear whether the NSA is forwarding wiretaps of American citizens in the US, or whether they are getting half a conversation by listening in to an international call.

In a broader sense, this is the worst possible conflation of the War of Drugs and the War on Terror.  Wars erode civil liberties almost by definition.  The War on Drugs has, for years, eroded civil liberties.  Drug dealers are not very sympathetic and neither are terrorists, so we haven't cared much.

But we've also seen two trends: one is the increased incidents of abuses by the drug enforcement agencies and two is the public acceptance of some drug legalization.

We need to disenthrall ourselves from this idea that we can wage "war" on drugs or terror.

What we need to do instead is focus on hardening ourselves and our society against addiction and attack.  And perversely, it is hard to make drug treatment and addiction prevention palatable if we are "waging war" on drugs.

And let's not sugar coat it.  Drugs kill a ton more people than terrorism does.  Marijuana may be reasonably safe, but moving up the scale from there, things get pretty dicey.

The question is whether drugs cause this problem or drug crimes.  I've been binge-watching The Wire and season three grapples with this in the creation of "Hampsterdam" - a legalized drug free zone.  But that is heroin and cocaine mostly, not pot.

Part of this is a political problem in that our political emotions tend to be similar to a five year old child.  If something displeases us, we want to smash it.  We don't like drugs and terrorism, so we will smash them.

Forty years later, the effect on drug use has been minimal. Islamic terrorism has been negated, but what do we call Newtown?  Eau Claire?  Aurora?

Hell if I know.

We need to pull back a little on our police state, but at the same time, crime is at all time lows.

Any ideas?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Intreresting, But...

Conspiracy theories ex post facto ways of explaining traumatic events.  By investing events with larger conspiracies, we are able to sooth our jangling nerves when exposed to the real chaos of the world.  The idea that Bush allowed 9/11 to happen (or FDR allowed Pearl Harbor to happen) is more soothing than the idea that those that wish to do us harm need only get lucky once.  The idea that 19 assholes with box cutters can bring down the WTC is profoundly unnerving.  The idea that Oswald could cap JFK is scary

But what Walker describes is different.  He's describing conspiracy theories before the fact.  That's the paranoia.

And that really is Bin Laden's victory.

Conspiracy theories... whatever.  They happen.  Some get traction, some don't.  They are coping mechanisms.  Easier to believe that Bush opened the levees than to wrestle with the underlying poverty and hopelessness of the Ninth Ward.

But our reaction to the events of 9/11 has created a paranoia in the "deep state" of the national security apparatus.  That's what leads to the NSA programs that may or may not be wholesale invasions of our private communications.  Maybe they're warehousing data, maybe they're listening in on our phone calls.  In a paranoid state, who's to say.

By putting the paranoia before the facts makes every black kid in a hoodie a criminal, as opposed to observing that criminals often wear hoodies.  That lack of distinction between causation and correlation makes for crappy policy.  It makes for an intrusive surveillance state and Trayvon Martin.

The question is, how do we stop it?

And I have no idea what the answer to that is.

Monday, August 19, 2013

I'll Support This

Not all of it maybe, but I think this is fair:

GOP Can't Govern. Hates Brown People.


Heathrow And Stop And Frisk

Here is what we know.

First, we have David Miranda being stopped at Heathrow for nine hours and having all of his electronic devices confiscated presumably so they can find out what Snowden and Greenwald are about to leak next.

As I think Soonergrunt noted over at Balloon Juice, it's always helpful to wait 24 hours to comment on something Greenwald alleges.  Here is Booman's take:

Andrew Sullivan hyperventilates that this makes Britain just as unfriendly to journalists as Russia.  Which is so self-evidently stupid as to boggle the mind.

Since the fall of communism, over 400 journalists have been killed in Russia, most by outright murder.  Let's assume only a quarter of those were carried out by the state.  In other words, let's give Putin every possible benefit of the doubt.  So Putin has killed about 100 journalists.  And the British cloned Miranda's electronic devices and inconvenienced his travel plans.

