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

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Power Struggle In NYC

It will be interesting to see what happens in the latest power struggle between the police union and its members and the mayor.  The NYPD has won most of its confrontations with majors, including Rudy Giuliani whom they tussled with in the '90s.

But I think the climate is different now.  Crime is down and awareness of police lethality is up.  I'm not sure that they will win this time.

But the idea of a police slow down is not going to win them many supporters.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

I'm Kind Of A Big Deal

I am a finalist of sorts in the Swift Memorial Roundup.  It is here.

I do feel weird about celebrating that post, because of what "inspired" it.  It was about a year ago exactly that we learned of Zoe's death, may she rest in peace.

Known Knowns and Known Unknowns

So, the mental and emotional recession is finally over.  We know that people tend to hang on to economic perceptions after things have already changed.  The Petite Depression of 2008 really began in 2007.  And it was largely over - under economic definitions - by 2010.  But so many other parts of the economy - wages especially - were stagnant.

It felt like crap.

The fallout from financial crises are often long and miserable, because the entire financial system is out of whack.  Plus you add bad policy like Europe did and you can drag this out forever.  But they do eventually end.

America emerged quicker, ironically because the US central bank embraced inflationary policies while the European central bank listened to those stupid Austrians.

But the final piece to click into place was the combination of falling unemployment - which will begin to put upward pressure on wages - and the relaxation of the "energy choke collar".

My own pet theory, backed by absolutely no data analysis, is that energy cost is the single most important factor in economic health in the modern world.

Which is why cheap, renewable energy is arguably the most important economic issue facing the world.  Every kWh produced by wind or solar is a kWh not produced by lighting hydrocarbons on fire.  You spend the sunk cost and then when it's paid off you have incredibly cheap energy.  And that leaves more money to be placed in people's bank accounts.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Saturday, December 27, 2014

NYPD Bruise

I understand that the NYPD feel they are owed some sort of special status by virtue of their job.  Police are an important part of a functioning modern society.

However, regular citizens - even the dark skinned ones - believe that they are entitled not to be killed by the police, not to leave in fear of the police, not to kowtow before police authority.

That Mayor De Blasio could say these things, namely that his black-skinned son should be careful when dealing with the police, and this would cause enough outrage that they would turn their back on him during a memorial service, suggests once more that the police don't understand what the phrase "public servant" means.

And that's what's so scary about all this.  The police no longer see themselves as public servants but as master of the public.

Friday, December 26, 2014

NSA Document Dump

The NSA dropped an FOIA document load on Christmas.  In it, we discover that probably the biggest problem is that people in the NSA are people.  So they do illegal things like spy on their ex and pass around embarrassing personal information.

Less 1984 Big Brother and more the reality show Big Brother.

I hate to keep flagellating a theme, but the problem with our institutions is that people (cops, NSA agents, bankers, the torture regime) feel that laws don't really apply to them.  Laws are for little people.

That is incredibly corrosive to a democratic society.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Things Made Out Like Bandits

Hope your Christmas brought you some of what you want and everything you truly needed.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Martial Law

Listening even to a few minutes of cable news is enough to make me despair of American democracy.  Today, obviously, the topic was the tragic execution of two NYPD officers by a psychopath.  And the immediate politicization of that act.

Josh Marshall strikes to the heart of the troubling problem demonstrated here.  The police are public servants who feel themselves immune to the public they serve.  They see the populace - especially the black populace - as an enemy that must be subdued.  And this creates tensions, especially when a mayor like De Blasio basically points out this tension and gets eviscerated in the media by the police union head.

I would and have argued that police need a strong sense of legitimacy to do their jobs well.  Most white people feel the police are legitimate, so they usually comply with police requests (unless they're libertarians).  If police lose that sense of legitimacy, their jobs become much harder and what's more they become more dangerous.

I am putting myself squarely in the "I want fewer dead people" camp.  That includes kids with BB guns and police officers sitting in their squad car.  I don't distinguish.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Wind Power

The attached article talks about how US wind power has fluctuated because it's dependent on federal tax subsidies and the Congress is such a hot mess right now that those subsidies come and go.

But what was really interesting was this map:

Texas is the big wind energy producer, which is mildly surprising.  Iowa makes sense, but the lack of wind in Montana is strange.  And then you have the Confederacy. While technically, Texas is part of the Confederacy, they are really just Texas, sui generis in so many ways.  And Texas does energy, so why not wind?

But we can see from the map how important state action is in producing wind energy.  And the South just isn't interested.

Some of this is simply Cleek's Law in action.  Since "liberals" like wind energy, we must be opposed.  Some of it is simply being so reflexively anti-government that they can't see the benefits of the government acting on this, despite the fact that the government does all SORTS of nice things for hydrocarbon industries.

Wind energy is somewhat expensive to start and then remarkably cheap to sustain.  After the turbines are up, there is no fuel beyond the weather.  It is a perfect example of long term thinking.  Build the turbines now and you reap the benefits later.

All of which leaves the environmental impact out of the equation.

And as we've seen, reducing the consumption of hydrocarbons - especially petroleum - is an excellent way to undermine authoritarian regimes without otherwise lifting a finger.

To me, the complete absence of wind power in the South is a perfect example of the blinkered, short-sighted political landscape of Red America.  It is not destiny - look at Texas, look at the Dakotas and Wyoming - and blue states, like my own Connecticut, sometimes lag behind (although I've seen some wind turbines in CT, so I don't know what gets you on that map).

But subsidizing wind power is such a no-brainer, it's tough to figure out what the hell people are thinking.

RIP, Joe Cocker

I went through a serious Joe Cocker phase in my youth.  In its own way, it's amazing he made it to 70.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

This Is Why Journalists Make Shitty Historians

The WaPo - fluffing Neoconservative foreign policy since...well, forever - thinks that we shouldn't open to Cuba because China and Vietnam are still autocracies.  We have been open to those nations for about 25 years, if you mark it with Most Favored Nation status.

Are China and Vietnam free?  Of course not.  But there are signs and portents of democratic stirrings.  The CCP has allowed entrepreneurs to join.  While the Great Fire Wall of China still exists, most of my Chinese students can get around most of it when needed.

Newspapers exist in the 24 hour news cycle, a cycle which I think has done more harm to American policy making than anything else.  They can't tolerate anything but immediacy.

We are not opening to Cuba to have democracy there in 2016, but in 2026.  That's the long game, the game that historians see and Fred Hiatt can't.

Saturday, December 20, 2014


On my Facebook feed appeared a post from some academic who has a degree of connection to someone I know.  She wrote the following:

Instead of getting all huffy with North Korea, I think we should thank them for having such a non-violent response to a movie that was, to say the least, in execrably poor taste, politically offensive and racist.

The writer is a professor at the New School, and pretty much becomes a caricature of the ivory-tower, liberal professor (although I'd describe her as Leftist, rather than liberal).  And let's leave aside the ridiculousness of her assertion that North Korea's response was non-violent.  They specifically threatened violence.