That sounds exactly the same!

Snowden broke the law.  Maybe he broke the law in a Thoreau/King/Ellsbury sense, but he broke the law.  The police are going to come after him.  And they are going to come after him hard.  Miranda is technically not a journalist but a courier suspected of carrying classified information.

This has generated a level of outrage on the Internet, freedom of the press and so forth.

Meanwhile, stop-and-frisk and its various iterations across the country, the routine hassling of people in all walks of life, coercive police practices that make up the bulk of our "war on drugs" will continue unabated.  Maybe stop-and-frisk will change to lessen the presence of racial profiling, but the police will still harass and intimidate poor people over drugs.

But the police can point to a result and say, "We pulled a murder weapon of this guy."  The NSA can't as easily point to a success (maybe the absence of a negative, no terrorist attacks).  Nor, frankly, have we seen a demonstrable case of this rampant listening-in leading to someone being arrested for non-terrorist reasons.

There is an important debate we need to have (and need to have constantly in the life of the republic) over the proper trade-offs between safety and liberty.  That is the necessary realm of the state, and it has been ever since Hobbes put pen to parchment.

But we can't have that debate if we are constantly hyperventilating over every little damned thing.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Well, This Is A Steaming Pile Of Bullshit

There are a number of problems with this analysis.

The basic historical premise: that America has at times subsumed democratic aspirations is inarguable, but O'Hehir only gives examples up until the overthrow of Allende.  I mean he starts with the damned Tripolitan wars of the early 19th century.

Yes, we propped up Mubarak.  And so did many others both globally and within Egypt.  Mubarak fell, because his regime could no longer provide basic services.  Same goes for Morsi's government. These dynamics are Egyptian first, last and in between.  Yes, we have ties to the Egyptian military, but it's pretty clear that we don't have control over them, based on the bloodshed of the last few days.  Or maybe we ordered the bloodshed, because....

Ironically, O'Hehir is falling into the same bullshit trap that McCain, Graham and the neo-cons fall into: Everything in the world is done with America's direct supervision or permission.

This is the logic of 9/11 being an inside job, because how could anyone possibly attack us without our knowing?  This is the logic that FDR allowed Pearl Harbor to happen.  This is the "logic" of the sweaty conspiracy theorist.

For several decades we had a coherent foreign policy of containing communism, with a little detente thrown in.  Opposition to Moscow was a unifying and bi-partisan position.  After 1991, we had a brief moment of global hegemony.  Iraq destroyed that.  It demonstrated conclusively the limits of our power.  Combine that with the financial collapse in 2008 and you have a clear delineation of the limits of American power.

But in the minds of Americans, we still retain some sort of global hegemony.  We still call all the shots.

As long as we are in thrall to that ridiculous vision, our foreign policy will be bound on two sides by idiocy.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Can Reform Happen?

I can't say for sure that the NSA is as out of control as the CIA was before the Church Committee, but it certainly seems like it's a great big heaving mess.

Consider this revelation:

The big news in The Washington Post on Friday was Barton Gellman’s huge scoop about the thousands of times the National Security Agency has broken privacy rules or overstepped its legal authority in recent years.

It appears that a lot were accidental, some were just NSA agents screwing around and some were official actions made by the NSA.

The accidental "invasions of privacy" are not really a big deal, because the NSA corrected that as soon as it found out.  The big deal is simply the number of times this happened.  Because this suggests a TON of requests for internal surveillance.

The NSA agents screwing around seems to be what Snowden was talking about, when he said he could access anyone's email account.  This sort of behavior should be prosecuted or the people doing it should lose their jobs.

The policy part, where the NSA just did shit without asking, is obviously the most troubling thing.

As the piece above explains:

Under Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the government is required to immediately notify the court if it believes court orders have been violated. But Gellmen’s article on Friday pointed to at least one instance in which the court did not learn of a new collection method used by the agency until it had been in use for a number of months. After learning of the new method, the court deemed it unconstitutional.

You have to fix that.

And you have to fix what's happening in the culture of the NSA that allows that to happen.

I'm a little worried that the Obama Administration is starting to dig in their heels too much on this and other issues (Larry Summers).

Obama is Center-Left, not Left and not a Marxist-Socialist-Muslim.  But he needs to throw his base a bone or two.  Shit-canning some top guys at the NSA and nominating Yellen would go some ways to mollifying his base.

The Cradle Of Civilization

There was a possibility that the Egyptian military could have exercised a power similar to the Turkish military.

That possibility no longer exists.

One way the Turkish military was held responsible was by NATO.  That interconnectivity with the West helped restrain them from firing into crowds and the like.  But the argument that we need more interconnectivity now won't work.  It's too late.

That the Egyptian military tortured people under Mubarak is hardly surprising, and an institution that for years has acted like that is not going to be able to change its mindset easily.

If anything it looks like the Arab Spring caught the US military unprepared, because we had not tried to channel friendly Arab militaries into potential benign actors.  After the outcry over the School of the Americas in the '80s, I think we made some efforts to stop training death squads and start training the military to respect civil institutions.  For whatever reason, the end of the Cold War allowed democracy to grow in Latin America.

That result looks stillborn in Egypt.

Which is not to say the long term outlook is impossible, but part of the problem is that we have now politicized everything.

Lindsay Graham and John McCain went to Egypt and - according to sources within the Egyptian military, so take it with a boulder of salt - boxed the military in.  And all the talk of Obama being a Muslim sleeper agent means that Fox News is going to be howling with new Benghazis.

If Obama stands up to the army, he's in bed with the Muslim Brotherhood.  If he doesn't take action against the army, he tacitly approves killing civilians.  And if you think Fox is the capital of Crazytown on this, I can guarantee you that the Egyptians have and will embrace conspiracy theories far more bizarre than even Steve King (R-Douchebag) can come up with.

This - I would argue - is why there is very little upside to being a global hegemon.

The primary reason to keep paying off the Egyptian military is to keep the peace with Israel.  And so the second lesson is, we need to stop letting Israel dictate our foreign policy.

I have no idea what our proper course should be in Egypt.  Which is why doing nothing is probably the only smart play.  This will unleash howls from the neo-conservatives who spend every waking moment measuring America's dick against phalluses all over the world.

There is a hoary, hide-bound mental atrophy at the root of neo-conservatism that spends every day seeing the world as a zero-sum contest.  This was the Cold War way of dealing with the world, and that approach had its merits (the Korean War) and its deficits (the Korean War).

In a complex, multi-polar world zero-sum doesn't make sense.  If we withdraw from Egyptian affairs, the Russians or Chinese could move in.  But would this weaken us?  What advantages do we get from our involvement in Egyptian affairs?  Peace for Israel?  Ayman al-Zawahiri?  And whatever Russia might gain from selling arms to Egypt it gets hit by aggravating Islamists within and without Russia.

The moment to do something good in Egypt was probably in 2001, but our need for rendition sites, our need for allies against Saddam Hussein all made that impossible given the political landscape here.  And since the Bush Administration was full of zero-sum neo-cons, they saw Egypt as a vassal state, not an ally.  A pawn in the GWOT.

Doing almost nothing is unacceptable.  But it's probably the best thing that can be done.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Problem With Elites

Interesting piece and largely accurate.

But what Lind describes is not "elite" opinion so much as neo-conservative and center-right wealthy CW.

"Elite" opinion can - and should - include people like Paul Krugman and Joe Stiglitz who have been remarkably prescient.

Your Daily Passport To Crazytown

(In the piece above, Pareene links to a review of Amity Shlaes The Forgotten Man.  It's well worth a read, too.)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

This Is Cool

Probably too cool to ever actually happen though.


It's a whole new world out there.