But I really worry that we are increasingly losing our ability to be offended without going off the deep end.  This is not a problem confined to the Left.  The freakout from the Right over protests by athletes against extra-judicial police killings is very similar.  So is the "War on Christmas".

We have become perpetually outraged and can't abide by anything that might whiff of offense.

That's pathetic.  We need to be strong enough to abide things that are offensive to us.  Otherwise we become infatuated with our own outrage.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Authoritarian Right

This is a well-written, well thought out exploration of how the Right in this country has fallen into an authoritarian mindset.

It gibes well with this piece by Martin Longman about how conservative "arguments" have no respect in academia.

The Republican party is broken.  And they control half the government.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Why Do We Think Ted Cruz Is A Smart Man?

Cruz is this generation's Newt Gingrich, who was the previous generation's Henry Cabot Lodge, of whom it was said, "His mind was like the soil of his native New England: highly cultivated but barren."

Here, Cruz is either mouth-breathingly stupid or simply cynical beyond belief.  The latter is, of course, a possibility, but given his recent blunder in the Senate that allowed Obama and Reid to get a new Surgeon General and a dozen judges confirmed, I'd say the former explanation might make sense.

Cruz calls the Castro regime "totalitarian."  It's not, ok.  It doesn't have the ability to be totalitarian.  Totalitarian regimes control every facet of a country.  The Castro regime is certainly, brutally authoritarian - it is easily the worst regime in the western hemisphere.  But it's not totalitarian.  Not even close.  And we have diplomatic relations with far, far worse countries than Cuba.  Pakistan, for instance.  Or Vietnam.  Or Saudi Arabia, whom we consider our dear friend.  We have diplomatic relations with Russia, who just invaded Ukraine.

He then goes on to say the following:

"If history be our guide, the Castros will exploit that power to undermine America and oppress the Cuban people," he said. "First Russia, then Iran, now Cuba – this is one more very, very bad deal brokered by the Obama Administration.”

OK, no.

If "history be our guide" then greater connection between the United States and Cuba will lessen the ability of the Castros to control their populace.  The more Americans come and spend precious dollars in Cuba, the more capitalist they will become.  The more we flood their country with media, the less they will want to be told what to do by the Castros.

And as for "first Russia"....have you checked in on Putin's Russia, Senator Dipshit?  While the falling oil prices have hurt them, the sanctions - led by Obama - have crippled the Russian economy.  Putin's bargain with his populace, a modification of Deng Xiaoping's deal with the Chinese people after Tiananmen - you can be rich but not free - is falling to pieces.  If oil prices hadn't fallen, Russia wouldn't be suffering nearly as much, but the sanctions have crippled the Russian currency.

And similar sanctions have crippled the Iranian economy as well.  I'm fairly optimistic we will get a deal to end the Iranian nuclear program, and Senator Dipshit will go on Fox and say it's a bad deal, because totalitarian RussiaCubaCicero blah blah blah.

Ted Cruz is increasingly what Sarah Palin would sound like if she went to Harvard and Princeton.

I Take A Nap, Wake Up And The World Has Changed

America's Cuba policy has always been stupid.  I have never been sure if it was stupidity bread of fear, hatred or inertia, but I am glad we are on our way to moving beyond the idiocy of pretending that if we just close our eyes, put our hands over our ears and go la-la-la-la in a loud voice, we can pretend that Cuba never become communist.

We normalized relations with Vietnam before we did with Cuba.  That's just...

Anyway, we've been talking about going to England this summer, maybe we should go to Cuba instead.  See it before Disney gets there.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Monday, December 15, 2014

Whiny Police

When Cleveland Brown Andrew Hawkins wore a t-shirt protesting the shootings of Tamir Rice and John Crawford, the head of the Cleveland PBA wrote a whiny demand for an apology.

Today, Hawkins responded.  And he responded in a way that should shut up the whiny police union reps who are trying to silence legitimate protest from some of the few African Americans who have the visibility to make their feelings known.

Read Hawkins's speech:

“I was taught that justice is a right that every American should have. Also justice should be the goal of every American. I think that’s what makes this country. To me, justice means the innocent should be found innocent. It means that those who do wrong should get their due punishment. Ultimately, it means fair treatment. So a call for justice shouldn’t offend or disrespect anybody. A call for justice shouldn’t warrant an apology.
“To clarify, I utterly respect and appreciate every police officer that protects and serves all of us with honesty, integrity and the right way. And I don’t think those kind of officers should be offended by what I did. My mom taught me my entire life to respect law enforcement. I have family, close friends that are incredible police officers and I tell them all the time how they are much braver than me for it. So my wearing a T-shirt wasn’t a stance against every police officer or every police department. My wearing the T-shirt was a stance against wrong individuals doing the wrong thing for the wrong reasons to innocent people.
“Unfortunately, my mom also taught me just as there are good police officers, there are some not-so-good police officers that would assume the worst of me without knowing anything about me for reasons I can’t control. She taught me to be careful and be on the lookout for those not-so-good police officers because they could potentially do me harm and most times without consequences. Those are the police officers that should be offended.
“Being a police officer takes bravery. And I understand that they’re put in difficult positions and have to make those snap decisions. As a football player, I know a little bit about snap decisions, obviously on an extremely lesser and non-comparative scale, because when a police officer makes a snap decision, it’s literally a matter of life and death. That’s hard a situation to be in. But if the wrong decision is made, based on pre-conceived notions or the wrong motives, I believe there should be consequence. Because without consequence, naturally the magnitude of the snap decisions is lessened, whether consciously or unconsciously.
“I’m not an activist, in any way, shape or form. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred I keep my opinions to myself on most matters. I worked extremely hard to build and keep my reputation especially here in Ohio, and by most accounts I’ve done a solid job of decently building a good name. Before I made the decision to wear the T-shirt, I understood I was putting that reputation in jeopardy to some of those people who wouldn’t necessarily agree with my perspective. I understood there was going to be backlash, and that scared me, honestly. But deep down I felt like it was the right thing to do. If I was to run away from what I felt in my soul was the right thing to do, that would make me a coward, and I can’t live with that. God wouldn’t be able to put me where I am today, as far as I’ve come in life, if I was a coward.
“As you well know, and it’s well documented, I have a 2-year-old little boy. The same 2-year-old little boy that everyone said was cute when I jokingly threw him out of the house earlier this year. That little boy is my entire world. And the No. 1 reason for me wearing the T-shirt was the thought of what happened to Tamir Rice happening to my little Austin scares the living hell out of me. And my heart was broken for the parents of Tamir and John Crawford knowing they had to live that nightmare of a reality.
“So, like I said, I made the conscious decision to wear the T-shirt. I felt like my heart was in the right place. I’m at peace with it and those that disagree with me, this is America, everyone has the right to their first amendment rights. Those who support me, I appreciate your support. But at the same time, support the causes and the people and the injustices that you feel strongly about. Stand up for them. Speak up for them. No matter what it is because that’s what America’s about and that’s what this country was founded on.”