On the day that the estimable TBogg hangs up his spurs, I write about a "lecture" I saw last night by Maureen Orth - Vanity Fair journalist and Tim Russert's widow - and Chuck Todd.

The lecture was about media and politics.  Orth made a long and whiny argument about the encroachment of new media on traditional media.  Basically, she was making the case for elite media.  She even brought up David Broder as a counterweight to Nate Silver.  She felt twitter and tumblr were fine for those poor wretches over in the duskier lands, but Americans needed respectable journalists to tell them what was going on.

Todd tended to be more diplomatic in his comments about new media, but that only gave him the appearance of vacillating.

While Todd decried the Gawker method of journalism - and the idea that clicks and traffic is the measure of a story is a poor one - he failed to note that the results that he condemned - salacious, prurient news leading - is as old as Heart and Pulitzer.  Before Gawker, we still had Lewinsky, Gennifer Flowers and Donna Rice.  "If it bleeds, it leads" predates TMZ.

Todd basically predicted the death of the daily local newspaper.  I would agree that the newspaper as we know it is doomed.  There will still be national newspapers like the Times, the Post and the Journal, but the local papers will become less and less.

The implications are two fold.

First is the local effect.  This is the downside.  I find the DC press to be pretty lame.  Todd tried to lay that off on the Internet, but the fact is David Broder never broke a story that I can remember, and Woodward and Bernstein only broke Watergate, because they didn't know any better.  Journalists may have once been proud to be on Nixon's Enemies List, but no one wants to lose access to a source on the Hill by reporting things which are overly critical.

But there is infinitely more corruption and graft at the local level than at the national level.  Stop-and-frisk is a much more serious invasion of our civil liberties than the NSA programs, and luckily NYC has several viable newspapers to report on that.  A similar program in, say, Indianapolis or Houston is unlikely to get the same scrutiny.  If you want to look at the value of local papers, look at the work the New Orleans Times-Picayune did during and after Katrina.

Losing papers at the local level will greatly impede the role of journalism as government watchdog.

Secondly, the effect at the national level is likely to be a net gain.

Orth actually held up David Broder going door to door in Iowa as an exemplar of the sort of journalism that should be done.  All that does is give a sense of what people in a handful of neighborhoods in a homogeneous state feels.  Did Mr. Broder go into the rough neighborhoods of Charleston, SC?  Did he venture into rural hamlets?  Probably not.  He brought his own interpretation of middle class verities to bear on his "interviews".

What Nate Silver did was accurately look at what the electorate was saying about itself in the macro sense.  Silver and the other poll aggregators were - as Silver's book explains - separating the signal from the noise.  Broder and the DC press tended to give too much weight to pollsters like Gallup, because Gallup was old and venerable.  But Gallup is actually a pretty lousy pollster for accuracy, as Silver and his ilk have pointed out.  And Rasmussen is a joke.

But in the "salons of Georgetown" Gallup was the gold standard and PPP was partisan.  Except PPP has been the gold standard if what you care about is accuracy.  The reliance on Gallup is a good example of unexamined group think.  The DC media's marching lockstep into Iraq in 2003 would be another.  The constant harping on l'affair de Lewinsky yet another.

I left before I could ask my question, because I could tell I was not going to get an answer that did anything but upset me.  But the critique of This Town is that the courtier press is too close to the power structures of DC to accurately call them to task.  Political reporters in DC are part of the same structures of permanent government that has no interest in examining the bigger questions.  Hence the horse race coverage of elections, rather than delving into issues.

If the local press is dying for lack of resources, the DC press is dying for lack of guts.

Both instances lend itself to a weakening of the role of the Fourth Estate as watchdog.

But whereas commentary has improved with the internet - Nate Silver, Ezra Klein, Alex Pareene all got their starts online - there is a deleterious effect on the day to day reportage.

The solution was acknowledged last night.

Longer form journalism will still thrive.

The New Yorker, Rolling Stone and The Atlantic will still produce investigatory pieces.  It was Jane Mayer in The New Yorker who began to peel back the secrecy of the torture regime.  It was Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone who exposed the banksters.

The question is: can we find that level of reportage at the local level.

That's the critical question.

Not how to bring back the journalistic world of David Broder.


Monday, August 12, 2013

A Good Move

The Obama Administration is looking to unclog the prisons by reducing the sentences of non-violent drug offenders and stop prosecuting them so strenuously.

Absent action by the do-nothing Congress, this is a pretty good step.

It would be nice to see them re-schedule marijuana as a schedule three drug, but that might require them to get congressional approval and...

Booman wants to know what the administration can do without Congress to advance a more progressive agenda, and this certainly qualifies.  (I suggested killing the Keystone pipeline.)

But we are boxed in to an inert government by the lack of Republicans willing to even negotiate with the Administration.  Even in Clinton's second term, he was able to get CHIP passed.

I fear Obama will be reduced to impermanent executive actions.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Invisible War

Booman says we're bombing Yemen.  The Guardian says we've carried out 8 strikes in the past two weeks.  Given the information we've been hearing about attacks originating from Yemen, this hardly seems surprising.  Some nitwit at Salon was writing that the whole "terrorist threat" was created to silence the media over the Snowden revelations.

There is a natural tendency towards conspiracy theories.  This is especially true in the Arab world.  Read what the Egyptians are saying about the US today.  Chances are they see Obama behind the Mubarak regime, the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and the violent squelching of the Brotherhood.  And you can likely get that from one person.

Generally speaking, I'm very leery of conspiracy theories, because they rely on complexity.  I'm a devotee of Occam's Razor.  The idea that the NSA cooked up a threat in Yemen and then the CIA and US military began striking targets in order to justify domestic wiretaps, when the NSA and CIA are NOT claiming that the intercepts they got were domestic... where is the logic in that?

Now, the question as to whether assassinating Al Qaeda members is the appropriate response to this threat is - I suppose - open for debate. Assassination - for lack of a better word - is not an illogical tactic to take against a widespread, non-state actor.  But it does represent a change in American values.

As for the fact that it's drones doing the assassinating, whatever.  Would it make everyone feel better if the missile strike came from an F-16?

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The New Gilded Age 2.0

I have to say, even I'm a little surprised by some of the numbers Blow presents in his column.  I've always said the main problem with the GOP is a fundamental lack of empathy, but it's sad to see so many Americans believe the same tired, false tropes about poverty and the poor.

I would have thought that the recent economic turmoil would have created some empathy for the poor, but more likely, those that teetered on the edge of bankruptcy were able to pull themselves back because the stimulus saved GM, and they work as a GM dealership.  Or they were able to re-finance their home because the Fed kept interest rates low.  Or they relied on family who weren't struggling.

Basically they benefited from either government measures or family connections, and saw in this their own personal virtue.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Your Daily Context Free Sentence

But the rise of Tea Party conservatism, fueled by white racial panic and zero-sum distributional conflicts in the Great Recession, has turned this minor, once-forgotten figure into an icon for a new generation of nerds who imagine themselves Nietzschean Ubermenschen oppressed by the totalitarian tyranny of the post office and the Social Security administration.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Your Post-Racial America Update

Protesters in Arizona (*naturally) get real close to the ni-clang moment.  My favorite quote is that one of these protesters hates Obama because of the way he "divided all the races".  Um... yeah.  Because blacks are the real racists keeping the white man down.

Meanwhile, apparently the devil went down to Georgia and registered as a Republican.  Your average Georgia Republican respects racist fat monger Paula Deen more than Martin Luther King, because again, it's blacks that are the real racists.

And Rand Paul, every liberals favorite conservative, has a bit of a racial blindspot.  But don't call him racist!

Proving that it's not just Southerners, someone vandalized the Jackie Robinson statue in Brooklyn.

Your Sentence Of The Day

The real reason, everyone knows and sort of acknowledges, is that debates were a disaster for the party in 2012, an endless circus made up entirely of clowns on a national tour of shame.