Why We Aren't Prosecuting Anyone For Torture

I've tried to figure out why we aren't prosecuting anyone, and I am hopeful I have an answer.

Watching what happened in Ferguson and Staten Island, I have to think that the Justice Department is worried that they wouldn't get a conviction.  People are fearful sheep who want some bullshit movie action hero to save them by being mean to "bad guys".

Acquittal of these jackals would be worse than bringing no charges.

So the Justice Department and the Administration is showing a lack of faith in the American people.  A lack of faith that history has shown to be completely justified.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Exams Are Done

Now comes lots and lots of writing.

Which, frankly, is preferable to reading student's scrawling handwriting and trying to read into their hormone-fogged thoughts.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Fat Tony At It Again

America's Judicial Concern Troll has decided to weigh in on the torture scandal, because of course he did.

Scalia - who we have been told for 30 years is a very intelligent man who just holds strong beliefs about original intent - says that there is nothing in the Constitution that prohibits torture.

I'm just a humble history teacher, but let me take a crack at it:

Let's take a looky-loo at the Fifth Amendment:

No person compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.

That looks like you can't force someone to say things, like, you know, under torture.

Then of course, there's the troublesome Eighth Amendment:

...nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Maybe Scalia doesn't think being beaten until he loses an eye counts?  Simulated drowning doesn't count?  Reducing a mentally deficient man to a quivering shell of a person via systematic torture isn't cruel?

Or maybe Scalia simply doesn't think that applies to foreign born persons.  OK, there is some logic to that.  Not sure how that gibes with Jose Padilla, but OK.

How about this?

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

And then you have the US signing the Geneva Conventions and UN Convention against Torture, which are treaties that prohibit torture, making them the "supreme Law of the Land" whatever John Yoo may say.

Once again, I feel like we live in different universes.

Crappy Deal

Can't believe Obama is prepared to sign the CRomnibus and begin the gutting of whatever restrictions we have on the plutocracy.  I suppose this is the level of suckage we have to expect in the coming era of divided government.

I fear another Grand Bargain is lurking off stage somewhere.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Two Different Countries

Check out the link.  I'll wait.

I don't blame Obama for the weak economy, because he couldn't get the sort of stimulus through Congress that was needed.

I don't blame Obama for the complexity of the ACA, because that's all Congress would allow.

I don't blame Obama for leaving Gitmo open, because Congress thwarted him.

But he could have made torture the crime that it is.  And the idea that over 70% of Republicans think it's OK to torture someone makes me sick to my stomach.  It's bad enough that 45% of Democrats think that way, but this isn't a partisan issue.  It's a moral one.

I don't understand who Republicans are.

The Founders Of Our Country Were Objectively Anti-Torture

This is a really solid piece of accessible scholarly writing that points out the many ways in which the men who created this nation abhorred the practice of torture.  For all the Tea Party paeans to Constitutional originalism and reverence for "the Founders" my guess is that they will deny this basic enlightenment ideal that animated the creation of this country: that the state must be bound by its own laws.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Price Of Force

Max Weber notably defined the state as an entity with a "monopoly of violence over a given territory."  That definition always strikes my students as strange until we break it down.  Whether the state is Sweden or North Korea, that state shares the characteristic of removing the use of force or violence from the hands of individuals and placing that use of force in the hands of institutions that ideally serve to create a stable state.

What we are seeing in the United State today is some of those institutions have blurred the lines about what they should do and what they can do.  The great contribution of Anglo-American political thought - stretching from the Magna Carta to the Constitution - is that for a state to be legitimate, it must be bound by its own laws.

This rule of law is the most essential element of legitimate democratic governance.

But for it to work properly, the state must be bound by the laws it sets over the people and itself.  Russia, for instance, had a rule limiting the presidency to two terms.  When Putin decided he didn't like that, he effectively scrapped it.  He basically decided that he didn't need to abide by the laws, so he ignored them.

The problem America is having right now is that some of the institutions that we invest with the power to commit violence on our behalf are not showing the necessary respect for that vital rule of law.

The outrage over the overzealous use of force by police and the systematic use of torture by the CIA is basically linked to the idea of institutions out of the reach of the rule of law.

The ultimate truth about what happened in the case of Michael Brown may never be known, but Eric Garner and Tamir Rice and others are clearer.  And they paint a picture of policing institutions that are not bound by the laws that bind others.  The idea that you can kill someone in broad daylight who is not armed and not even go to trial suggests that the laws that apply to all of us - and even to the police themselves - are no longer working.

As John McCain said yesterday at the release of the Senate torture report, America helped craft the international treaties that forbid torture.  We helped create and signed the Geneva Conventions.  We put laws on the books after the Philippines War that prohibit forms of torture.  And then we ignored those limits when it became mildly inconvenient to abide by them.

Both of these trends reflect the broader, pants-wetting cowardice that we are exhibiting repeatedly in America today.  We are so scared of black men and Muslim terrorists that a large segment of the population is willing to throw over the fundamental achievement of American political philosophy: namely that the government should be bound by its own laws.

This is truly distressing.  Especially when you see mouth breathing morans losing their shit over the idea that America isn't perfect.

The events of the last few years and months represent a challenge to what America thinks it stands for.  If you want to blindly cling to a false image of what America is like a child clinging to a security blanket, then you aren't really worthy of being part of the conversation about what America should be.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

We Tortured Some Folks

The torture report seems to be about what I expected.  It is both not a surprise and yet surprising in its details.

The following is clear:

- It was more brutal than we were told.
- It produced almost no information of value.
- It was pushed from Washington rather than from the field.

And sadly no one will go to jail for this.  Thank God no one in the CIA stole some cigarellos.

The Next Two Years Could Be Fun

Torture Report Coming Soon

My guess is that it will be sorely lacking in real revelations.  It will have been redacted beyond comprehension.  I do hope that they lay bare some of the worst abuses.  I realize that we will never see real justice for those who dragged the reputation of the United States through the sewer by torturing the guilty and not guilty alike.

But for the accuracy of history, this needs to be aired and clarified.

(And no, this won't cause anyone to hate us more than they already do.)

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Coming Suckage

It starts with the backlash against police brutality and campus sexual assault.

There is then a backlash against the backlash against police brutality and campus sexual assault.

So we have people saying Eric Garner and Tamir Rice and Michael Brown deserved to die for some reason.  And that "Jackie" and the Cosby accusers are doing it for the fame.  Or something.

And this backlash against the backlash will create its own backlash.  

In the end, we will retreat into our tribal camps and throw stones at each other.

And black men will continue to die and women will continue to be raped.  And one side of that tribal divide will apparently be okay with that.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

My Life Is About To Suck

Wrestling tournament today, 24 term papers to grade, 3 advisee letters to write, creating the AP US exam, helping organize my department's exam...All by Wednesday.

Pray for me, a sinner, in the hour of my need...

Friday, December 5, 2014

Well, This Will Make You Sick

I don't know what happened at UVA.  But that doesn't mean rape isn't a huge issue.

Who Will Stop Obama's Job-Killing Agenda?

I have a theory, backed up by nothing beyond a general sense of history, that the economy of the last 50 years is pretty much tied to energy costs.  When energy costs are high - the '70s, the last ten years or so - then the economy suffers.  When energy costs fall - the '80s and late '90s - the economy grows.

This is basically saying that taking large amounts of consumer dollars (perhaps better understood as "demand") and effectively lighting them on fire in order to power things is a really shitty way to expend a limited amount of demand-power.

It's a correlation with a tenuous theory attached to it, I know, but I like it.

The US has been outperforming Europe and Japan since 2008.  This is partly because both the Democrats from 2008-2011 and the Federal Reserve have pursued an expansionary fiscal and monetary policy.  Japan is in a liquidity trap (among other things) and Europe has foolishly pursued austerity (thanks, Germany!).

But if the forecasts are right that US growth will start to slow because the rest of the world is still sluggish, we could see the rest of the world perk up as energy prices fall.

This could create a nice economic condition leading into 2016.

Obviously, this is a recognition that Presidents and even Congress have limited abilities to effect the economy.  This is especially true in the era of divided and combative governance.

But if Obama gets slagged for things that aren't his fault, perhaps he should get credit for things he didn't really do.  (Although you can argue that his decision to anger environmentalists by allowing the shale oil gas revolution is important.)

South Carolina, Bastion Of Civil Rights

What's the difference between SC and Staten Island or Ferguson?

A District Attorney who has the balls to hold the police accountable.

The Democratic Party In A Nutshell

Democrats make great policy and lousy politics.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Open Season

I've felt that body cams on cops would be a nice step to insure that police do not abuse the power we give them.

But the case of Eric Garner shows that even evidence alone won't matter.  The decision not to indict the cop who choked him to death has drawn surprising outrage from conservative commentators.  Whereas the essential question of what actually happened continues to haunt the Michael Brown case, we know what happened with Garner.  It's all on camera.

And still the cop isn't even charged.

Whereas liberals tend to equate what happened with Garner (and the kid in Cleveland and the guy in Utah and the guy in Walmart) with what happened with Brown, conservatives don't.  For liberals, Garner and Brown's deaths are part of an overarching pattern of police violence used against African American men.  Conservatives simply assert that Brown was a "thug" and got what was coming to him.

The impact of cameras on cops will not lead to more police being charged with crimes, because apparently you can't charge a cop with a crime.

But it might eventually lead to a change in the law.

And that would be worth it.

UPDATE: I think a clear reform should be that any case that involves a police officer killing a civilian where there was no weapon on the civilian there should be a special prosecutor to handle it.  No more use of the same prosecutors who work with the police.

Wither Now?

A continuing resolution would be a not-bad thing, providing it takes us past March.  But it does appear, once again, that GOP leadership gets it.  They can't keep attacking Hispanics.  And any fight over Obama's immigration reforms - especially a high profile fight like a shutdown - will hurt them.

At the moment, they have managed to corral their xenophobic wing(nuts), but we will see how long that lasts.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Constitutional Scholars, Every Last One Of Them

So, Obama changes immigration policy via executive order - like Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush have all done before him.

The GOP freaks out, because that's what they do.

Impeachment isn't going to happen (sadly, I think that would crystallize the crazy).

So, to protest the President's "unconstitutional" actions, the GOP Congress is going to go unconstitutional action.

Well played, dipshits.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Off To The Dentist

Because - combined with three airport pickups in 24 hours - that's how I need to start the 19 day period I fondly call "Slouching Towards Bethlehem."

Saturday, November 29, 2014


Jay Nixon (D-For Dumbass) is not covering himself in glory.  It is difficult to find any public figure in Missouri who has, frankly.  But buried at the end of this piece is the nugget that Nixon will call the Assembly into special session to fund the overtime for police officers that the wave of protests have necessitated.

Nixon has proven himself to be the sort of moral coward that refuses to engage a fundamentally flawed system for fear of losing his job (see Schumer, Chuck for another example of this especially craven form of "Democrat").  Here's a pro top, Jay: You're not going to get re-elected.  You are - along with odious, neo-facist Robert McCulloch - the face a giant, oozing pustule of a broken system.  Since you're a Democrat, you're going to be associated with the looting no matter how hard you embrace "law and order" (so Nixonian of you!).  No one in the rural and suburban white community is going to give you a pass on uppity Negroes marching through the streets and shutting down the traffic of their metropolis.

And if you think African American voters are going to do anything for you....

So, you need more funding for the people who have been manning the barricades?  Fine, but how about including some funding - spread out over several years - for body cameras for police?

How about addressing the fundamental problem that your state, in the city of Ferguson, has exposed: Police are more likely to shoot black men than anyone else and police are rarely held accountable for shooting anyone.

There wasn't even a dash-cam in Darren Wilson's car.  We have no record of what transpired, though we have plenty of questions.  If Darren Wilson was doing his job and doing it well, then a camera on his body would answer those questions.

For years, the advocates of a greater surveillance state have hid behind the logic of "If you haven't done anything wrong, you have nothing to hide."

But this logic applies ten fold to the people whom we implicitly license to kill on our behalf.

So, Jay Nixon, are you prepared - for the first time in this sad, angry saga - to lead?

I'm not holding my breath.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Black Friday

I am engaged in my annual Black Friday protest of staying home and eating leftovers.  I've been doing this for years - a man ahead of my time.

But then I read stories like this one and realize it's not really a joke.  We have always lived in a messed up world.  And while we fix some problems, we wind up creating new ones.

How in the world can we live in a world where we let the Waltons treat their workers like dirt while they become rich beyond the wildest dreams of avarice?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Race Or Alibi?

Increasingly, people are calling Darren Wilson's testimony unbelievable.  The scuffle in the car seems especially improbable.  The provocation on the street seems especially improbable.

The simplest explanation is that Wilson ordered them on to the sidewalk, they refused to comply and maybe lipped off a little.  He threw his SUV into reverse - angry at being disrespected - and clipped Brown.  He then kicked open his door, which hit Brown and snapped back at Wilson.  Wilson grabbed Brown.  They scuffled at the car window.  Wilson shot Brown, who fled, most likely striking Wilson in an attempt to get away.  Wilson fired shots at Brown, who turned, staggered and was shot as he fell.

That's what seems most plausible to me.

Marshall suggests that Wilson's testimony reveals the aura of threat that Wilson felt from a large black man.  And certainly we see more and more evidence that simply being a black male represents a threat to police that they feel comfortable addressing with lethal force.