You can read the rest here:

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The New Gilded Age

This is a fascinating piece of analysis from Josh Marshall.  Basically, he looks at Jeff Bezos buying the WaPo and opining: "Since we're in the new Gilded Age, we just need to assess whether Bezos is Andrew Carnegie or John Rockefeller."

Newspapers are not profitable and owning them in the 21st century will be something akin to patronizing the arts or libraries in the 19th century.

But newspapers - unlike TV news - tends to commit actual journalism from time to time. They investigate actual stories, develop sources and run scoops.

Since Bezos' business model is squeezing the living crap out of his employees in order to produce a cheap product for the consumer, it will be interesting to see how the WaPo's editorial stance changes.  The Wall Street Journal went from conservative to Tea Party when Murdoch took over, but their reporters still do good reporting.

Now, the WaPo used to be owned by Kaplan testing services, which made it subservient to the idea of privatized education "reform".  So it's not like Bezos is bedding a virgin here.

But Washington DC is like the rest of America.  There is a very, very wealthy top and a struggling middle and bottom.  It will be interesting to see how the Bezos WaPo differs from the Kaplan WaPo.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Your Sentence Of The Week

Apportioning the blame for the death of Newsweek is a bit like assessing the counterfactual of what would happen if you resurrected the captain of the Titanic and put him in charge of with a central office in circa-2004 Iraq.

Well played.

Sunday, August 4, 2013


I just spent the last two days finishing up a primary source document reader for our AP students.

I'm very pooped.

But it was interesting reading things like Lincoln's Cooper Union Speech, Wilson's war message to Congress, the 'smoking gun tape' and, yes, the Starr Report for the first time.

I just saved the little bastards $150 in textbooks.  Hope they appreciate that.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Punditry In A Nutshell

Coming soon: GOP primary 2016!

I don't know who Jonathon Bernstein is, but this is the second piece of his at Salon that has me shaking my head.  First, he argued that Ted Cruz could win the Presidency.  Now he's arguing that the GOP could win the White House and the Democrats could win the House before 2022.

His argument is that the "pundits" are wrong when they make a case of demographics trumping candidates.  But it's not pundits making these claims.  It's political scientists like Ruy Teixeira and John Judis.  It's stats guys like Nate Silver and Sam Wang.

They are looking at levels of partisanship and partisan identity and seeing very little movement.  The idea that - somehow - a GOP candidate for president could get more than 35% of the Hispanic vote because of poor economic fundamentals, neglects to consider the level of animosity the GOP rank and file have shown towards Hispanics.  The occasional nice words from GOP Senators from Arizona might preserve those seats, but any GOP candidate who expresses any enthusiasm for immigration reform that embraces a road to legal status simply can't win the nomination.

It was the "pundits" who said that John McCain picking Sarah Palin was going to shake up the race.  It was the "pundits" who said that Obama was too aloof to connect to Rust Belt voters.  It was the "pundits" who said the first debate last fall changed everything.

Ultimately, it was the demographics, the partisan loyalty and the message - which includes ideology - that determines these races.

The GOP - as Krugzilla points out - has gone batshit insane.  They are engaged in a conversation with themselves about Obamacare, Solyandra, Benghazi and Planned Parenthood that has no bearing on the real world experience of millions of Americans.

Bernstein seems to think that all it will take is a respectable (or not - Ted Cruz) candidate who can easily articulate a better "message" and can persuade voters to change their minds.  In other words: Jon Huntsman.

The reason partisan identity is so strong right now is because the parties have legitimate and profound ideological differences.  The House GOP just voted to pretty much end food stamps as we know it in order to keep subsidies flowing to agri-business.  The House GOP has passed countless attempts to repeal Obamacare and defund Planned Parenthood.  They have passed no efforts to create jobs.