But I think a simpler explanation is that Wilson was saying what he was saying because an officer may use lethal force to protect his life if he feels threatened.  So all Wilson had to do was paint a picture of Brown as a threat, and he was covered by the law.

Put another way: Wilson got into the situation because Brown was young, black and disrespectful.  His testimony, however, would've been the same if Brown was a large white man.  Wilson was establishing his legal alibi.

As I've said, we've basically given cops a de facto license to kill.

The Oppositional Defiant American Male

I've been mulling over a challenge that Martin Longman has placed before Democrats: How does the Left appeal to white men?

The midterm dynamic is what it is, but there has to be an effort to blunt this dynamic.  If Democrats are going to win back the House before 2022, they need to win more white male votes than they have been.  Appeals to economic populism have not shown to have the sort of traction among men that they frankly should have.

Rather than think of what might appeal to white men, why not see what drives them away from liberal politics?  I say this as someone with a life long experience of being a white male, though I'm certain my experience is not typical.  Also, please note that I will be speaking in gender stereotypes, because I'm talking about large groups.

I think a key psychological aspect of the Y chromosome is oppositional thinking to authority.  It defines a great deal of behavior we associate with young men, in particular.  If you tell me to do "X", then I'll do "Y".  You can probably enlist evolutionary biology to explain this, as men were needed to be risk takers and boundary pushers to help in survival.  The hunters needed to push over the horizon, while the gatherers needed to protect the young, the weak and the elderly left behind.

So, you get men who feel the need to challenge authority.

When I think of Teanderthals, what I see is a giant, plaintive whine against a paternalistic state.  From the point of view of the Teanderthals, paternalism is bad, unless they are the fathers.  They are fine with paternalistic relationships with women and minorities, but they are most definitely NOT fine with a state that acts paternally towards them.

The ACA is a great example of a benign form of paternalism that comes across as tyranny to white men.  This is the same demographic that won't go to the doctor for regular checkups.  This is the same demographic that responds to global warming with "coal rolling".

Now, this is not unique to right wing males.  The Left is also anti-authoritarian, they just define authority differently.  It's corporate power or the security/surveillance state.

The fact is that on either extremes (and I'll define that as roughly the 15%-20% of the population on either end of the spectrum) you will find a great deal of hostility to authority.

But you're not going to win over Teanderthal votes anyway, so why bother?

I would argue that it's about denying the non-Teanderthal white men with easy targets.

Two things that come to mind are "trigger warnings" and the new California university sexual conduct codes.  These are well-meaning attempts to address problems, especially the epidemic of sexual violence in universities.

But the minute you create "rules" you create authority.  And you create an impulse to defy that authority.

One of the greatest successes the Left has had is actually exactly what the Right has accused the Left of doing: indoctrinating students in our schools in certain liberal ideas: tolerance, diversity and acceptance.  What works better than rules is the education of people as to why behaviors are important.

While there have been instance of successful prohibitions - the "N" word - they don't work as well as education.  Because while we say the "N" word, your oppositional figure is going to say, "Well, how come blacks can use that word and I can't?"  And if all you've offered them is a prohibition rather than an education, then you've just created an opponent instead of an ally.

Recently, we had a speaker come to address the student body.  He was transgender and had gone to Exeter (a rival school) when he came out as male.  He was a remarkably engaging and empathetic speaker, witty and open.  For me personally, I've come a long way on LGB issues, but the T was always one I had trouble understanding.  Transgender is pretty rare, so my experience was pretty limited.  I didn't feel icky about transgender issues, I just didn't understand them.

That was education.  Now, you can combine some prohibitions with education if done right.  We've told our students that the use of "gay" or "fag" as an insult is unacceptable, but we've also explained why.  Same goes for "retarded".  I've used all those terms in my life.  I don't use them anymore (at least not as a slurs), but I always responded better to explanations than prohibitions.

One of the reasons why, I think, young people are much more liberal on the culture wars is that they have been educated on why discriminating against minority groups is bad.  Why can't a gay couple get married?  The recent breakthrough on marriage equality is not a case of the Left prohibiting something, but the Right prohibiting something.  And it isn't working for them either.

So, taking the sexual violence crisis as an example, how do you educate young men about proper sexual respect?  Rather than legislating sexual conduct, as California is trying to do, how do you educate young men that not only are the responsible for their own sexual behavior, but those of their friends?  And probably some prohibitions are necessary.  Maybe it's time the all-male fraternity died.  Especially if the entire system gets put on warning and fails to live up to its responsibilities.

But when trying to reach men who WANT to rebel, maybe you need to show them why they should change certain behaviors rather than demanding it.

As Charlie Pierce said, the great thing about #occupy was that they were shouting at the right buildings.  The worst thing about #occupy was its obsession with political correctness.  Meetings would degenerate over the use of generalized male pronouns.

To me, the challenge of reaching out to white men is get them to shout at the right buildings.  It won't work to hector them or lecture at them.

You don't need to win over many white men.  The Left is crushing it with minorities and single women.  But you need to erode the GOP advantage, and at the very least, you need to stop driving them away by screaming about hetero-normative language and gender imperialism.  If you try and educate and converse with them, you'll stop driving some of them away.

And maybe then, they will start shouting at the right buildings.

(I thought this post would be better.  I've been germinating this idea for over a week.  I'm pretty disappointed at the final product...)

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Chuck Schumer Can Go Fuck Himself

Obamacare was designed to fix structural problems in the economy and in the fiscal health of the government.  The idea that they "picked the wrong thing" to focus on is stupid.  I mean, Fox News level stupid.

First of all, you had the majorities.  As we saw in '93-'94, you have to take advantage of those majorities when you have them.  And if you wanted a bigger stimulus, why the fuck didn't you pass one?

This is why millions of Americans went decades without health insurance.  Because Chuck Schumer, who gets health insurance through his job, thinks that Congress can't do both things at once.

The reason Democrats got crushed in 2010 and 2014 is because Democratic voters stay home.  And who was in charge of the DSCC? Who kept sending me "booga-booga" emails about losing the Senate to raise money and depress enthusiasm?

The ACA is a monumental bill.  It's an accomplishment that hopefully over time will be recognized as fundamentally restructuring America's relationship with health insurance and its government.

Sorry we didn't help your Wall Street buddies more, Chuck.

Two Thoughts About Ferguson

When we see the smoldering remains of Ferguson's main street, we should think about two separate problems that got us there.  Separate problems, but problems that overlap.

The first problem is the endemic and persistent poverty present that plagues many African American communities.  Poverty has a cyclical nature.  It is generational and feeds off itself.  Paul Tough wrote an excellent book called How Children Succeed and it chronicles how trauma in childhood significantly messes up a child's brain.  Now "trauma" can be quite broad and applies to people throughout the socioeconomic spectrum.  But the prevalence of pervasive childhood trauma is a great indicator of later cognitive and behavioral problems.  Damaged children make for damaged adults.

We should then look at how damaging poverty is.  And it's pretty damaging.  A 2009 study by Gary Evans and Michelle Schamberg studied working memory in children.  They looked at allostatic load.  Bruce McEwen first proposed allostasis, which is way a body manages stress.  So, for instance, you nearly get into a car wreck.  Your body gets flooded with adrenaline, your heart pounds, you shake.  But you get over it a few hours later as your body "flushes out" that stress response.  But if you are constantly exposed to stress, you build up an allostatic load.  What Evans and Schamberg found was that allostatic load was the best predictor of performance on short term memory.  The higher it was, the poorer kids did on the test. Short term memory is a great indicator of certain types of cognitive abilities.

In other words, what we think of as "genetic advantage" - the upper middle class kids just have favorable genetic advantages that allow them to excel - is really a product of their environment.  The brain is a very malleable thing in early childhood and if you pile poverty onto that process - with all the stress that poverty brings - you damage that brain.

And that damage is most prevalent in the last part of the brain to develop: the pre-frontal cortex.  And it is in the pre-frontal cortex that judgment resides.  That part of the brain may not finish developing until someone is 25.  This is why college students think jumping from the roof of their garage into the pool is a good idea.

The problem is that poverty and its attendant stress makes it hard for the judgment centers of the brain to develop.  And the results can be seen in everything from 16 year old mothers to the looting in Ferguson last night.  Let's remember that 16 year old moms are not unique to the African American community but are prevalent in most poor communities regardless of race.  And 16 year old mothers are going to face stress in trying to raise a child when they themselves are children, and that only perpetuates this cycle.  The stress they feel is passed on to their children.

So when we talk about the legacy of poverty in this country - whether we are talking about urban African Americans or Appalachian whites or Hispanics along the Rio Grande or Native Americans on reservations - we are talking about a form of environmental brain damage.

The second point is that of the police.  What was most shocking about Ferguson was that the grand jury - with all the questions about what really happened - decided not to let a trial sort out the conflicting stories.  But given the current state of US law, it's pretty hard to convict a policeman for the use of lethal force.

This is tied, at least in part, to our unreasonable fears about crime.

Violent crime is falling in this country and has been for the last 20 years.  But we live in a world where the news follows the age old maxim of "If it bleeds, it leads."  If you watch the news - or hell, if you watch CSI or any police procedural - you are bombarded with the idea that we live in a world of menace, violence and death, when in fact, the world has never been safer.

That fear of violent crime has led us to militarize our police force and inculcates in them a feeling of being under siege.  Certainly, your average police officer spends most of his time dealing with the most troubled elements of society.  The corrosive effect of that, combined with the environment of fear, leads to a siege mentality.  It also increases that allostatic load in the police.  Utah recently found that the leading cause of violent death is the police.  Utah is not an especially violent place, yet the police feel they need to use lethal force more than gangs or even perpetrators of domestic violence.

So we have a system that puts stressed out police into stressed out communities and basically gives them carte blanche to use deadly force.

Everything we saw in Ferguson is a product of this flawed system.  The looters burning their own community are simply giving free rein to their anger over their long term prospects.  The police with sniper rifles tossing tear gas into violent and peaceful protesters alike are simply responding to the siege they feel.

Ultimately, we might be able to see some police reform.  Body cameras would be an excellent place to start.  They would help with evidence collection and exonerate innocent cops, while holding bad cops accountable.  All of this would help ease tensions between police and the communities they patrol.  And while police violence is increasingly prevalent in minority communities, it exists in white communities, too.  Because this isn't a racial issue - or shouldn't be - maybe we can see this needed reform.

If we are going basically allow the police to shot people and almost never be brought to trial, then we need to demand more accountability from the police.  This could unite Paulite libertarians and African American civil rights activists.

But we will continue to ignore the pervasive and corrosive effects of poverty that continues to weigh heaviest on minority communities.  Because the pictures of African Americans looting stores and burning buildings will create a comfort level in turning away.  There will be millions of people who think, "They deserve this.  Let them rot.  They don't deserve my help."

We will continue to see a cycle of poverty, handed down from generation to generation, from teen parent to teen parent.  Exceptional individuals will make it out from time to time, to give lie to the fact that a poverty-riddled environment is a poor environment to grow up in.

And we will ignore the overwhelming links between poverty, race and childhood development and watch another generation be blighted before our eyes.  And our willingness to turn away from our fellow American in this is overwhelmingly a question of race.  Not the racism of the burning cross or the lynch mob, but the racism of the great mass of people who sit by and let the cross burn and the body to swing from the tree.

John Stuart Mill said, we "should know that bad men need no better opportunity than when good men look on and do nothing."

And yet, doing nothing seems to always be the preferable course when the evil is being done to the poor.  While that's not unique to America, the elements of race are our special curse.  A curse we are eager to turn away from and pretend it's not there.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Scenes From America

What I'm watching on CNN is heartbreaking.

The lack of indictment is a joke.  Fine.

But then the police went to tear gas. And that empowers the worst elements of the crowd.  And those worst elements have certainly had their moment.  The looting and the vandalism are just infuriating.  There is a very clear and strong message: We can no longer have two different justice systems for blacks and whites.

And yet the actions of looters and vandals have trampled any hope of that.

Why did they wait until night to announce this?  Whose fucking idea was that?

Who let lose the tear gas?

Where were the community figures who wanted peaceful protests?

Our system is broken.

This Is Dumb

They are getting rid of Hagel, because they only hired him to give cover to the withdrawal from Afghanistan and cutting military budgets.  That was his job.

The idea - forcefully articulated in Fisher's analysis - that Obama's Afghanistan and ISIS policies are "failing" is just plain dumb.  Obama's Afghanistan policy is to get out.  We are getting out.  His ISIS policy is to degrade ISIS and roll back their advances.  That's what's happening.

The old "elite" foreign policy had the advantage of patience.  But the 24 hour new cycle makes everyone expect immediate results. Why haven't we destroyed ISIS/the Taliban/Ebola/Putin/cooties/all evil in the world?

Hagel was brought in to give cover to withdrawal and budget cuts.  He did that.  Now he's gone.

The bigger issue was his ability to manage the department, not policy, which Fisher correctly notes comes from the White House.

Sunday, November 23, 2014


Jeff Flake wants to pass immigration reform and drop Benghazi.  Meanwhile, Huckleberry Closetcase continues to flog Chris Steven's dead body for television appearances.

Graham clearly has his trembling, sweaty fingers on the pulse of the GOP in a way that Flake does not.

How long until we get a real patriot to primary this RINO?

(Also, can we go three weeks with Graham on the TV?  Please?)

Over The River And Through The Woods...

Getting away for a week of relaxation and catching up on grading.

Eventually, I'm going to write that long post on what Democrats can do to appeal to white male voters.