While most Americans are not familiar with the daily workings of Congress and the importance - for instance - of the GOP crapping the bed over its transportation bill the other day, they understand which party stands for which.  This was somewhat what Mitt Romney was trying to say with his 47% comment.  It's not that 47% of Americans are "takers", it's that 47% of Americans aren't going to vote for the GOP until the GOP believes something very, very different (or the Democrats believe something very, very different).

Finally, the structural issues are important.  Democrats live in cities, because cities demonstrate the needs for an activist government and congregate different ethnicities in close proximity to each other.  That concentrates Democratic votes because it reinforces the Democratic ideology.  This also makes it much easier for the GOP to gerrymander the countryside and suburban districts.  They control the House because they controlled the Pennsylvania and Ohio re-districting efforts.

If the GOP continues to refuse to govern, then it is possible that enough House seats could flip to switch the House in 2016, but it is still unlikely.

As for the structural balance of the Presidential race, the Democrats start with a floor of 256 electoral votes.  That includes "swing states" like PA, MI, MN, CO and NV that aren't really swing states.  If Joe Biden wins Ohio, he's president.  If Hillary Clinton wins Florida, she's president.  If Marty O'Malley wins Wisconsin and Iowa, he's president.

The "Pundits" Bernstein claims to refute need a horse race.  And certainly "anything can happen".  A war, a terrorist attack, a pandemic, a depression, an epic scandal.

But outside of a calamitous event, the lines are hardening, not softening.

Friday, August 2, 2013

I Always Liked Benjamin Barber

“First a privatizing ideology rationalizes restricting public goods and public assets of the kind that might allow the public as a whole to rescue from their distress their fellow citizens who are in jeopardy; then the same privatizing ideology celebrates the wealthy philanthropists made possible by the market’s inequalities who earnestly step in to spend some fragment of their market fortunes to do what the public can no longer do for itself. Better philanthropy than nothing, but far better than philanthropy is a democratic public capable of taking care of itself with its own pooled resources and its own prudent planning. The private philanthropist does for others in the larger public what they have not been enabled to do for themselves, as a public; democracy, on the other hand, empowers the public to take care of itself.” 

Thursday, August 1, 2013


I don't know why Americans are experiencing more mental illness.  I don't doubt that it's at least in part because there are more people trained to catch more diseases.  I'm skeptical that Big Pharma is driving this by itself.  I've worked with various mental health professionals over the years and none of them have treated their degrees as a license to be a Pez dispenser for psychotropic meds.

I think there is something fundamentally broken in our society.  When I was in my early 20s, I suffered from depression.  There were a lot of reasons for it, but once I started doing a job I loved and felt was important, I wasn't depressed anymore.  And while I've certainly had my share of "the blues" over the years, I've never felt any episodes of depression since then were anything but transient responses to tough times.

Your life needs purpose and it needs to be full.  Much of what we do in life has little purpose.  I spent an hour yesterday filling out medical release forms for summer camps for the Things.  It was pointless and frustrating.  Most people have jobs like that, and while thankfully I don't I can see how if your job is processing medical forms in a radiologist's office, you might just feel depressed.

A hundred and fifty years ago, most Americans still lived on farms.  Farm work is direct and has immediate purpose.  It is tedious and hard, but it comes with a tangible result: fertilize, water and seed the field and you get food.  Compare that to the abstraction of wage labor.  Do a task that you probably don't see to its conclusion and you get money which you use to get the things you need.

All this applies to schools, too.  My entire job as a teacher is to make learning relevant.  The rest is detail work.  Nobody gives a damn about Jackson's war on the Second Bank of the United States.  But tie tie it in with the recent recession, and suddenly it means something.  Still, I'm kidding myself if I think that connection resonates with all my students.  I only hope I can catch their attention and interest once a day.

Because school, too, is a series of tasks that have no relevance to a person's life.  No wonder kids are depressed when their work is unimaginative and simply dull repetition.

A Companion Piece

This is the logical companion piece to the article by Ezra Klein below.

That's some quality TeeVee journalism, right there.