But not today.

Saturday, November 22, 2014


In a shocking development, the seventh investigation of the tragic attacks in Benghazi has concluded - along with the previous six investigations - that there is no scandal there.  While Darrell Issa's committee hasn't concluded, frankly, I think we can all guess that they are just trying to run out the clock until Hillary officially wins the nomination.

When Hillary ran in 2008, I naively thought that Obama would be a better nominee and President, because he didn't bring that Clinton baggage with him.  There would be no lingering questions about Vince Foster and Whitewater and Lewinsky and the various other sundry bullshit scandals that the GOP has tried to create over the years.

But it really doesn't matter who the Democrats nominate.  It never will.  The Risen Christ could win the 2016 nomination and the GOP will call into question whether the loaves and fishes constitute violation of campaign finance law and whether the Sermon on the Mount represent Alinsky-ite communistic thinking.

Yes, politics ain't beanbag, but the GOP has taken the nastiness to a new level.  Scandals are fair game, but manufactured ones are not.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Hey, Bill...

I would bet my dog that Bill O'Reilly's ancestors were undocumented, too.

Because we didn't start documenting immigrants until the 1920s, and we did that out of naked, avowed racism.

Most citizen's ancestors came here under an immigration system that did not put any restrictions on them coming here.  America did not start keeping out ANY immigrants until the 1880s, when they excluded Chinese on racial grounds.  And then they started putting quotas on Eastern Europeans, because Slavs and Jews were considered a degradation of America's "Nordic" blood stock.

In the 1960s, they greatly relaxed those quotas, but they also moved to a system that documented and restricted immigration from the Western hemisphere for the first time.

And Bill?  They really hated the Irish back in the 19th century.  Maybe as much as people hate on Hispanics now.

Meanwhile, in other news involving Mexicans...

Since institutionalizing true democracy about 14 years ago, Mexico has suffered from poor voter turnout, anemic civil society and a lack of trust in government.  (I'm sure this has nothing to do with the fact that Mexico uses the same, FUBAR Madisonian system of government that we do.)

But there is perhaps some hope that Mexicans are fed up with poor governance and rampant corruption and are ready to take control of their country.

This could be a very hopeful moment for Mexico in the long run, even if it seems scary right now.

If You Want To Do Something, Do Something

An interesting take on Obama's executive order on deportations from the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group.  Their basic argument, which is based more on legal theories than on naked politics, is that Congress should act to clarify immigration law if they are unhappy with it.

But the whole reason this is happening is that the Senate immigration bill won't get a vote in the House, because it would pass.  And if it passed - with every Democratic vote and a smattering of Republican votes - then this would hand Obama a bipartisan victory.  This would likely NOT benefit Republicans with Hispanic voters, but it would piss off their Angry, White Men base.

So, the Federalist Society agrees with Obama that Congress should act and in the absence of Congressional action, Obama can do what he's doing.

Now, the Federalist Society tends to venerate executive action, so they are at least being consistent.  But the overall points - this has been done before, this is a reaction to Congress's inaction - should be repeated.

The howling of the Right is difficult to interpret.  Are the Congressional leaders REALLY outraged that Obama is doing their jobs for them?  Are they high on their own supply?  Or is this yet more base-churning?

I guess we'll know when the House introduces impeachment proceedings.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Sewing The Whirlwind

The success that the right has had in stoking and nurturing white, male grievance is pretty well documented.  It is the basic function of Fox News to provide stories about the New Black Panther party, Ebola carrying illegal immigrants and other swarthy menaces.  It is the basic foundation of "take our country back."

Tom Coburn - who shares with Rand Paul the ability to occasionally say non-crazy things - has again waded into the crazy pool.  He has suggested that the President electing to do less deporting of certain immigrant groups constitutes a call to "instances of anarchy (or) violence" and then amended that to "civil disobedience."

Josh Marshall rightly points out the absurdity of using civil disobedience to protest whatever the President winds up doing on immigration tonight.

At some point in the coming vacation (yay!) I'm going to discuss what I think the liberal movement is doing wrong in trying to reach out to white men.  But basically, white men feel besieged and oppressed.  The fact that this is a ridiculous feeling does not alter the basic reality of it.  Despite being the wealthiest, most privileged group in the country, white men have a bunch of people (mostly other white people) telling them how oppressed they are.

The fact that they would considering using a tool typically used by aggrieved, disenfranchised minorities - civil disobedience, even insurrection - goes a long way to capturing their mindset at this moment of history.  And while Obama's race is a factor in it, frankly Hillary - should she win in 2016 - will simply keep this cycle going.  In fact, if Joe Biden were to win, much of this would still keep going, because Biden would be elected by a coalition in which white men are a minority.

The parallels to 1860 are of course frightening.  The South seceded because they lost an election.  Slavery in the South was not under serious threat.  The Underground Railroad was an annoyance, rather than a mass movement of slaves northward.  The issue was the spread of slavery westwards, not its existence in South Carolina.

But the South had come to feel oppressed by the larger number of Northerners.  While the split of the Democratic Party in 1860 helped elect Lincoln, the fact is, even if Stephen Douglas had run on a unified Democratic ticket, Lincoln probably still would have won.

Today, the current electoral map means that the Republicans - who now represent the white, conservative South, which is as much a cultural marker as a geographic region - will have a very hard time winning the Presidency.  As Thomas Bailey wrote about secession, the "crime of the North was the census."  Republicans can still dominate the House, because of the rural and exurban tilt of the districts.  But winning the White House is going to be hard.

And so we have a situation where all those white men see a world where they are under attack.  But since they can't secede from their neighbors, I worry what form this aggrievement will take.  When Tom Coburn says violence could accompany the President's immigration proposals, I take him at his word.  I don't believe he's threatening violence himself, but rather conveying what the far reaches of the Right are murmuring to themselves.

The Republicans political strategy has worked well for them.  They have gummed up the work of government so that it does not work, "proving" their thesis that government does not work.  They have used a favorable map and extremely low voter turnout to win control of the Senate.  They feel they are "owed" compliance from Obama.  And he isn't going to give it to them.

But in pursuing this strategy, they are stacking tinder against the foundations of government.

And some of these idiots are running around with flamethrowers.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Erick Son Of Erick Has A Point

Erick Erickson has a very good point.

The GOP shutdown the government in 2013.  They then proceeded to rack up impressive gains just about everywhere (except policy referenda) in 2014.

What, exactly, are they afraid of?

It's not like the media will point out that one side of the partisan divide a bunch of bomb throwing, lunatic nihilists.  Instead, the GOP Congress will insist that Obama kowtow to all their demands or they will simply shutter the government.  The media will lament this "lack of bipartisanship" without ever saying that one side simply won't compromise because "opinions differ" blah blah blah.

I do think that the GOP pursuing more governmental destruction will hurt them.  There are limits even to the apathy of the American public.  But it's clear the GOP has hit on a winning formula:

Assert that government is the problem in American society.  Grind the gears of governance to a halt.  Show that this proves the ineffectiveness of government, all the while complaining about the tyranny of health care reform as a form of neo-Nazi totalitarianism.  Depress voter turnout and win rump elections.

However, the GOP - if it pursues this strategy - will definitely not be entrusted with the White House in 2016.  Watching the GOP presidential field have to own the shutdown - because heresy is not allowed - will be amusing.

But burning down Washington won't hurt the GOP control of the House.  Because assigning blame is simply too "partisan" to contemplate.


Clearly, the grand jury is not going to indict Darren Wilson.  Not even for manslaughter.  Otherwise the Governor wouldn't have basically declared martial law.

I can only hope that the protests don't create that one moment that feeds into the nasty, and yes, racial countercharges.  The news is going to cover every broken window like it's the Watts Riot, and that's going to create a narrative that doesn't really fit what's going on in Ferguson.

It's obviously proven difficult to prosecute police officers for wrongful deaths.  They are given an extraordinary latitude in their use of deathly force, especially against black men.

It is therefore time to require all police officers to have lapel cameras.  With great power comes great responsibility.  And right now, too many cops are trigger happy.  Murder rates are at all time lows.  Violent crime is down.

The streets of America are not a combat zone, and the rules of engagement should not be shoot first, ask questions later.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Yglesias Hits The Essential Truth

I've heard a few bright people reach the same "pox on both their houses" conclusion.  Which is easy to do if the people whose job it is to explain the nuances of American politics don't seem to understand what's going on.

Bipartisan wasn't "lost".  It was deliberately taken out behind the barn and killed as part of a political strategy.  And that strategy sees its fulfillment in the low-voter-turnout midterm elections.

But Obama spent most of 2009-2011 trying to reach compromises with a group of nihilists who were intent on denying him any legislative victories.

Keep that in mind when he issues his executive order on immigration.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Nail On The Head

This is another "Please proceed, governor" moments.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that raises the stakes for 2016.

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

Please proceed, Mr. Speaker...

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Falcons Win Ugly

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

Saturday, November 15, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 14, 2014

St. Vincent

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

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

Thursday, November 13, 2014


Just got back from a day long conference on creativity.

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

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

What To Do With Social Media

So this happened.

And this.

And this.

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

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

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

Monday, November 10, 2014

Policy RX

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The above article is why I love Vox.

There is increasing research on sleep habits, and I'm pretty sure our society is set up to functionally deprive people of their health by demanding certain time parameters to work.

In my salad days, I probably got 9-10 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period.  That was marginally too much, but I do think all that sleep helped me overcome the numerous small concussions I doubtless got playing rugby for 12 years.  To the degree that I have cognitive abilities, I do think they are tied to my sleeping a fair amount in my youth.

As a parent and a professional, the idea of a 9 hour sleep is laughable.  I can't do it if I wanted to. I can max out at about 8 hours.  More typically, I get 6-7 hours and a nap during the day.  Sometimes two naps - except during wrestling season, which sucks.

A few years ago, we moved the start of our class day to 8:15 from 7:50.  A small change, but it had a profound effect.  Ideally, we'd move it back to 8:30 or later, but that eats into all sorts of other activities, including sports.  And we can't have that now, can we Precious?

Asked teenagers to get up at 7:00 and go to school and then perform is folly.  We know this.  The science isn't ambiguous.  But we still insist on it, because "that's the way we always do it."  We have the same issue with medical interns, keeping them up for hours on end because "that's the way we always do it."

The military uses sleep deprivation in training to simulate combat stress.

We do it in civilian life because we are bound to traditions that make us sick.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Coercive Non-Violent Foreign Policy

The combination of low oil prices, poor economic policy and Western sanctions are crashing the ruble.  It's inflicting real pain in Russia's economy.

Of course, a wounded Russia is potentially a dangerous Russia.  But the idea that Putin has annexed Crimea and Eastern Ukraine without consequences is simply false.

Friday, November 7, 2014

They Are Going To Screw Us

With the Senate now in GOP hands, even if Scalia shuffles off his mortal coil or Alito returns to whatever circle of hell coughed him up, the Court will not be adding any Democrats until 2017.

And it seems to me that the Supremes could be using the midterm election as cover to finally kill the Affordable Care Act.   Immune from public pressure and now protected by sizable majorities in both Houses, I can see Roberts deciding that this is his opportunity to win the fight they lost last time.

For all it's flaws, the ACA is a huge step forward for millions of Americans and millions of Americans to come.

But you just know they will try and kill it again.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

No, Virginia, There Won't Be Immigration Reform

Dara Lind at Vox suggests that the clue we won't have immigration reform is that GOP members aren't guaranteeing anything on Telemundo, where they might safely make vague promises.

OK.  Sure.

But more important is the language from McConnell and Boehner.  From the article:
What Republicans on Congress appear to agree on, however, is that any executive action by Obama on the issue of immigration is going to "poison the well" (in Speaker Boehner's words) for Congress to do anything about it. On Wednesday, incoming Majority Leader McConnell compared executive action on immigration to"waving a red flag in front of a bull." If congressional Republicans plan to make an exception to their recalcitrance so that they can get a border-security bill passed, they're certainly not mentioning it. (Bulls aren't known for only busting through particular aisles of china shops.)

What they are doing here is setting up the conditions for inaction.  Boehner and McConnell know they can't get much through the House.  The Senate passed reform and could probably pass something even with crazy assed Joni Ernst in the GOP caucus.

But the House won't pass dick.  Period.  Full stop.  They never will as long as the GOP controls that chamber.

So, they are creating a scenario where they will try and blame Obama for their own ineptitude.  As Obama notes, they can still pass something after his executive orders.  If, say, he makes it easier for DREAMers to stay or stops the deportation of the parents of minor American citizens (anchor babies!), there is nothing that can prevent Congress from passing something similar.  Or they could even overturn those executive actions through laws.

But Obama understands that all that Latino voters know is that no one is taking action on immigration reform.  And so they aren't going to vote.  And so we have Senator-elect Cory Gardner.  If he DOES take action, and the GOP works tirelessly to overturn his actions, then the GOP will cement Latino voters into the Democratic party.

McConnell and Boehner understand this.  So they are working on a procedural counter-argument.

It won't work.  And they are probably smart enough to know it won't work.  It's more CYA than realistic counter-argument.

In the days since the election, I've had some interactions with the Hive Mind on Facebook.  These are people who are dead sure they know the real truth (liberals are the real racists, it's Obama's fault there's no budget) even though that truth flies in the face of known facts.

So McConnell and Boehner are preparing the next poutrage for Fox News viewer to ingest.  They can tell themselves that Obama is the reason that immigration reform died in Congress.

Like so much else, it's a lie.  But I don't think it's a lie that will work.